Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero
One of the greatest barriers to changing people's diets is ignorance. Unaware of the impact that the food they eat has on their health and the world they live in, they don't have a reason to change.
At the root of this problem lies a lack of focus on food in education. For many pupils, diet and nutrition are only a very small part of their education, covered in passing before moving on to trigonometry or the works of Shakespeare. And the industry behind that food, the way that it works and the harm that it does, that's not there at all.
Education for better eating:
Better informed people make better decisions. It's a simple piece of cause and effect, but one that we easily forget. So if we want to encourage people to move towards a more sustainable and healthy way of eating, one based on vegetable foods rather than meat, in short to move closer to veganism, then we need to ensure that they are well informed.
Being better informed helps to combat the prejudices against veganism as well as to encourage thinking about its benefits. It's harder for someone to fall into the mental trap of 'veganism makes you weak and ill' if they understand nutrition or have heard of vegan athletes like Rich Roll. It's harder for them to treat meat as just a consumer product like any other if they understand the far higher environmental costs involved in producing it.
Where this fits in:
Our understanding of the world is shaped as children by what we're taught in the classroom. Teaching adults to make good decisions starts with informing them as they grow up. That's as true of food as of anything else.
While a bigger overhaul of the way we educate children might be better, food subjects can fit into many areas of the existing approach. Nutrition has a vastly overlooked place in science lessons. Farming production systems should be one of the things that we teach in geography. Existing cookery lessons can be adapted to help children think more intelligently about how they eat. Food plays a huge part in our lives, and we should be willing to drop some other things from the curriculum to help our children understand it better.
Small steps to a big victory:
I'm not saying that the works of the bard and Pythagoras's theorem aren't useful subjects to learn about. But we eat and shop for food every day. Shouldn't those things take more prominence in what children learn?
Changing such huge systems isn't easy. But next time you have an opportunity to make a difference, whether it's voting for a school governor or lobbying the people who shape education policy in government, consider making food lessons part of the agenda. Challenge them to act and see how they respond. We can change the world one step at a time, but the biggest steps come in the classroom.
Picture by diversityinteaching via Flickr creative commons