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Healthy meals in the nanny state?

October 25, 2010

One of the highlights at Terra Madre was coming talking with Celia Spouncer at a schools for healthy food initiative which included two schools from Lisdoonvarna and Belfast among about 16 countries. Celia was there with a couple of students from one of the schools. The event showcased and exchanged some school experiences from the European Schools for Healthy Food, an initiative supported by the European Union (and co-funded by Slow Food if I understand correctly). What was so interesting about this event was how well the two students, Orla and Gavin representing Lagan Valley College –  Belfast, spoke about the challenges and obstacles they face in trying to improve the food provided at their school. Unfortunately there were far too few students present to give their views and the event was in danger of becoming a real ‘talk fest’ until Orla and Gavin stepped up to the plate. Both articulated well the levels of red tape their school must deal with in the pursuit of diverse, nutritious and healthy food. For instance, having to have a teacher present at all times in case a student should happen to cut themselves. Or not being able to make their own nutritious sandwiches to sell because this must be subcontracted to a private company. I don’t know enough about health and safety legislation in schools but wouldn’t it be ironic if an EU funded project was coming up against such obstacles emanating from the region?

Despite these obstacles Celia and the students, and I am sure others at the College, had done a great job in bringing together 30 traditional varieties of apples once common to the north of Ireland, to create awareness and promote local agrobiodiversity. Celia had coordinated this through some excellent detective work and networking. She rambled off a long list of people who helped her but it sounded like a considerable amount of effort. Obstacles aside, such initiatives would appear to be an excellent entry point for organizations such as Genetic Heritage Ireland and the Irish Seed Savers to get involved to showcase local heritage breeds and varieties through schools and how such agrobiodiversity might improve school meals programmes.

Well done Orla and Gavin for speaking so well!

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