I am a teacher working in a small school in Sliema, Malta. Seven years ago I returned to my country of birth, having lived in London and Scotland for 21 years. Much as I loved teaching in both London and Scotland, it is good to be in a Maltese school once again. There are reverberations of my childhood days but also the childhood days of my mum, aunts and uncles who attended this school. Somehow, as I walk through the school corridors every day, I feel connected to the past.
Our school has an active eco-school committee. In 2015 we participated in the We Eat Responsibly EU funded project. Eco-Schools from 9 EU countries participated, each organising its own little projects, aimed at educating their school communities on the issues surrounding Responsible Eating.
Last October, I was one of the teachers from a selection of the 550 participating eco-schools across the EU, together with NGOs, academics and environmental activists, who descended on Prague for the Menu for Change Conference .
The conference kicked off with Aurèle Destrée, Head of the Food Security program at Glopolis, telling the story of a kolibřík (Czech for hummingbird) carrying water, drop by drop, in its beak to a forest fire. Nearby, other animals, like the elephant, which could carry so much more water, watched and said: “It’s useless, the fire is too big, you are too little, your beak is tiny, it’s only a drop, what do you think you are doing...”
To which the hummingbird replied: “I’m doing what I can.”
The conference struck many chords. One of the most memorable came from Su-ming Khoo, a Lecturer in the School of Political Science and Sociology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She introduced George Ritzer’s sociological concept of “the globalisation of nothing”. As the conference progressed, the unifying theme of ‘Connections’, identified by Aurèle Destrée, came slowly into focus.
A major theme of the We Eat Responsibly project explores the issues surrounding the use of palm oil. Huge swathes of rainforest, mainly in Indonesia, are being burned to make way for the non-indigenous palm tree in order to produce palm oil, which is found in 50% of all packaged materials. It is of no great nutritional value, but is used to make products last longer, so it is shipped all over many food miles to be used in shampoo, toothpaste, detergents, packaged foods... so that these can sit on supermarket shelves for years instead of months.
Is this worth sacrificing our planet for? Deforestation, forced eviction of indigenous rainforest tribes, climate change, soil erosion, loss of habitat for endangered species like the orang-utan, the pygmy elephant, the Sumatran tiger...? Is this what we want? This is the “globalisation of nothing” – the perfidious, perverse creation of a ‘need’ by big corporations, which has far too many catastrophic implications for it to even be contemplated, let alone be so widespread a practice.
Is it the case that we are not aware of this issue at all? As consumers, we have huge power, but only if we are informed and discerning. The power of a few hummingbirds is not enough, but imagine if we had a sky dense with hummingbirds, each carrying a few drops of water? Imagine if we could persuade the watching elephants to help us in our mission?
We live in a toxic world of misinformation, where the agendas hide vested interests of obscene greed and nihilistic egotism. It is difficult to zone out the noise, and separate truth from lies and distortions.
It is key that we educate our children - the future - to be global citizens. We need to equip them with the ability to evaluate the information that they are bombarded with. They need to ask questions like: Do different sources provide the same data? How reliable are these sources? What questions do we need to ask?
This conference brought home the importance of our education system valuing the skills of critical thinking and global citizenship. We have to create a system where our students are able to join the dots – from food producer to end product to consumer. Are our food systems working? Are our food producers treated fairly? Do we know their working conditions? Are they paid a living wage? What is the impact of our food production on our planet? Is it sustainable and equitable?
Many of us identify strongly with the story of the hummingbird as we live in our own little worlds, doing the best we can but maybe feeling that our best is not quite good enough.
If we joined forces, however, made spaces - like the Menu for Change Conference - for us to meet and share and connect, then maybe, just maybe, we will not only have a sky dense with hummingbirds, but a ground heaving with trumpeting elephants as we all moved towards the water.
Back at my school, I look at our students and I feel hopeful. The past, present and future - all intermingled.
This is a link to the We Eat Responsibly project website:
Today the EkoSkola Committee presented an assembly on the hidden costs of food waste. These are many, and are not immediately obvious. We grouped them into environmental costs, human costs and 'priceless' costs.
Environmental and human costs are sometimes difficult to quantify. Even more difficult, however, to quantify is the 'priceless' costs. For example: How would you price the health of a child? Or the beauty of a destroyed landscape? Do we recognize the value of life and the beauty of different landscapes? Or do we think that everything has a price?
We only see the Tip of the Iceberg when it comes to food waste. This power point presentation (split into two) explores the hidden costs in greater detail:
Feedback is an environmental organisation that campaigns to end food waste at every level of the food system.
This is the link to the Feedback video clip we watched today on the hidden costs of food waste:
Please sign this petition. Over a million people have signed it so far: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/food_waste_loc/?1436282267
This scholastic year, we are building on the success of last year's We Eat Responsibly EU funded project, with a variety of exciting activities and initiatives.
First on the list this year was an assembly on palm oil. We decided that creating an awareness of the issues surrounding palm oil was of paramount importance. Before last year's project, most of us were totally unaware of how widespread is the use of palm oil in packaged goods. More importantly, we were unaware of the damage caused to the environment, the exploitation of workers on palm oil plantations and the land grabbing taking place in tropical rainforests.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a globalized world - the choices we make as consumers in Malta have an effect on the entire planet and on people living far away from us. The flip side to this is that we are able to exercise our consumer power for the good, as well as the bad.
We watched edited clips from the highly acclaimed, multi award winning film, Green, by Patrick Rouxel. Green is a rescued orangutan who reminisces about her life in her beautiful rainforest before it all goes horribly wrong with the arrival of the palm oil plantations. This is the link to the entire film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WNgoqBGw4Y
This is the power point we used in our assembly:
As a result of the survey, it was decided that our main action for the project would be to have a healthy packed lunch competition.
Surprise, surprise, the EkoSkola Committee did not much like the idea of a bread maker or a pasta machine as prizes, when this was suggested by an EkoSkola teacher! (What’s exciting for a teacher does not seem to be so for a student.)
Therefore the students got researching and decided to go for three winners, winning a Dessert Bullet each. Apparently, Dessert Bullets are all the rage at the moment and so would make very good prizes. Two teachers would get a Grassy Hopper voucher.
It was also decided that we would invite an employee of the Grassy Hopper and the We Eat Responsibly! national coordinator to judge the entries. This would free up all staff to compete too. The ethos of the Grassy Hopper is very much on the lines of the We Eat Responsibly! Project, so we very much thought it would be a good idea to develop links.
We were overjoyed to see so many entries, and of such good quality. We feel that both students and staff did the project proud.
This is the valuable feedback we were given by the two judges, Ms Emmeline Schembri, and Ms Cynthia Caruana:
,Well done to the EkoSkola committee for organizing this wonderful initiative. Here are some ideas that we'd like to share.
We will use this feedback and the results of the survey to plan our next steps.
A big thank you goes to:
Here’s to learning more about responsible eating!
The EkoSkola Committee decided to adapt the survey in the We Eat Responsibly materials to our particular situation.
As the catchment area of our school is all over Malta, we felt that we needed to see what the situation was with our students regarding breakfast.
Some students have to leave their homes very early in the morning to get on the school transport so this would mean that they may very likely miss breakfast.
Also, our school has no canteen. We wanted to look at the situation with regard to packed lunches. Who prepares the packed lunches? What criteria are used to prepare the packed lunch?
This survey contains some fascinating information. We were totally unaware that there was quite a large percentage of households growing their own food. The list of foods grown is varied. We were quite heartened that the traditional Maltese fruits and vegetables are being cultivated, with the next generation learning from their parents how to continue with this important tradition.
It was also encouraging to see that many students are capable of preparing meals for themselves and for their families. Again, a very varied range of recipes are listed.
We chose to concentrate on healthy and responsible packed lunches for our main action this year. However, this survey will provide essential information to inform our next steps , next year and beyond.
Thank you for taking the time to complete the survey. It has been extremely useful. Below is a link to the survey.
The EkoSkola Committee
St Joseph School, Sliema - Senior Section
On the 13th January, 2016, the EkoSkola Committee participated in an assembly to launch the Glorious Food Questionnaire and also to provide more information on the We Eat Responsibly project. This is the power point presentation which was used in the assembly:
This is the letter which accompanied the survey. The survey is now closed and results will be posted on this website shortly.
Dear students, parents / guardians and school staff
Last October, our school was one of the 14 Maltese schools awarded funding for the EU funded ‘We Eat Responsibly!’ project.
This project involves 1 800 teachers in 9 EU Countries - Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. There are 90 000 students participating in 550 European Eco-Schools.
The EkoSkola Committee thinks that a very important reason for us to wholeheartedly embrace this project is the topic of healthy eating. In today’s busy lives, we are surrounded by convenience food, which is often not the healthiest option. We do not have time to prepare more nutritious food. Many ingredient lists on food packaging are long, and seem to come out of a chemistry laboratory. We are bombarded with sophisticated marketing which successfully convinces us to buy inferior food products.
The EkoSkola Committee will be following the tried and tested 7 step Eco School methodology to explore ways in which we can take a good, hard look at our eating habits and select manageable targets which we will then do our best to meet.
Our next step involves ALL of the school community. We need your help. We have designed a survey to see what the situation is. Your completion of the survey will give us crucial information on what we need to work on and will help us with the writing of our Action Plan. It takes very little time and is very straightforward.
Please see further information on our purposely built website, Glorious Food.
We promise to evaluate your responses anonymously and to use them solely in order to plan our activities.
We thank you in advance for participating in our survey.
The Eco-School Committee
St Joseph School, Sliema, Senior Section
These are some photos taken of members of the EkoSkola Committee during the assembly:
Our project moved further forward with an activity led by Senior IV Home Economics students who presented their ideas on Healthy Packed Lunches on the two Parent Days of the 25th and 26th November, 2015. You will find the recipes here: http://weeatresponsibly.weebly.com/our-glorious-recipes.html
Under the supervision of Ms Pauline Dalli, Teacher of Home Economics, the students designed and prepared their recipes with strict guidelines on ingredients they could use. They adapted some well known recipes to make them more nutritious; for example they used wholemeal flour instead of white flour.
Parents, staff and students all tucked in. The food seemed to be a great success. You know what they say: the proof of the pudding is in the eating!
On these two Parent Days, we also participated in the European Week of Waste Reduction which ran from the 21st November to the 29th November. We displayed some important statistics on food waste and also some practical suggestions on how to reduce it. We also projected Pope Francis's video message for the Campaign Against Global Hunger launched by CARITAS in December 2013 on the ethical implications of people in the developed world throwing away food, while others, in developing countries, go without. This is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvC-k1ai71Q
Today, we kicked off the We Eat Responsibly! project.
We brought food to the meeting in order to document what we consider to be REAL food today.
Will our idea of what constitutes real food change over the course of the project?
Maltese ġbejna, black olives, cucumber, strawberries, couscous salad, Maltese bread, a sandwich, hummous... We even had one member bring an example of what she considers NOT to be real food: twistees!
Members explained why they considered their food to be real food on sticky notes.
According to our committee, real food is:
Not processed, natural, fresh, free from additives, free from preservatives, healthy, nutritious, edible, not fried, and has no added sugars or artificial colours.
Interestingly, we had some disagreements. One member disagreed with the idea that all fried food is not real food. Another member stated that she thought that only fruit and vegetables were considered to be real food.
Interesting times ahead, as we develop our ideas about ‘real food’. Will we change? Will we also change the opinions of the people around us?