On February 7th and 8th, a group of 30 teachers and civil servants from cities in Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and Belgium came together to see how we can further develop healthy, sustainable and accessible food in schools across Europe. They visited the cities of Leuven and Ghent in Belgium. This was all part of the European SchoolFood4Change project in which Leuven and Ghent are also partners.
Good food at schools: a European learning exchange
The SchoolFood4Change project was officially launched on March 10th, 2022 - international school meals day. For the next four years, 16 cities in 12 EU countries will test sustainable criteria for food procurement. Furthermore, cooks and canteen staff will receive additional training. SchoolFood4Change is coordinated by ICLEI, a network of 2,500 local and regional governments concerned with sustainable urban development, and brings all relevant school food actors to one table: from students, parents and teachers, farmers, chefs and canteen staff to experts on sustainable food procurement, dietitians, and local enterprises. That way, 3,000 schools throughout Europe become motivated for changing the food system, which will have a positive impact on 600,000 young people. Rikolto is one of the core partners and will coordinate the development and implementation of a European framework for a holistic approach for schools in terms of food: the so-called whole school food approach.
The 'Whole School Food Approach' is an integrated approach to nutrition in schools. “When cities only focus on sustainable canteens, but children and young people don’t know where their food comes from or what the impact is on our environment, the social impact remains limited,” explains Annelies Smets of Rikolto.
“The opposite is also true. If children and young people learn in class about the impact of our food on the climate but have lunch in an unhealthy and unsustainable way or buy junk food from the shop next to the school, then the effect of the lessons remain pure theory. We can only change our food system in the long run if children and young people come into contact with food in a coherent way at school.”
We started this exchange in the hotel school of Ghent where we were warmly welcomed. We got to know each other and were given an explanation about the SchoolFood4Change project. Afterwards, the participants were placed in smaller groups and talked about what is already happening in their schools or cities and what they wanted to focus on more. It was nice to discover the differences and similarities between the different contexts.
After a tour of the school and a delicious lunch made by the students, we went to the ‘Experimental Garden of Odisee university college’. Their aim is to actively involve students in the entire process from seed to healthy food on the plate. Their goal is to increase the students ‘food literacy’ so that they can act and think critically about the impact of their food choices on their own health and on society at large.
Visits in Leuven that increased our appetite
We spent the second day in Leuven. Part of the group went to primary school Pee&Nel. Last school year they started with breakfast trolleys, filled with healthy food for all pupils. This project came after they noticed that (too) many children came to school without having eaten breakfast. Thanks to the efforts from the city of Leuven and Rikolto, they started this beautiful project.
The other part got to work in De Drukkerij, a warm place where residents, a local school and co-workers came together and enjoyed a delicious lunch. From a beetroot carpaccio to a tasty risotto, it was all on the menu. During lunch we also received a visit from the Alderman of Education of the city of Leuven, Lalynn Wadera. She talked about how important it was to do these kinds of exchanges.
“We can learn a lot from each other when it comes to healthy, sustainable food for everyone at school. We are very happy to welcome you in Leuven because we want to continue to take steps forward.”
In the afternoon we went to BoerenBuiten, the educational non-profit organization of BoerEnCompagnie, an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm on the outskirts of Leuven. Schools come to this farm to work with shovels and wheelbarrows, care for the animals and get a taste of the produce directly from the ground. In this way, children and young people learn where the food on their plate comes from. A perfect end to these 2 interesting days!
“The power of bringing school representatives together is that they give each other energy,” says Annelies Smets. “They go home with a suitcase full of ideas, contacts and energy to take the next steps.” We look forward to what happens next!