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Blog post Part of series: Embedding sustainability education in practice

Integrating sustainable food in school systems

Verity Jones, University of the West of England

Food. It’s on the curriculum (in science, geography and design technology). It’s in our dinner halls. It’s in our playgrounds. It’s in our staffrooms. Food is everywhere. Delicious, nutritious – and perhaps even a little bit naughty. Food also tells a story: a story about a global supply chain that is under threat.

According to Springmann et al. (2018a), if the world population continues to grow as forecast, by 2050 the planet will no longer be able to support humanity. With more mouths to feed, combined with an increase in unpredictable weather patterns increasing soil degradation and pest infestation, harvest yields are diminishing. Against this context, our food systems face multiple crises. It has been suggested, however, that one way to reduce this environmental impact is through dietary change, specifically by reducing the amount of vertebrate animals on the menu – usually chicken, pork, beef and lamb in the UK (Springmann et al., 2018b). While we have seen a rise in vegetarianism and veganism, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UNFAO) has recognised an alternative diet – one which requires considerably less energy and water to farming traditional meats, yet provides equal, if not greater, nutritional value. This diet is one that includes edible insects, and the UNFAO has urged the West to adopt the practice of eating insects as a sustainable food source (van Huis et al., 2013).

While two billion people regularly eat insects as part of their diet (Jones, 2020), it is less common in the West and work needs to be done to address the misconceptions surrounding entomophagy (the practice of eating insects). Working with primary schools in Wales, I went to find out whether there was a taste for bugs and how we can embed more sustainable food into our schools.

‘Working with primary schools in Wales, I went to find out whether there was a taste for bugs and how we can embed more sustainable food into our schools.’

The research found that young people are open to trying edible insects, even when their initial reaction is more ‘yuk’ than ‘yum’. This acceptance does come with some conditions: no parts of insects should be visible; and information about the insects is essential. Pupils also want to know how they are farmed, how they are slaughtered, and to be reassured that they are not only nutritionally beneficial and more sustainable than other meat alternatives, but that they won’t make them ill. After workshops with entomologists and food developers from Bug Farm Foods, pupils were found to be so positive about eating insects, in the form of a new product called VEXo, that the local authority planned to put it on the regular school lunch menu.

Teaching about food, where it comes from, and the impacts it has on people and place is important if we are to support young people in thinking about sustainability. But we can’t leave it there. Knowledge and no action can leave young people in a state of eco-anxiety as they wrestle with the immensity of the issues compared to the size of the steps we are taking to address the problems. School is a perfect space to put knowledge into action. Here we have the opportunity to integrate a systems approach where pupils learn about the issues in the classroom, but then have the opportunity to choose sustainable lunches in the dinner hall, buy sustainable snacks at break time, and see staff enjoy sustainable treats when they get to the end of the day.


For ideas of how to use edible insects in food technology, go to Bug Farm Foods for ingredient and recipe ideas.

This blog is based on the article ‘“Just don’t tell them what’s in it”: Ethics, edible insects and sustainable food choice in schools’ by Verity Jones, published in the British Educational Research Journal on an open access basis.


References

Jones, V. (2020). ‘Just don’t tell them what’s in it’: Ethics, edible insects and sustainable food choice in schools, British Educational Research Journal, 46(4), 894–908. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3655

Springmann, M., Clark, M., Mason-D’Croz, D., Wiebe, K., Bodirsky, B. L., Lassaletta., L., de Vries, W., Vermeulen, S. J., Herrero, M., Carlson, K. M., Jonell, M., Troell, M., DeClerck, F., Gordon, L. J., Zurayk, R., Scarborough, P., Rayner, M., Loken, B., Fanzo, J., Godfray, H. C. J., Tilman, D., Rockström, J., & Willett, W. (2018a). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature, 562, 519–525. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0594-0

Springmann, M., Wiebe, K., Mason-D’Croz, D., Sulser, T., Rayner, M., & Scarborough, P. (2018b). Health and nutrition aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: A global modelling analysis with country-level detail. The Lancet, 2(10), e451–e461. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30206-7

van Huis, A. Van Itterbeeck, J. Klunder, H. Mertens, E. Halloran, A. Muir, G., & Vantomme, P. (2013). Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security, UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved from https://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/wurpubs/fulltext/258042