The Sustainable Table – creating a recipe for the future
It may not be so apparent but your dinner table is the reflection of how well you apply the sustainability of food resources. Have you ever wondered how far that apple that you’re eating has travelled or felt guilty about the amount of food we waste?
The two questions above were just part of the collection of thoughts Year 8 students at Toorak College have considered over the last two years in the highly successful inquiry ‘What does the sustainable table look like’?
Motivated by the global food shortages and related price hikes in 2008 which saw desperate people in developing countries such as Haiti resort to rioting, we were keen to develop an inquiry which not only informed students but developed some practical strategies which they could apply to their own lives. There were two key objectives of the inquiry:
- How can we shift our students’ awareness and understanding of sustainability as being a practice not just being observed at a global or national level, but one that can occur in their individual lives as simple as changing some of their practices in the kitchen?
- Just as important, how could we as teachers ensure our delivery of the concept of sustainability is both inspirational and engaging so that students would be keen to adopt these practices from a young age?
The answer came in the form of an inquiry which would culminate in a sustainable afternoon tea which would not only demonstrate the students’ understanding and application of sustainable cooking practices for their guests, but would create an innovative platform for them to inform the wider school community about their findings.
The inquiry involved a successful partnership between several disciplines – Food Technology, Humanities, English and Science. In the past we had conducted many inquiries between English, Humanities and Science so it was exciting to bring Food Technology on board. We wanted a project which students could get their teeth into, and the work conducted on cooking sustainably in Food Technology classes proved a perfect stage to initiate the project, and then merge with the concept of sustainability from a Humanities perspective. Students had been working with Giselle Wilkinson’s book ‘The Conscious Cook’ which provided students with a range of insightful and practical approaches, ideas and recipes to assist with becoming more sustainable in the kitchen. Students have been extremely fortunate to have had Giselle Wilkinson present ideas about food sustainability in the launch of the inquiry. Students acquired formal writing skills in their English classes in the preparation of invitation for guests to attend a sustainable afternoon tea. During the introduction, a Science teacher explored the idea of food wastage experienced from paddock to plate.
Blended through this project was the commitment to the Toorak Attributes in which students were developing and demonstrating the ability to become more Community minded and Communicative and Innovative in their inquiry work.
Running over two days, students were initially exposed to a variety of ideas which they would then explore through their own inquiry depending on their choice of topic.
- There are different cultural attitudes towards the choices of food we make.
- The choices of food and cooking methods we apply can have a huge environmental impact
- There are some sustainable choices to be made related to cooking which can reduce their environmental footprint.
- There are a number of issues related to social and environmental sustainability and food.
- Individual small actions can still make a huge contribution to sustainability.
Some examples of topics explored by students were: genetically modified food, feeding the world, food miles, fair trade, animal rights, food waste, pesticides, water sustainability, greenhouse warming.
Students became enthused about their inquiry upon discovering what their task entailed over the two days:
- The preparation of an annotated page of recipes for a recipe book to inform people about strategies to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle in the kitchen.
- The creation of a placemat related to their inquiry to inform people about sustainability and food.
- The organisation and preparation an afternoon tea which is composed of sustainable snacks made by the students.
- Preparation of an oral presentation about aspects of their inquiry to their guests.
- The development of an appreciation for sustainability.
- The development of literacy and communicative skills.
The scope for developing leadership and communicative skills was enormous. Each group had to work industriously and creatively to not only inquire about their topic but also to prepare invitations, recipes, place mats, an oral presentation as well as a themed table setting (following a demonstration by the Food Technology teacher of some creative and innovative approaches). Careful consideration had to be taken in the selection of their materials used for their table setting and meals.
The morning of the afternoon tea saw students cooking up a storm of activity. The rooms were filled with an array of inquiry products receiving finishing touches, coloured serviettes, clattering trays, food goods being transported to kitchens, flower arrangements and fluttering tablecloths.
The fruits of the students’ labour could be seen in the form of some inspiring presentations and products created for their inquiry. A real sense of achievement was sensed as guests wandered around the room and was seated to enjoy their afternoon tea while learning about sustainability. Finally, the students were able to take a copy of all of the groups’ annotated recipes to continue applying the concept of sustainable living in the kitchen at home.
All in all, both students and teachers thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and thoroughly practical experiential approach to inquiry.
I hope you can see the effort and commitment shared by everyone involved in this project; teachers and students alike. Perhaps you can take some of this and adapt it for your own school. Liana would love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment if you can. : )