08 SES 14, School Food, Equity and Social Justice – Reflections From a Health Education Perspective Part 1
Symposium to be continued in 08 SES 16
This symposium will discuss school food interventions/programs that focus on or may be purposely ignoring issues of equity and social justice related to school meal configuration. Food is, as Weaver-Hightower (2011) points out, a major social justice issue in schools, as food practices are means of social reproduction, oppression and resistance. The starting point of the debate is that providing school food for all children in equal terms at school has been viewed as a means to contribute to greater equity and social justice. The provision of school meals has e.g. been seen as a means of eliminating health inequalities or promoting healthy eating habits (Leahy, et al. 2015; Pike & Colquhoun 2009). However, one-size-fits-all solutions have led to erring on the side of low cost or efficient forms of food provision that are not necessarily socially agreeable, palatable, or even healthy, or - worse - transforming the school meal into a site for religious or cultural contention. In response to widespread preoccupation on overweight, school food has also become an instrument to influence or control individual behaviour, diverting attention from health inequity, including forms of food production and circulation that are a consequence of, and reinforce, cycles of social disparity (Burrows & Wright 2007; Wright 2009). Further, school meal approaches that directly address issues of equity and social justice in food procurement, preparation and consumption are uncommon. A focus on feeding the children misses out on perspectives such as “buen vivir” (good living), which demand more harmonic relationships with the environment as a goal and as a means to achieve greater social equity (Torres 2017).
Food education is frequently topic based instead of integrated across the curriculum or involving critical reflection on, and participatory action to improve, school food environment and resources. School food interventions/programs are rarely underpinned by educational purposes or considerations, and the idea of learning through everyday school meals is not widespread (Gullberg 2006). This delimits how food and food practices are understood and approached within education, when food should be considered “an integral component of the ecology of education – the broader interconnections, actors, relationships, conditions, and processes of which education is composed” (Weaver-Hightower 2011). The symposium will focus on analyses of school food policy, programs and interventions from critical socio-ecological perspectives, and discuss their implications in relation to a development of a more inclusive and socially just food education and learning experience. It will furthermore include analyses of the curriculum and pedagogicalisation of school meals, how curricula in food and health education reaches across the school-family divide, and on the meanings and understandings of foods and meals in school foodscapes. A key point of discussion is what we mean by equity and social justice within the field of health education: Are these concepts, as Elizabeth St. Pierre has pointed out (in a presentation at AERA), inadequate signifiers, or a part of a privileged discourse of the global North that takes certain ideologies of welfare liberalism or neo-liberalism for granted, and thus hides conservatism? The symposium will include a discussion of if and how health education as a field can respond to these kind of challenging questions, and if there is a need for a criticality in health education research in relation to ‘mainstream’ discourses that take for granted the meaning of equity and social justice. It will also compare and contrast the visions regarding methodological approaches based on the defence of rights and those aiming at protecting children and young people. A special issue has been planned to collect the different perspectives and interpretations on, and propositions for, future policy and practice.
Burrows, L. & Wright, J. (2007) Prescribing practices: Shaping healthy children. The Int J of Children's Rights, 15(1), 83-98. Gullberg, E. (2006) Food for future citizens: school meal culture in Sweden. Food, Culture and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 9, 337–343. Leahy, D., Gray, E., Cutter-Mackenzie, A. and Eames, C. (2015) Schooling Food in Contemporary Times: Taking Stock. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31(1), 1-11. Pike, J., & Colquhoun, D. (2009). The relationship between policy and place. The role of school meals in addressing health inequalities. Health Sociology Review, 18, 50–60. Torres, I. (2017). Policy windows for school-based health education about nutrition in Ecuador. Health Promotion International, 32(2), 331-339. Weaver-Hightover, M. B. (2011). Why researchers should take school food seriously. Educational Researcher, 40(1). Wright, J. (2009), Biopower, biopedagogies and the obesity epidemic, in J. Wright & V. Harwood, V.(Eds) The Biopolitics of the Obesity Epidemic: Governing the Body. New York and London: Routledge.
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