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
In recent times, concern over what children choose to eat at lunchtime has been a major focus of English school meals policy (see, for example The School Food Plan (2013)). Schools are required to follow various nutrition and food-based standards regarding what food is served or sold over the lunch period, and are also encouraged to expand children’s food knowledge through culinary education in cooking and/or gardening (and potentially small-scale farming). These strategies are all underpinned by a focus on children’s future health. Little has been written about what role (if any) school cooks should play in these strategies towards healthier young people, and what an analysis of kitchen rhythms and routines reveals about the variety of ways schools provide healthy lunches for the young people in their care. This paper addresses both these ideas. This paper is based on doctoral work carried out in 2012/13. The research was ethnographic in nature, and this paper draws on field notes of kitchen observations, and interviews with school cooks based in three different primary schools in the East Midlands of England. Each primary school was located in a different socio-economic demographic, and this had an impact on the goings-on in the kitchens. Two schools ran their kitchens in-house; that is, the school employed the cooks directly, and was also responsible for all budgetary outlays and kitchen maintenance. The third school used a service provided by the local authority and therefore did not directly employ the cooks. This paper examines the everyday life of school kitchens and through doing so, reveals bigger concerns regarding social justice in English schools. It argues that although in theory children across the country receive similar meals while at school because these are regulated by nutrition standards, what actually ends up on a child’s plate is dependent on a variety of factors. Following Highmore (2011) I show how the “sensual-symbolic character of food” (p. 6) changes in different spaces and over time. The kitchen has often been discounted as a site of activism and resistance (c.f. Short 2006; Stovall et al. 2015) due to its position as a feminine space. This paper shows how an analysis of school kitchens, often overlooked by policymakers and educators alike, can contribute to our understandings of everyday life in schools and the wider discourses at work on health, children and wellbeing.
Dimbleby, H. and Vincent, J. 2013. The School Food Plan. London: Department for Education. Available at: http://www.schoolfoodplan.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/School_Food_Plan_2013.pdf [Accessed: 12 July 2015]. Highmore, B. 2011. Introduction: ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’ – sugar on the move. new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics 74, pp.5-17. Short, F. 2006. Kitchen Secrets: The meaning of cooking in everyday life. Oxford: Berg. Stovall, H.A., Baker-Sperry, L. and Dallinger, J.M. 2015 A New Discourse on the Kitchen: Feminism and Environmental Education Australian Journal of Environmental Education 31(1), pp.110-131.
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