Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

I feel like a lone voice in this Decade of Nutrition advocating food education for all.  Please can we call it "food education" instead of  "nutrition education"? There is overlap, but nutrition education has different scope. 

All the contributors have hit important nails on the head, but for me food education is the nail that pins supplyside solutions together and makes them work.

What do we think it is?  The impression from the references in the text is that "nutrition education" is manifest in (a) feeding messages and dietary guidelines (ENAs and FBDGs); (b) school meals and some kind of school education (seen as complementary in the text, although seldom in real life); and (c) labelling of food products.  Did I miss anything?

These are not in themselves food/nutrition education, although they can all be useful inputs in a dynamic learning process.  They are static elements which have to be activated and put to work to develop the capacities of adaptation, self-defence, discovery and change which are going to be essential to citizens in a needy world.  They manifest the lack of HOW, the "black box of implementation" (noted by the Society for Implementation Research in Nutrition). 

I think the health service has learned to turn the ENAs into maternalaction, but school meals, school food education and the FBDGs have seldom been evaluated for nutrition impact (a forthcoming survey and article on the FBDGs make this point).  Why do they continue to be routinely recommended in frameworks for country action?

Food education in its most fundamental sense is what everyone learns about food, mostly informally, through observation, experience, action and conversation, from birth (or before) and throughout life.  It includes beliefs, practices habits, preferences, skills and knowhow, perceptions and prejudices, social norms and status, capacity for change and experiment, interest and enjoyment.  Influences on this learning are many and various and have been extensively analysed in formative research. In formal programs food education calls on many well-known practices, such as behaviour change, social marketing, IEC, promotional campaigns, awareness-raising, school food projects, which are more or less successful according to the processes they adopt.

The outcome is some level of food literacy which manifests itself in action.  The levels of food literacy in the world are universally appalling, as the obesity epidemic has demonstrated.  So is the fragmentary incoherence of most of the food education efforts to improve it.  They lay the public open to the worst effects of the food industry.  They must both be recognized as inherent in the Right To Food

My second point:  food education is seldom much use if it stands alone, confined to the classroom, counselling session or side-along project component (I have seen many examples.  It has to be hands-on and mouth-on and embedded in its real-life contexts and settings. Children can learn from school meals by observing them, asking about them, trying them out; the same applies to the many successful community classes which combine shopping, budgeting, cooking and tasting with practical action and feedback in the real world. (NB Husbands and children big obstacle to improving household diet).   

This brings me to the point about hitting the right nail on the head.  What has not been properly recognized in the development world is that this interaction works both ways.  Not only do individuals learn better nutrition through putting it into practice, but nutrition-oriented development actions magnify their impact through some form of food education.  It stands to reason.  People do not easily renounce theif food habits, but they are more likely to do so if they think and believe it's a good idea, can see how to go about it, try it out and share the experience, above all if they have some ownership of the process.  The reverse has been repeatedly demonstrated,  Consumers have veto power.

There is a steady accumulation of demonstrated successes (I have a dossier):  in agriculture (generally seen as a nutrition-sensitive flop), there are the Farmer Nutrition Schools in Bangladesh; other homestead gardning projects are proving that they can transform diet and food practices;  in biofortification, the long journey of the orange sweet potato in Africa shows how much consumer education is needed to create demand, but that it can be done; in social protection there is the striking control experiment (again in Bangladesh) where adding a food education component to cash and food handouts multiplied the impact; in Norway a multi-sectoral program focused on fish at every level of the food system and evaluated positively.  I have also seen many project reports which propose incorporating or improving a food education or behaviour change component.

It's the mix that matters. Of course the HOW is crucial. There is a lot of very ineffective activity around which calls itself nutrition education and behaviour change.  We think we have most of the answer to this, but that's another post.

Jane Sherman