The project Making Eat Together aims to identify principles beyond nutrition and health-related aspects to inform procurement criteria to purchase food/meals for school canteens. The project envisaged two phases of engagement with different actors:
★ stakeholders, i.e. caterers, cooks, school directors, civil servants and institutions in charge of food procurement for schools, e.g. municipalities;
★ pupils, families, teachers and those responsible for school meals at school.
Through qualitiative methodologies, we have explored different dimensions that make and shape the every-day practice of eating at school across three European countries (Germany, Italy and Portugal), involving overall seven schools (primary or secondary). Moreover, the research process has sought to produce new knowledge with the participants engaged, firstly by tapping into their knowledge, experiences, concerns, and values.
This toolkit, available in English, Italian, German and Portuguese, takes the form of an illustrated book that provides rationales, tools and tips to foster dialogues in schools about food but it is easily adaptable to other subjects and situations.
If you are a school and you are interested to receive a copy, write us at EU-CITIZEN-ENGAGEMENT@ec.europa.eu
- Quaglia, A., Guimaraes Pereira, Â. and Ghezzi, A., Imagining `eat` together: the school meal, EUR 31223 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2022, ISBN 978-92-76-56986-2 (online),978-92-76-56987-9 (print), doi:10.2760/42718 (online),10.2760/819153 (print), JRC126058.
- Quaglia, A. and Guimaraes Pereira, Â., Engaging with Food, People and Places, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2021, ISBN 978-92-76-19997-7, doi:10.2760/33273, JRC121910.
When and Where
- 6 professionals from management of catering services (one managing director, five technical or purchasing managers);
- 4 policy-makers and public officers in charge of food procurement in schools at the local level;
- 1 cook
- 3 experts in health and nutrition in schools and two school directors
- 2 researchers with expertise on law and food policies
- 21 in-depth interviews were conducted with different stakeholders involved in the school meal;
- 4 short-term focused ethnographic observation were conducted into 3 schools.
2. Recommendations about food procurement in schools
- In light of a lack of education towards civic engagement, processes such as the ones conducted within the Making Eat Together project, could empower citizens, including youth to take a greater role in addressing community issues;
- as many others argued beforehand, youth have ideas on how to solve this and other policy issues that concern them: they should be given room to meaningfully channel such ideas;
- Schools confirm to be the starting point where to enhance a civic engagement culture and activate citizens;
- A consistent discrepancy between intents, policies and practices. The mismatch between claims of the relevance of the school meal from a health education perspective, on the side of institutions and adults involved, and lack of care of basic socio-spatial aspects.
2. This study suggests that future procurement criteria need to be designed while taking into consideration the following social and ethics-related findings in relation to environmental dimensions. Among others:
a) Sustainability ethics: e.g., vegetable-based menus as an alternative to meat- and fish-based ones, The issue of ‘substitution’ needs to be addressed and framed not only in nutritional terms but also in sustainability and ethics terms, covering which vegetables are used, the origin of the vegetables and how they are prepared;
b) Ethical animal slaughtering, sustainable wild fish capture, organic foods, or even vegan and vegetarian options were generally considered mandatory criteria when procuring school food, according to families and other members of the school community;
c) Food waste produced by the meal and those who (do not) eat should become a key indicator when it comes to evaluating the fitness for purpose of the proposed
meal. Food waste should ring an alarm bell, signalling the need for dialogic processes that explicitly include those who eat in co-creating or at least fine-tuning the official school menus and, consequently, the food procurement criteria. Labelling the problem as a matter of ‘acceptance’ or ‘lack of information and awareness’ will not solve the issue;
d) The most crucial element with regard to procurement criteria has been centred on the choice of foods, from ingredients to recipes; but this is not enough. It was clear from this research that procurement criteria need to be co-designed with the whole of the school food chain, including primarily those who experience the school meal, that is, the pupils. We found not only that school communities are eager to embrace dialogue about different matters of concern but also that they have a strong desire to be part of those conversations; furthermore, they have ideas about the formats in which those engagements could take place. The pupil, and not the representative, is a key actor. In all proposals made during the group discussions, the pupil is central to any strategy proposed. This is so not as the consumer of a meal but as a citizen with legitimate needs, likes, dislikes, fears, comforts, discomforts, pleasures, a sense of aesthetics, sensibilities, etc.