After a few months of exploring the question: Where does our food come from? (see The journey of food) it was time to share what we had all learnt. The ZPHS and RS students met in an open hall at the RS and over tea and snacks discussed and shared findings, questions and experiences. During this vibrant sharing session, students from both schools formed small groups ensuring that each group included a mix of students. It was also important that each group had at least one or two students who understood and spoke Telugu and English so that they could act as translators and interpreters. The students got to know each other, chatted and deliberated for about three hours at the end of which the small groups shared their exchanges with the larger group of students and teachers. To facilitate the larger sharing we asked the groups to respond to two questions:
(i) what are the two main learnings / impressions that you have had from this project?
(ii) how will you take this project forward in your lives?
Learning about ourselves
“Now we know where we are getting our food from and we know what we are eating.”
'We can talk to shopkeepers from where we source our food and find out from where they source the products.”
“We do not have too many students in school (RS) but our food footprint is large.”
“We understood that freshness of food reduces with increasing distance from the source apart from the fuel and energy used to bring the food from afar.”
“This project showed us that we need to change our eating habits – drink homemade lemon juice instead of aerated and other synthetic cold drinks. We are looking to change our eating habits after this project.”
“In RS we should waste less and really conserve the food which people take so much effort to produce. We need to understand food from the perspective of farmers – their effort and the resources that are used to bring food to our plates.”
“We eat much less vegetables and greens compared to the RS students. We don't eat so much ketchup. Instead we have a lot of chutneys. ”
“All of us really like packaged noodles and it is even available in the local stores in our villages. We can even cook them ourselves so we are wondering why our parents and teachers don't want us to eat them. They are so tasty!”
“In the village we buy our meat from vendors in Angallu or we eat chicken or mutton from animals that we rear. This way we are sure of the source of the meat.”
Understanding each other
“We learnt about agricultural practices from our ZPHS friends. All the farmers don't use chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Some farmers use chemicals for crops sold in the market but vegetables grown locally for home consumption are cultivated chemical-free!”
“Many of the RS students did not know what brinjal and leafy vegetable seeds looked like and they had never milked a cow or seen a plough till they came to this school.”
“We learnt that many farmers use drip irrigation to cope with water shortage. If we grow our own crops we can be careful about the water use and reuse.”
“We learnt that even though RS has such a huge vegetable garden you cannot grow all the vegetables you need because the borewells are dry! That is a little bit like our villages where many borewells are becoming dry.”
“So the RS students also eat millets. But while we eat it as sankati, they drink it as ragi kanji (porridge) in the mornings. Some students also told us that the dining hall is thinking of making korra murukkus (fried snacks). They are very tasty. My grandmother makes them.”
“Even though we live in such close proximity with the rural community there are a lot of differences in the food we eat. We always fuss about our food but we realise we have lots of variety unlike our friends in the villages. Our kitchen staff puts a lot of effort in getting the food to us.”
“We learnt that although at RS you eat rice at lunch time it is brownish in color and not white and some students don’t like the taste! In our homes we mostly eat white rice except when we eat sankati.”
“The food consumed by the ZPHS students is more seasonal and they eat less packaged food. Homemade food tastes better and it is more sustainable.”
Digging deeper into our food
“We now want to find out from where our parents get the seeds of the food crops that we grow.”
“We want to know about GM foods, the problems they pose both to nature and our health.”
”To take this project forward maybe we could grow some of our own food so that our expenses reduce and we are sure about the quality and source of our food. It will also reduce the packaging of food.”
“This project can be taken forward by maintaining a food diary at home during the vacation and then comparing that with the food that our ZPHS friends eat at home.”
The conversation continues
The impact of the project on the students was wide-ranging. The RS students debated in the dining hall and in class about food, asked their younger and older friends and teachers if they knew where their food came from, began demanding that millets and other locally grown vegetables be served more frequently in the cafeteria and even contemplated making millet cookies! They began linking it to packaging and pointed out that this would also reduce waste generation in the school.
Many of the ZPHS students talked to their parents, sourced seeds and started growing their own greens and some vegetables at home e.g. spinach, fenugreek greens, local variety of cluster beans, tomato. Over the next few months, parents of some of the ZPHS students who work at RS shared some interesting changes with us: their children were asking for more millets, they were curious about where seeds come from, wanted to learn more about farming practices so that they could share this information with their new friends at RS.
A human face to food
This preliminary exploration captured the imagination of the students in many ways. Bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds in such an exploration seemed to have put a human face to food. Students began to think about food beyond production, distribution, super markets and consumption; they keenly recognised that there are people living close to the land who actually lead a more sustainable lifestyle; that those who produce our food are, very often, themselves undernourished.
Real education is about engaging with one's surroundings, observing, questioning and learning about them. This journey into food through students’ questions was the most rewarding experience for us all.