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School trip to the abattoir, anyone?

animated image of a meat counter

Countryfile is one of those Sunday-night programmes that is seen (usually by those who don’t watch it) as undemanding ‘comfort’ viewing. Yet presenter Tom Heap argues in the current edition of the Radio Times that “every school child should visit an abattoir” and that “Schools should be encouraged to visit [an abattoir] as part of the curriculum.”

Tom believes that children should be much more aware of where their food comes from. He feels that uncomfortable truths about animal-based food production should not be hidden or glossed over and that coverage of these and other issues by the programme is something that should be shared with the audience.

The argument that we should face up to the realities of meat production is well-made in his ‘Viewpoint’ article. And it’s true that many children in the UK are living lives that are urban and far removed from the settings in which the meat and dairy products that they eat are produced.  But it’s worse than that.

Surveys of children in recent years have revealed that many display a startling level of ignorance about the source of their food.  Last year the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) surveyed over 27,000 children across the UK and made some surprising discoveries. 29% of those aged between 5 and 7 believed that cheese came from plants. 8-11 year olds didn’t fare much better, as a quarter of them thought the same.  When it came to secondary age children, 6% of 14-16 year olds apparently thought that eggs were produced by cows.

Other surveys have revealed that children didn’t recognise many fruits and vegetables in their non-processed forms.  At a time when childhood obesity is becoming a serious concern, our children don’t know what they are eating.

Our relationship with food starts at birth and it seems astonishing that, although what we eat is so important in nourishing our bodies and keeping us healthy, we may have no idea of how it is produced and processed, and even what it is made of.

Many schools are trying to counter this by showcasing healthy eating and having their own vegetable gardens. Some even run small ‘farms’ in an attempt to educate children and young people about food. Others organise visits to working farms or other food production units, or to Agricultural Shows in areas where these still take place.  For example, the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate welcomes around 6000 children on school visits every year and also offers secondary school pupils and insight into a range of land-based industries as a possible career.

As the BNF says, “Food is a fact of life”. Every year they organise Healthy Eating Week and provide teachers with a range of resources to help promote healthy food and good eating habits.

For classroom-bound teachers keen to bring the great outdoors inside, a wide range of Countryfile clips can be found here. A particularly interesting clip – for those children thinking that cheese comes from plants – shows an intensive dairy farm in the US. In direct contrast, presenter  Matt Baker visits a traditional farm in Jersey – and reveals some gory details about islanders.