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Blog: From seasonal to sustainable – our young ambassadors share their thoughts on the current food system.

Online zoom screenshot of people on the call

Blog by Maddie Sinclair. Research Assistant, Sustainable and healthy food for children team

Monday 19th July was a highly anticipated date by many, and for the FixOurFood team this was no different. We had planned to welcome 50 children from 6 schools across Yorkshire involved in our “Leaders for Change” programme, to Spark: York. The “Leaders” are groups of children passionate about food and climate change, engaged in activities in their schools, such as the school council. The day would have involved the children aged 7-17 meeting each other, learning about the interaction between food and climate change, exploring and tasting fresh produce from our Urban Vertical Farm at Spark, to name a few of the planned activities.

As circumstances changed, we were faced with the challenge of shifting the day online and creating virtual alternatives to our activities – Prof Katherine Denby who set up the Vertical Farm, had the superb idea of sending samples of fresh produce to the schools on the day! When one school confirmed their attendance, we donned our positive hats, and vowed to see it as an opportunity to pilot our virtual sessions, and to hear the fantastic ideas we hoped our Leaders would be eager to share.

After smoothing over some initial technical hitches, we made our introductions, and started to build up a picture of the Leaders’ interests and involvement in food and climate change activities. Here’s a snippet of what they had to say:

“I think saving the planet is so important for the future!”

“I really care about the environment and I have a Green ‘Blue Peter’ badge”

“Food and climate change are really important. Oh and I love food, I think it’s so tasty”

We then delved into an activity about food miles and carbon emissions, and the Leaders’ discussions flitted from the use of plastic wrapping, to using electric vehicles for transporting food, to the differences in flying versus shipping food. We had anticipated more technical issues with switching to a virtual event at short notice. However, the children effortlessly flowed into a well-rehearsed discussion setting, with a democratic leader making sure everyone’s voices were heard.

Zoe from the Food Foundation, one of our FixOurFood partners, gave a fantastic presentation to the Leaders. This was all about the importance of young voices in making changes in the food system. Zoe gave examples of the inspiring work of the Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassadors, who are involved in campaigning for initiatives such as children’s right to healthy, affordable food. Within moments, it was clear how integral young people’s voices are for policymakers to understand children’s lived experiences regarding a healthy sustainable diet, to support their decision-making. Seeing the enthusiasm of our Leaders, we’re sure that they’ll be eager to get involved in campaigning activities. Whether that’s creating petitions, making videos for social media, meeting government ministers or speaking on panels, we hope our Leaders now feel inspired to take on some of these opportunities.

Lastly, we opened the floor to questions and comments from our Leaders. Once again, they impressed us with their awareness of issues surrounding food and climate change, mentioning politics, socioeconomic inequalities and nutrition.

“I know it’s important to make unhealthy food expensive but how do we make healthy nutritious food cheaper?”

“How do we get seasonal produce in the corner shops instead of junk food? It’s not fair to parents who work all the time but still want to feed their families well”

A very enthusiastic Leader also sent us their thoughts after the event, noting that the pandemic has accelerated the need for change in the food system, and they were passionate that young people need to come together and have their voices heard.

The session was a fantastic way to listen to children’s priorities, and to get them thinking about the changes they want to see in the food system. Our engagement with the Leaders will be integral to understand children’s priorities, to guide co-creation of research, help translate research into policy, and to get children at the forefront of transforming the food system.

Thank you so much to pupils from the University Academy Keighley school  for attending our virtual Leaders for Change session, and to Vicky from Ryedale School for giving up time in between teaching and meetings to introduce her school, with enough time to tell us about her school’s plastic-free status! We look forward to meeting you all in September, and to involving you in more fantastic activities.