Sustainable food education – a way to create change

Food waste is a globally recognized problem, which connects all dimensions of sustainable development. Food consumption is responsible for a significant part of the environmental impact caused by humans (Mason & Lang, 2017, pp. 120–122). At the same time roughly one third of all food produced for human consumption ends up wasted (Gustavsson, Cederberg, Sonesson, van Otterdijk & Meybeck, 2011). Food waste also causes financial losses and is linked to social justice, such as global food security. Although famine is mainly a problem in developing countries, the need for food aid has not disappeared in more developed countries either (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO, 2020). The Russian attack on Ukraine has also worsened and will continue to worsen the global food crisis even more.

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Consumers are one of the biggest sources of food waste in developed countries. People may not even realize how much they waste food in their everyday life. Spoiled food can be easily disposed and thus, it’s out of sight and out of mind. In order to reduce the consumer-related food waste it is important to increase consumers’ knowledge and skills as well as create a culture that supports attitudes and values that encourage to fight against food waste. Previous studies have highlighted the importance of education in supporting sustainable culture related to food and food waste (e.g. Elorinne et al., 2020; Pollari et al., 2021; Ripple et al., 2017; Sekki, Autio, Lindblom & Niva, 2021). One of the goals of sustainable food education is transformative learning where the learner’s emancipatory and critical understanding are developed (e.g. Smith, 2017; Pollari et al., 2021). Basic education therefore plays a key role in providing the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that enable children and young people to better respond to food-related challenges.

In my doctoral dissertation (Pollari, 2022) I examine the current state of the pedagogy of sustainable food education related to food waste in Finnish basic education. Pedagogy is approached using textbook analysis, as textbooks are still the most used teaching and learning materials and they have also shown to influence teaching. Textbooks were chosen from home economics, geography and biology subjects. Sustainable food education is especially emphasized in home economics education. Geography and biology textbooks were also included in the analysis, as food waste is related to the curricula of these subjects as well.

The textbook analysis is based on KVP model (Clément 2006) in which it’s assumed that learning occurs between the interaction of knowledge, values and practices. In the analysis the contents of textbooks were approached from their 1) food waste-related content (knowledge), 2) value orientation given to food waste in relation with sustainable development (values) and 3) pedagogical text styles were used in presenting the food waste-related issues (practices).

The research revealed that food waste is covered the most comprehensively in home economics and least in biology textbooks. Analysed textbooks typically build the understanding of food waste from the subject’s curriculum. The textbooks don’t integrate the different dimensions of sustainable development – home economics textbooks emphasize economic and ecological meanings, while biology and geography textbooks highlight social and ecological sustainability. The most of the pedagogical text styles used in the textbooks do not necessarily motivate the learner to change their food waste behavior or guide the learner to a critical examination of it. The textbooks pedagogical potential which supports transformative learning could be increased for example, by favoring text styles that support learning, enhancing and expanding the perspective and diversifying the knowledge base so that the textbooks take into account the various dimensions of sustainable development and the value orientation connected to them. (Pollari, 2022.)

I believe that sustainable food education can support children and young people to become conscious and skilled citizens who truly appreciate food. However, if we really want to make difference and reduce the amount of food waste we can’t just shift responsibility for the change in consumer culture to children and young people. That is why: it is time to look in the mirror and see the change.

Milja Pollari, PhD

younger researcher

University of Eastern Finland


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Elorinne, A-L., Eronen, L., Pollari, M., Hokkanen, J., Reijonen, H. & Murphy, J. 2020. Investigating home economics teachers’ food waste practices and attitudes. Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability 22(1), 82–96.

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