Ancient farming was simple. Later on, to pursue large-scale rapid production, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are used in large quantities, which causes pollution on crops and the environment, and also destructs the habitat of animals and plants and damages biodiversity. In the hustle and bustle contemporary life, people have less knowledge about their diet and agriculture. They do not know the local agricultural products in season, how the products grow, how to prepare them for balanced nutrition, etc. Some people just want to choose products that are large and beautiful, without knowing how the production and preparation process may affect their health and the environment. The alienation of modern people from farming even leads them to neglect the gratitude they owe the land and the food producers. Now as we are faced with problems of food safety, environment pollution, aging workforce, and the decline in food self-sufficiency rate, the issue of food and agricultural education is no longer negligible.
Why Food and Agricultural Education?
Literally, the food and agricultural education is the education about food and agriculture. Does it simply mean to teach people how to enjoy delicious food and how to become professional farmers? Or is it just to follow a guided tour for some hands-on farming experience? Of course, not just that. These activities may lead to some labor experience and growth of knowledge, but the most important thing is to introduce the true significance of farming.
The food and agricultural education is a hands-on experience. Learners develop simple farming and cooking skills in the whole process of production, processing, and cooking. This is not only a labor experience, but more importantly, a learning experience to understand the source of food, develop the ability to choose food and the right diet, and learn to respect and be grateful to the food, producers and the environment.
Through food and agricultural education, good diet habits are formed and dietary risks are avoided. At the same time, the idea of “consuming the local food” encourages us to support local farmers while promoting local cuisines. It also leads to an environment friendly economy, forming a positive cycle of development in which the environment is sustained and keeps returning healthy and safe food to us.
Directions and Core Concepts of Food and Agricultural Education Promotion
In the 2017 Project of Food and Agricultural Education Promotion, a comprehensive “Multi-faceted Development of Food and Agricultural Education in Taiwan” is developed (as in Chart 1). This chart is based on the content of "A Study on the Curriculum Essence of Food and Agricultural Education Facing the Global Environmental Change" by Chen Chien-Chih and Lin Miao-Chuan, and "Promotion of Food and Agricultural Education in Taiwan's Agricultural System" by the Council of Agriculture. This Chart covers eight areas, including a low-carbon diet, food culture, and balanced diet (correct diet knowledge) in the sphere of diet education, community industries (inclusive of rural and local economies), food and beverage experience, global environmental change adjustment (food security) in the sphere of agriculture education, and environment friendliness and food safety in the integrated sphere of both diet education and agriculture education. Each area further covers several sub concepts, to serve as reference in promoting food and agricultural education.
Food and Agriculture Experience
The food and agricultural education begins with personal involvement, including community participation, agricultural production experience, food cooking, and ecological experience. Learners acquire simple skills of farming and cooking, observe and understand the rural ecological environment through first-hand experience, and enhance the sentiment toward land and understand the important connection of the environment and agriculture.
Community industries (including rural and local economies)
In Japan, Satoyama refers to the mountains, forests and grasslands surrounding the village, the land of communities, forests and farmland located between the mountains and the plains. Satoyama Initiative has the vision to realize the ideal of harmonious coexistence between the human society and nature. On the basis of the Satoyama Initiative, we encourage the study and appreciation of the satoyama (land) and satoumi (sea) of Taiwan, to take into account ecological conservation and community industries, to promote the special local agricultural products, to support small-holder farmers and to develop self-sufficient local economy.
Global environmental change and adjustment (food security)
This is an aspect for reflection on issues of problems facing Taiwan's agriculture, adjustment to environmental changes (including climate change, and changes in natural resources such as soil, water resources, and forests), safe supply of food, and sustainable agricultural production, etc.
The most direct approach to low-carbon diet is local production for local consumption, which not only reduces food mileage and carbon footprints, but also promotes the consumption of local agricultural products. Natural processing refers to adjustable processing to balance production and marketing (such as processing excess fresh fruit into dried fruit to extend the shelf life and increase the product value). Consuming food at proper amount and searching for alternative sources of animal protein (such as insects) are also in the aspect of low-carbon diet.
Diet culture is people’s emotion for food and the way of using it. The same food may have different levels of importance, history and culture, and ways of cooking and consuming in different regions. These are all worthy of our understanding so as to preserve the local food culture, including the importance of food, dietary characteristics, festive food, and eating behavior.
Balanced diet (correct diet knowledge)
A balanced diet is a goal not easily reachable for modern people who are usually busy and lack enough dietary knowledge. Therefore, in food and agricultural education, knowledge of our needs for nutrition, healthy eating principles, meal preparation and food combinations, along with simple and healthy green cooking helps maximize the value of food for human health.
Consumer behavior affects the supply and operation of the market. Nowadays, consumers are concerned not only about the price of agricultural products, but, more importantly, about the issues of safety and health. The land friendly cultivation produces safe agricultural products and also helps maintain biological diversity, promote natural circulation and sustainable development, so that humans coexist with the environment, animals and plants. In addition, the consumers’ closer association with smallholder farmers has established mutual trust and the mutual affection between people and not just a relationship of commercial transaction.
The purchase of right food is not easy. The delicious food may not equal to those with good appearance and nutritional value. To understand the processed foods and the additives, the shipping and preservation methods of food, the “four TAP labels and one QR Code” system is the assurance that we can make the right choice on the purchase of safe food.
Taiwan's unique geographical environment and climate have produced a diverse ecological environment and rich products throughout the year, with different food cultures emerged in different regions. The promotion of food and agricultural education is done in different manners due to the various resource conditions available in various places. Food and agriculture education should start from childhood and incorporated in the school curriculum. In each school, some local product can be focused to help the learners develop a full understanding of its process from the farmland to the dining table so that the utmost goal of food and agricultural education is achieved, which leads to the change of knowledge, attitude, and behavior. The model can be transformed from school education to the general public, to achieve a positive cycle among individuals, communities and the environment. And the goals of better health, improved food safety, high rate of food self-sufficiency, better welfare for farmers, rural regeneration, and friendly agriculture can all be achieved.