Food glorious food

Food glorious food

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Ten weeks ago today the search for innovative schools began in northern-central Italy, at Reggio Emilia, a city of 180,000 people situated in the fertile Po River Valley, 45 minutes East of Parma and 1 hour West of Bologna. As well as pioneering a student-centred approach to education, with a philosophy that views every child as capable, curious, competent and intelligent, what we noticed in every school we visited is how important food is to education. Not surprising, given that the Emilia-Romagna region gifted the world balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano (cheese), prosciutto di Parma (ham) and tortellini, to name a few.

Every school should have its very own chef!

16,000 km South of Reggio, Mia Mia – like so many of the Reggio Inspired schools across the world – employed a chef who prepares a weekly menu and cooks alongside two children. The chef doesn’t just cook food, she also documents each child’s learning – a feature of the student centred approach – and is therefore just as much a teacher as those in the classroom, or the teacher at Mia Mia who has sole responsibility for the outside space.
It was slightly paradoxical to observe pre-school children arranging floral displays on tables they’d laid, and then sitting alongside staff eating restaurant quality food they helped prepare, listening to music, after previously visiting high schools where every child eats the same bland, cooked-from-frozen food, off plastic trays, in record time. In the former schools – where sharing breakfast, morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea had been elevated to another level – the context or environment made a significant difference to the quality of the shared experience, and the depth of conversations that lead to relationships and real-life learning around the table.

Reflecting on some of the personal culinary experiences of the past ten weeks, the three course Vietnamese meal – with Mochi Ice-cream and a first ever Panna Cotta to finish – was a most memorable way to celebrate an 18th birthday with family. Marinated Sardines – a Venetian specialty – was also a first, like Scallops in Washington, cornbread in the New York, Tandoori clay-baked Snapper in Auckland, Mackerel in Bangkok, and chilled Red Lambrusco in Reggio. And then there were the world’s best picnics, so many with views to die for…

Starting in Reggio, daily picnics in the piazzas around the Loris Malaguzzi International Center were delight-full; not only because of the opportunity to sample more local produce, but it represented a space in the day for our first reflections on our participation in the Study Group on the Reggio Approach. On to Venice, where the steps of Santa Maria della Salute offered welcome shade from the heat, and a memorable view of the Grand Canal.

In New York, a conversation about the possibility of attending one of the city’s many – but expensive – Jazz Clubs, preceded the moment a quartet began setting up whilst picnicking in Central Park. In DC, the shade of the trees lining the Washington’s National Mall beckoned, although – in hindsight – the National Gallery of Sculpture and its impressive fountain would have provided even more refreshment in the heat.

Rather than get battered by a blustery Nawi Cove in Sydney, battling through elements lead to the Barangaroo Reserve, just around the corner, complete with a stunning first sight of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The fast-ferry from Sydney leads to Manly, and a picturesque 10km walk around the coastline that leads to Cabbage Tree Cove and a picnic spot on Shelley Beach. There were quality curries and home-cooked Chinese in Blenheim, but it was too wet for picnicking. Christchurch was too cold, but the 450km journey through South Island included a picnic stop at Kaikora (below left), where snowed-capped mountains meet the sea at sunset.

As for ‘picnics’ on the Pacific, it is hard to beat the fish and chips supper in Byron Bay and the sunset in Burleigh.

Lastly, but by no means least, just imagine sitting on the shores of Galilee (above right), dipping Arabic bread in hummus, with local olives, followed by dates stuffed with walnuts, whilst listening to the miracles of Jesus.

Food really ought to be about more that ‘filling a gap’ – something one just has to do to get by and survive. Meal times can represent a sacred space in the day, where we debate, dream, ponder, reflect and wonder, etc. Cooking, sharing food, lingering around the table, and even washing up together can be made memorable.