Episode 47: Nurturing Food Literacy in Children

We are excited to have Alicia Martin, a PhD candidate in Geography on our podcast to share her expertise in food literacy. Alicia highlights the importance of food as a vehicle for learning and how food skills contribute to different outcomes. Don’t forget to check out our cookbook for easy-to-follow recipes that are delicious and nutritious!



Marciane  00:04

Hello, welcome to The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast hosted by the Guelph Family Health Study.


Tamara  00:14

If you’re interested in the most recent research and helpful tips for healthy, balanced living for you and your family, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, we will bring you topics that are important to your growing family, and guests who will share their expertise and experience with you.


Marciane  00:30

Our quick tips will help your family build healthy habits for a happy home.


Tamara  00:41

Welcome back to The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast.


Marciane  00:44

I’m Tamara. And I’m Marciane.


Tamara  00:46

And, today we’re excited to have Alicia Martin join us. Alicia Martin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography here at the University of Guelph. Today, she’s here to talk to us about food literacy and children, and food literacy education. So, just to kick off our podcast here, can you tell us a bit about yourself, Alicia, and your role and experience of the Guelph Family Health Study?


Alicia Martin  01:05

Yeah, of course. And, thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to chat with you today. What brought me to the University of Guelph was a realization that there’s just so much more that needs to be done in terms of food literacy, in terms of education, and in terms of, of monitoring that food literacy as well. So, that’s sort of what brought me back to do my PhD. And, then my link was the Guelph Family Health Study is on a project that’s actually through Health Canada. We’ve been working on developing a “food literacy measures.” So, that’s basically a survey to look at Canadian food literacy, and sort of see where it’s at. So, we can start to have some pathways to improve that food literacy. As you noted, my PhD is in the Department of Geography, so I’m not in the health or nutrition department, so that’s a bit of a different connection here. And, my connection to food literacy, as a result is a bit different, because I’m interested in human environment relations, or how food systems have an impact on our health, as well. So, my connection through geography is a human-environment connection. I’m really interested in how food systems can impact our health through what types of foods end up being available, whose symptoms are impacting the environment, of course, and how that has some impact for what foods will be available and accessible later on down the line.


Marciane  02:35

Thank you so much for sharing that. That’s really cool. I’m interested to see —  especially with the project through Health Canada —  where you all are coming up with that food literacy measure . That sounds really cool. And even just what you brought up with food systems and the effect of  food availability and the effect on the environment that food systems have. I think all of that is really cool. So, excited to have you on the podcast. So, to give some background for our podcast today, can you explain what food literacy is for our listeners?


Alicia Martin  03:09

Yeah, of course. So, food literacy is actually very, very broad. To put it in a really easy basic terms, it’s our knowledge and skills in relation to food. That can be for nutrition and health-related outcomes and knowing how to cook. But, it can also be related to food systems, as well, and our knowledge of the food system and how we can interact with that food system in all of its complexity.


Tamara  03:37

Definitely, yeah, the term food literacy, it’s very, very broad. Like you said, there’s a lot that goes to that definition. There’s a lot of different definitions out there, as well. And I really liked the way that you put it: that you include kind of the practical side of it, as well as talking about the food systems, as well, because I think sometimes when people hear that term, food literacy, they focus a lot on the food skills and, kind of, like, cooking and that aspect of it. And, sometimes the food systems is not what comes to the front of mind.


Alicia Martin  04:05

Exactly. And, I mean, it’s still really in its infancy, in terms of being a concept, and I think still got many years to grow. So, I’m really excited to see what direction it’s going to head in the near future. And, that’s something I’m working on in my PhD, a little bit, is the food systems aspect of food literacy. So, I’m very interested to see where it will go.


Tamara  04:30

Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, that’s actually a great, a great transition to our next question here, which is about your background in geography and how that intersects with your work in food literacy.


Alicia Martin  04:41

Right. So, geography, for me, in my case, I’m a human geographer. So, that means that I’m interested in how humans and society intersect with nature and the environment. How we impact one another. I became interested in food literacy almost close to 10 years ago now, when I started to realize the impact that our food systems were having on the environment. And, in particular, like greenhouse gas emissions coming from food systems, and how they were contributing to climate change. And, I was really shocked that this was not something that was more mainstream at the time. I think it’s something that more and more people are talking about now:  the impact of food systems on the environment, but it’s still something that’s relatively hard to grasp. So, I really got interested in food literacy as, sort of, a mechanism, or an opportunity to empower people to make some changes in their own diets so that they can, maybe, be a bit more sustainable, but also to get involved in food systems so that they can be more sustainable. And, I really saw that as an arm or a branch of food literacy. And, it’s something that others are saying is a part of food literacy, as well, which is exciting. So, that’s sort of how, in my work, I approach food literacy coming from a geography background.


Tamara  06:07

Yeah, that’s awesome. I mean, I just learned a new term there with a human geographer. So thank you for explaining that. I’ve never heard that term before. And, I think it’s amazing, kind of, the work that you’re doing, in terms of the food system  —  and like you mentioned earlier —  it is food literacy as a whole is in its infancy. And, research has a long ways to go in terms of work in that area, but, also the arm and the branch that you have found, and are working on yourself, in terms of food systems, and how that impacts everything. I feel like the research that you’re doing is most definitely going to advance the field, for sure.


Alicia Martin  06:43

Thanks, Tamara.


Marciane  06:45

And very, very needed. Food is important, and so is our Earth, and the environment. So, very important work that you’re doing.


Alicia Martin  06:53

Well, and we really won’t be ensuring, you know, future food availability, at this rate, if we keep having the environmental degradation at the level we’re having.  We’re also seeing significant impacts from climate change on food  systems and agricultural production. Really, there’s just so many things that are interlinked. And, while it’s really complex and hard to understand, it’s really important for ensuring future food availability, which is important for our health and our health outcomes.


Tamara  07:24

Definitely, I mean, food systems, it is very complex. Can you just break down a little bit what you said for our listeners about its relationship with food availability and climate change, and all of that? Can you just talk about that a little bit, and how that, kind of a broad sense, I guess, of the connection, between all of those things?


Alicia Martin  07:40

Right, of course, so food availability is essential —  essentially making sure that, in the future, we will have food available at our local farmers’ market, at our local grocery store, or wherever we get our food. Actually making sure that there will be yields or outcomes of agricultural production with increasing droughts and increasing floods and changes in the climate coming from climate change. This is making agricultural yields and agricultural production more uncertain. And, it’s causing more and more issues for farmers to be able to have enough produce —   not only to make ends meet for themselves —   but to then send that food to whoever is waiting on it for it to move into its next stage in the food system, Whether that’s to be processed —  so tomatoes, turning into canned tomatoes —  or showing up directly in the grocery store as a fresh product, or potentially being frozen. So, that processing stuff being transported and then ending up in the consumers’ hands after getting it from a retailer. Really, the climate has a big impact on our ability to produce food. It’s really, really challenging for farmers.


Marciane  08:59

Those were really great points. And, if you ever want to chime in more go further, please, please do because this is all important information. It just shows the importance of why we should know more about food systems and be more food literate so we can make the best decisions about the foods we choose and how it really is closely related to the environment. So, with that being said, why do you think teaching about food in school is so important?


Alicia Martin  09:30

As I said before, food systems are really complex. I’ll take a second to pause to explain what a food system is, because I don’t think I’ve done that yet. A food system is essentially from production or from farm to fork or to waste. So, it’s production, processing, transportation, consumption, or that retail level, and then the waste of food. So, it’s basically a whole circular system. And, that system is not just linear or basic like that, but it interacts with other systems, like political systems and economic systems. It is incredibly complex. But, understanding that on a basic level is really, really important. Because when we study something in school, and a lot of young people that are going to university to learn about nutrition or to learn about agriculture, are doing that in a little bit of, in a very specific field. So, when it comes to work in the workplace, we need to make sure that those people in different fields are talking to one another and are understanding how the work that they do, and the decisions that they make have implications for other aspects of the food system. And, an example that I think of is:  there’s a couple of scholars of the UK that have regularly talked about how fish is something that’s highly recommended for a healthy diet. But, at the same time, they were saying that this was controversial because some fish stocks were depleting rapidly. So, what we recommend for health might also have some environmental implications. And, this happens the other way around, as well. To come back to your question, teaching about food in schools is important. And it’s important from a broad perspective. We really, really need to make sure that we’re teaching kids about what’s important to have a well-balanced, well-rounded diet, and teaching them skills as well. There’s really a lack of food-skills education in the curriculum. And, that can be for many reasons.  It can be for just a lack of time and a lack of resources, but also a lack of infrastructural facilities, right? So, if you walk into a school, there’s not necessarily a kitchen in every classroom. So, making that logistically happen can be a bit of a challenge. But, then as I’ve been going on about the food system, as well, we really, in terms of sustainability in the future going forward, there’s a lot that we can learn about the food system and learning about food can cut across all curriculum documents, and doesn’t need to be talked about in one course, and can really be a vehicle for learning. There’s a couple of scholars that talk about food as a vehicle for learning to be able to really practically see and apply theory, you know. There’s kids learning about learning about math while using food and setting up little garden at the schools and measuring out where seeds should go. So, there’s lots of really practical applications of things that are already being taught about in schools while using food as a vehicle to do so.


Marciane  12:49

I like that. I like that:  food as a vehicle for learning. That is really cool. And, the way you explained it was very awesome. I was envisioning like little kids in the garden as you were talking.


Alicia Martin  13:01

Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t want to take credit for that. I believe it’s, you know, Flowers and Swan and Jennifer Sumner, both, all amazing scholars that have  really talked about that. But yeah, it really puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?


Marciane  13:17

It does. With that, what are the implications of not being food literate?


Alicia Martin  13:23

Before I answer the questions, I’ll pause again for a second, because being food literate is possibly never an achievable goal. Like, it would be really hard, I think, to be 100% food literate, because we’re all constantly learning more about food and about the food system  and it’s a lifelong journey of learning. But with that said, there are some really key and basic skills that we can be teaching kids and young people so that they’re prepared to be able to be resilient and cook for themselves. Yeah, do their best if they have the means to purchase and access fresh, nutritious foods  —  to know what to do with that, and how to prepare those foods, as well, and how to make them taste good and to be able to enjoy them. There’s lots of implications. And, I think there’s health implications, as well, as food systems implications. And, there’s really so much that we can be teaching young people about food and, and really starting that journey of learning at a younger age, so that by the time they become independent, they’re able to not only care for themselves, but be engaged citizens that are aware of the food system.


Tamara  14:40

For sure. The engaged citizen par is really key in interacting successfully with all those different areas of food literacy, and how they all kind of connect and relate to, you know, our health, the environment, and the food system as a whole. And, I like what you said about how it’s a lifelong journey of being food literate, because it’s definitely about the journey and not so much this end goal that it’s, like, “Yeah, this is like 100% food literacy.” I think that’s important to, kind of, keep into perspective that it is the journey that you take. And then, of course, starting that younger has benefits as children grow into, you know, teenagers and adults that are on their own all of that knowledge and skills and practice, and all that learning builds upon how they will eventually interact with the food system on their own as independent adults.


Alicia Martin  15:27

Yeah, for sure. And, to add to that, too, it is a lifelong journey. But, you know, we still aim to have some benchmarks. And, that’s something that we’re really working on —   myself included, and lots of other scholars —   is to figure out how we can have some of those benchmarks to even make this more clear in the educational context about, like, “How do we do this? What do we need to be? What level do we need to be at by the time students in Grade five versus graduating from Grade 12?” There’s a lot of work to be done still. And, it’s really ongoing. And, it’s exciting what’s happening right now.


Tamara  16:01

Definitely. Yeah, it sounds like there’s a lot of exciting work and research that’s happening to  establish those benchmarks, and especially just because you just mentioned the educational setting. I know that there was recently a bill, I think it was a couple years ago, Bill 216, the Food Literacy for Students Act. I think it was proposed in 2020. So, it’s great to hear that the importance of food literacy is being formally recognized with this bill. Can you tell us more about this bill and the implications of this bill?


Alicia Martin  16:32

So, yeah, that’s a great point, Tamara. So Bill 216, or the Food Literacy for Students Act, was introduced by a former MPP Darryl Kramp, in October of 2020. So, he works really hard on putting that bill together with some local stakeholders that were working on food literacy. And, essentially what the goal of that bill was to make food literacy mandatory from Grades One to 12. It would have also required amendments to the Education Act, so that that would have been a requirement for Grade 12 graduation. So, this was a really exciting bill. And, it sailed through its first reading and then kept moving on, and there were consultations and things were going really well. There was a lot of excitement. And then, the Government of Ontario prorogued in, I believe it was last fall, yeah, so September 2021. And, unfortunately, what happened, is the bill that are proposed, and because this was a private member’s bill, ended up being bumped and moved around in terms of scheduling, to be addressed. And then, the bill didn’t actually get passed, unfortunately, before the election, the provincial election that took place earlier this year in, I believe, June. But, that being said, this has led to a lot of really exciting momentum around food literacy, and a recognition that this is really important for children and youth to know about, and for it to be integrated into education. And, in March of 2022, earlier this year, the government actually updated the science and technology curriculum from Grades One to Eight and the Grade Nine curriculum to incorporate foods literacy. So, they really recognized it and used the term “food literacy,” and brought in a bit of that system perspective as well in that science and technology curriculum, but also connecting, you know, science elements to health outcomes. So, it was really exciting. And, I think, even though the bill didn’t pass, the momentum is still going. And, hopefully there will continue to be more implications from this bill. And, maybe a similar bill will be reintroduced with the government again soon.


Tamara  18:53

Yeah, for sure. That would be awesome. I mean, like you said, I think that it’s great  —  even though the bill itself didn’t get passed, unfortunately —  it’s really exciting to hear that there were some changes maybe that were inspired by it. I’m not sure if that’s a good word to use for it. But with the government updating that science and technology curriculum, and also the Grade Nine curriculum, as well, it’s clear that there is some momentum here. And also, the fact that they’re using the term, specifically, “Food literacy,” is really exciting as well and linking that to health outcomes and kind of the seemingly holistic view that they’re taking on it. It is exciting to see where that’s gonna go, for sure. And, as someone who did go to high school in Guelph, I remember my Grade Nine Family Studies class, there was a little bit about food literacy, I think there was like one week maybe that we did some hands on cooking, but that was about it. So I’m really excited to see what this will turn into in that real practical hands-on applications in the schools themselves.


Alicia Martin  19:47

Yeah, for sure. It’s really exciting and, fingers crossed, that we can get some political action on that again soon and getting moving again, because there’s still so many other places that food literacy can be integrated across the curriculum or public health curricula, so plural of curriculum. Just really looking forward to what might come from this.


Marciane  20:09

What research is out there regarding the benefits of food literacy education for children, both in the school and even at home?


Alicia Martin  20:18

This is a really interesting, and a really good question, I think. So, I think you ladies have hit a really great spot. Research of the benefits of food-literacy education, I would say, is still up and coming. A lot of the research that’s related directly to food-literacy outcomes for children tends to be related to increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and healthy-eating outcome. But there’s also some research emerging about, sort of, through this food sovereignty lens, or a bit of a food-justice angle and, and opening up young people’s minds to the world around them, and how they can have some impact in the world, in terms of, you know, growing their own food and being involved in food systems and taking back some ownership over  the food system and what might be produced in their local area. So, there is definitely a breadth. But, I think that there’s also lots of gaps. And this, I think ties in with something I was talking about earlier, in terms of food literacy is still being talked about and conceptualized. So, I think there’s still a lot of opportunities to really expand on that research, in terms of the benefits regarding the research outcomes of food literacy, education, and more evaluation of intervention. But, that also comes with, you know, getting access to children and youth, and being able to see how interventions are working. But, there is lots of research out there about, you know, giving children the opportunity to taste fresh fruits and vegetables  and tying that in with gardening and giving them the exposure of you know, growing your own food, and then reaping the benefits of that, which is really exciting. And, there’s some of there about improving food skills. And, there’s definitely a lot more that’s needed. But, what has been done, it’s really exciting. And, I think what will come is going to be even more exciting.


Marciane  22:26

Those are all really good points. And, I think, just like you said, you’re getting the children involved at such an early age, and I bet it’s going to show that, “Wow, I can have an impact and a change already.” And hopefully, that continues into adulthood, and can inform their future food decisions. And then, it can have this positive trickle-down effect on the overall like food system and our environment, in general, since they’ve learned from such an early age, and can continue to apply that throughout the rest of their lives. So, those are really good points.


Alicia Martin  23:00

Thanks. Yeah, and I think it doesn’t have to be one or the other, too, which is exciting. We can start to integrate subjects a little bit more and the benefit of doing that is that, you know, one kid might be a little bit more interested in nutrition and health, but then another kid might be more interested in the food system or the environment. So then, if we take a bit more of an integrated approach, then we might be getting the interest of most children and some  of the children when talking about food, in this case.


Marciane  23:30

So true. So true. Is it ever too early to start developing a child’s food literacy?


Alicia Martin  23:38

I don’t think so. I mean, part of food literacy is developing, and having a relationship with food. So, you know, being exposed to different foods and different flavours, and you know, enjoying food and just having those new tastes and new exposures and knowing what you like and what you don’t like, you know, maybe developing a willingness to try new foods. So, food literacy is incredibly broad, as I said before, and part of that can be understanding new flavours and trying new foods. I mean, when I was quite young and I’m sure this is similar for many other people, and maybe not all people, there’s opportunities where you can be in the kitchen, whether it’s making cookies and pushing that cookie down with a fork, and for that the cookie that needs to be flattened out or, you know, having your hands in dough. And you know, developing knife skills can start quite early now, even though that might seem quite scary. That hands-on aspect can actually start quite young, as well.


Tamara  24:46

Yeah, for sure. When you bring up the knife skills, too, there’s all kinds of different like equipment, right? It doesn’t have to  —   well, it shouldn’t be a really sharp knife for a young child, right? But, there’s different tools that are available so that you can nurture those things now. That’s a really good point because it is something that is seemingly scary, right? Giving, you know, a toddler, however old they are, a knife. But, there are tools that make that a lot more safe, for sure. And, I just wanted to loop back around. You mentioned earlier about your work and your experience a little bit with establishing benchmarks. Can you just speak and comment on that a little bit? And just about that progression?


Alicia Martin  25:21

Yeah, of course.  There are some researchers out of the University of Manitoba that have actually just been working on different competencies for young adults, and some of the resources that they have started as early as age four. And really, that exposure and what I was talking about, you know, trying new foods, exposing young people to, you know, fruits and vegetables, for example, gives them a taste for that. And, that helps to develop, maybe, more of a desire and willingness to eat those foods going forward, as well. So, there can be ways to not only just taste foods, but then have, you know, basic nutritional knowledge conversations around that, as well. I’m not sure if that quite answers your question. But yeah, there’s ways of turning this into a basic connection to nutritional knowledge. And then again, you know, there’s young children in schools that are learning how to grow their food and plant a seed. And, there’s lots of ways you can tie in education about food production and food systems in that context, in terms of some of those, you know, competencies, development benchmarks.


Tamara  26:35

Definitely, yeah. Especially when you talk about benchmark development and how these competencies are developed and what that looks like. I think the biggest thing is that it’s taking this really broad encompassing term, which is food literacy, right? And all the things that are a part of that, and it’s, kind of, breaking it down into pieces that are more tangible, more manageable, as well, right? They’re just like little bits and pieces that we can take, and then we can incorporate that into some of that hands-on learning at home, at school, as well. Like, you mentioned, there’s lots of opportunities for learning about food in the school setting and across, you know, a wide variety of disciplines and subject areas, as well.


Alicia Martin  27:16

Yeah, exactly. There’s so many ways that we can tie it in. And because it is so complex, the more that we spread out that learning, I think the more effective it will be and, you know, continue to reintroduce it at different age levels with different complexities and add different layers. And, really, that’s how we learn, you know. You think about how someone planted the seed in your in your food literacy way back when and how maybe that has grown and flourished over time, as well. So, I can think of a few examples of, you know, when I was younger someone teaching me something that it’s, like, “Oh, wow.” I still think back to that.


Marciane  27:55

No, yeah, for sure. Can you speak to us about some of the barriers to applying food literacy? And, how families can overcome them?


Alicia Martin  28:05

Yeah, of course. And, I think this is a really important question. Because, just because you have knowledge does not mean that you can apply that. So knowledge and practice are not on a level-playing field. So, you might know that eating carrots is good for you, or eating avocados is good for you, right? As a more expensive example of a fruit or vegetable. But, paying for that avocado and being able to afford that avocado is not on a level-playing field for everyone. Not everybody can afford to eat healthy foods, quote unquote, healthy foods, you know, trying to step away from that terminology to a certain degree. Eating, you know, fresh fruits and vegetables is often looked at as the ideal standard, which is not always true, you know. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option. Generally, people think that eating fresh is the best option, yet it is quite an expensive option. So, just to come back to the question, barriers to applying food literacy can sometimes be an ability to access or pay for food. That’s quite a large barrier. I mean, there’s so many barriers like, you know, marketing, you walk into a grocery store, and the grocery store is set up in such a way that certain foods are being marketed to you. Sort of that confectionery section right by the cash register —   that is set there for marketing purposes or to really to try and get you to behave and purchase in a certain way while you’re standing there and waiting. So, while we may know certain things about food, actually applying that knowledge in certain contexts can be really challenging. And, you know, I’ve only really talked about the aspect of, you know, purchasing food and the grocery store, but it goes beyond that, too. Like, if you wanted to grow your own tomatoes, but you don’t have an outdoor area to do that, I mean, that’s a barrier to being able to, you know, grow and produce your own food. There’s lots and lots and lots of barriers, time being another one. And, I think just, you know, finding ways that you can have the best balanced diet possible for yourself and looking at ways that you know, the community can help support the food that you have available to you in your home, as well. If you’re having access issues, it’s really important to be able to overcome some of those barriers. But, also, there’s a political aspect. And, unfortunately, people that tend to not have the means to be able to afford food, often are not the ones that have the ability to spend time connecting with a local politician, for example. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone else shouldn’t be trying to do that. You know, food security and access to food is such an important.  It’s important for absolutely everyone, every day of their life. These are things that we need to overcome, and, you know, just having emergency food resources available is not a food-security solution. And, I realized I’m getting into some, sort of, big topics here. But, I guess, overcoming some of these barriers would be looking to local community resources and how they might support, you know, access to food and things like that. And, you know, finding ways to get engaged in your community to improve your local community’s food security and food availability. Yeah, it’s a really complex question. But, I think I’ll, I’ll leave it there.


Tamara  31:42

Yeah, for sure. I mean, there are, just like you mentioned, there are so many barriers, and there’s just different levels to it, right? At the beginning, you were talking about the purchasing, and obviously, the things that you need to do to overcome some of those barriers are much different, when there is just, you know, a lack of enough money to buy food, right? Like, those are two very different barriers that need different solutions. And, I think what you were saying about food security and food literacy, it is so so important. And, that’s for everybody, right? As you were saying, as well. I think there just is such a large opportunity there for advocacy work to be done. And, I think this is just something really important to continue to talk about, and to continue to promote and encourage is just advocacy around food security and food literacy.


Alicia Martin  32:26

Yeah, absolutely. There’s so much more that we can be doing, especially if we have a little bit of time and energy to give. And yeah, just another quick strategy to overcome some of these barriers is, you know, what are some of the —   if you’re exhausted, that’s another barrier, right? —  What are some of the things that you can do and have available to be able to overcome the times when you’re really tired, but, you know, you still want to try and put a meal together at home? And, you know, if you need to order food, you need to order food. Sometimes that’s just the case, you know, having some quick and eating meals that take 10 minutes to put together is, is another great strategy to try and work towards.


Marciane  33:07

Those are all really good points. I was just thinking, as you were talking through these barriers and solutions about just, like, my upbringing. I grew up very food insecure for the majority of my life. And, I think that there was a lot of, like, marketing —  I’m also from the state, so there might be some differences —  but, there was a lot of like, marketing and things that I felt, like, made my single mother and I growing up feel, like, “Oh, it’s all our fault or responsibility that like we aren’t eating as healthy or aren’t being as healthy.” And, it took a while to actually just sit down and, kind of, I think have grace on ourselves and realize that, like “no, like, we can’t afford to make an avocado, like, salad or, like have all of those things that are kind of marketed as the superfood at the time or as whatever you should be consuming to have like these health benefits whatsoever.” So, it really just was, kind of,  sitting down and being like, “Okay, how can we make the best use of what we have?” And, just like you said, asking for help, like, cooking together with neighbours or family or friends. But, I think just it was helpful to understand and I think just sit down and realize that, like, “No, there are actually things that make it hard for us to afford these things that are, again, just labeled as healthy and what you need to eat to have these health outcomes.” So, like, just have that grace and try to figure out how to make the best use of what you have. So, that just came to mind when you were talking.


Alicia Martin  34:52

Yeah, thanks for sharing that, Marciane, and I’m sorry to hear that you, you know, had that experience. And, I think, you know,  the fact that you were feeling like what you were doing is was wrong is really, that’s sort of an outcome of the food system that we have. And, I could go on a tangent about, you know, the neo-liberal aspects of that, or the ways that the food system is, you know, it’s set up so that it is the individual who is responsible. And, our governments has, sort of, allowed that to be the case, while we do try to teach about, you know, food literacy, you know, there’s other things that we can do to improve access to foods, like living wages as an example. And, maybe if people are able to access food, and it’s not necessarily a given that they might eat in a certain way, you know. So I think there’s a lot of systemic aspects there that, you know, are making people feel like it’s their fault, but really, it’s the system and our governments, to a certain extent, that are failing us there, as well. I’ll just stop, because that could be a whole other podcast in and of itself.


Tamara  36:06

It definitely could, it definitely could. It’s such an important area, and I think it’s very clear that there are some very large systemic and structural barriers at work. And, as a result of these, like, you were saying, Alicia, and like Marciane has experienced, unfortunately, a lot of the responsibility gets placed on the individual. And, it just really shouldn’t be that way. These types of barriers can feel overwhelming. And, I think this is really where advocacy to the government plays a very important role. Are there any resources that would be helpful for families to access about food literacy and, kind of, integrating that with their children?


Alicia Martin  36:44

Yeah, for sure. There’s so many resources out there. I mean, from, you know, teaching about Canada’s Food Guide to learning about agriculture. There’s so many ways that families can access resources, not only expand, you know, maybe parent’s knowledge of food and food systems, but also their children. You know, the Guelph Family Health Study has some really amazing cookbooks online that are really easy to open up and look at some new recipes. But there’s also opportunities in the community to go and do some hands on learning and develop some food skills. There’s opportunities to get involved with community garden. There’s lots of farmers that are always looking for help with some planting or with some harvesting, or maybe even gleaning. So, gleaning is going and cleaning, collecting some of the products that may have been left in the field, and then trying to make sure that that’s not just wasted and left there. There’s lots of ways to access resources, just, kind of, looking at what is available for you in your local community. It takes a little bit of effort, but there’s so many things out there. And, I mean, as an example, I’m right now looking at volunteering with my local YMCA to help with a youth hands-on cooking program. So, helping young people to develop some food skills so that when they get to that point of being on their own, they know how to cook today, or maybe chop up some vegetables to make a salad or have a snack or what have you. So, there’s lots of resources that just, yeah, you have to poke around a little bit to find them.


Marciane  38:25

Makes sense. Makes sense. It’s good to know that they’re there, though. That’s really, really helpful to know that they’re there, even if it’ll take a little bit of research. How can parents nurture hands-on food literacy application at home?


Alicia Martin  38:39

Yeah, this is a really good question. And, I think, I mean, there’s a lot behind it, too. We were talking about some barriers, and, you know, at the end of the day, parents might be absolutely exhausted and cooking dinner might be a little bit of alone time and that’s totally okay. But moments where parents, maybe, have a little more energy to spend with their kids and doing some of that hands-on learning. You know, baking is a wonderful starting point. No knives involved. So, just, sort of, getting your hands into some dough and, you know, getting to see how flour and water, and whatever other ingredients, mix together can end up being bread or a cookie or what have you. So, there’s lots of ways to just have a little bit of exposure here and there. And, then, also, I mean, we’ve been talking about some  basic skills and things like that, like, cooking an egg or making an omelet is such a versatile and accessible protein. And, teaching kids how to be resilient and, you know, start playing around with flavours in an omelette, as an example, is a really good way to, sort of, start some of that hands on learning with food.


Marciane  39:52

No, that’s a great point. And, that’s exactly how I was able to get my siblings in the kitchen, is let’s bake some cookies together. [laughter] And, now they’re excited for it anytime, especially around the holidays, when we have like more time to be in the kitchen together. That’s like the first thing they want to make. And, I kind of picked up on that, so I’ve become a little strategic. So, once they’re in the oven, then it’s, like, “Okay, help me prep the other things, like the meat or the veg,” and things like that.  But, baking was definitely the catalyst for their love for being in the kitchen. So, that’s a great point.


Alicia Martin  40:30

Yeah, and I mean, like, what you just said too, like, help out a little bit with this and that, but, yeah, maybe baking and making cookies as a way to, sort of, hook them in and make them excited about food and being in the kitchen and cooking.


Tamara  40:45

To close up the podcast, we like to give families three take-home tips. What are three take-home tips you can share with our listeners about food-literacy education for children?


Alicia Martin  40:53

Three take-home tips. Eating and knowledge around food is never perfect. We’re all doing our absolute best. Strive for what you can do and what’s best for you in your context in your family. But, don’t necessarily strive for absolute perfection all the time. In terms of, you know, maybe a little bit of an action point, we’re at such a really exciting time, in Canada, and in Ontario, for food-literacy education, but also school food. So, if you have the time and the means, now’s a really good time to get engaged with your local MPP and your local MP to talk about school food at the federal level, and then also to talk about food literacy education in Ontario schools with the provincial government. This is just such an opportune moment that, you know, a tip would be, you know, talking with some local politicians and seeing ways that they can help to keep moving this forward. And then, a final tip:  kids are learning how to have a relationship with food. And, I think just focusing on making that positive and really focusing on the enjoyment factor is a really important aspect for, you know, food-literacy education for children and what parents can do at home. The more you can just try and work on a positive relationship with food, the better that relationship will be for children for the rest of their lives. So, those are my three tips.


Marciane  42:27

No, those are great. Thank you so much, Alicia, for taking the time to chat with us about food literacy and sharing your knowledge and research with us on the Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast.


Alicia Martin  42:39

Thanks for having me. Great conversation.


Marciane  42:42

No problem. We hope our listeners enjoyed this episode, and we’ll see you next time.