Food is a song and dance

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Learning a song-and-dance routine in Japanese may seem an unconventional approach to developing healthy-eating habits, but it is proving very effective in one part of south Wales.

Artists Terry Chinn and Etsuko Hanyu have been touring schools in the Cynon Valley, combining music, dance and puppetry with a "good food" message that is also helping to develop social skills.

"We present ourselves as two friends," said Terry, a designer who has worked on several theatre-in-education projects.

"I'm local and Etsuko is from Japan - which happens to have one of the healthiest diets in the world - and we prepare food for a party to welcome her to the valleys."

Etsuko, a qualified teacher in her own country and a music therapist here, and Terry explain the different food groups and the way food is absorbed by the body. A wickerwork ribcage with an unfolding velvet small intestine that gets passed around the class proves a particular hit.

The children then devise a menu for Etsuko's party meal, based on her dietary preferences; prepare the food from material, cardboard and paper; make "keeping well" gift cards; and then enjoy a cookery demonstration and a taste of some real Japanese food.

"We had a new health centre in the village where I live, Penrhiwceiber, and I wanted to do something to mark it," said Terry. "I thought of a project called 'keeping well', rather than 'get well'."

The project was commissioned by Communities First, which works in the most deprived areas of Wales.

Children at Ynysboeth juniors in the lower Cynon Valley are the latest to have been visited by Terry and Etsuko, thanks to support from a local community group called The Strategy. Half of the pupils are entitled to free school meals.

Headteacher Ross Edwards said: "We're trying for Wales Healthy School status. This year we have been selling fruit and orange juice, and the amount of crisps and fizzy drinks coming into the school has reduced greatly. We're trying to get them to think healthily."

But Terry believes there are other benefits.

"It's good to see the children in groups, working together and depending on each other to get the job done - and also thinking of other people's needs -because Etsuko is from a different country, she likes different things."

Towards the end of the morning, most of the Year 6 pupils had decided that making the food had been the best bit of the day. But then that was before Etsuko's fresh fruit orange jelly made an appearance.

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