Geography - Navigate the maize

12th October 2012 at 01:00
The breakfast table prompts an exploration of food geography

If school geography is going to have relevance for young people, it should focus in part on the universal daily experience of eating and the processes that allow people to eat.

The notion of our breakfast making global connections has been used in speeches by Martin Luther King, who said that "before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world". And at the Royal Geographical Society in June, Michael Palin spoke of the importance of geography starting before we leave home in the morning: "Think of the geography of a breakfast table - where food comes from, how much we pay for it, how and where it is grown."

Food geographies can start with the familiar: mapping where food originates, considering the merits of fair trade production, or mapping food miles (critically, to avoid the trap of far equals bad and near equals good). Pupils can then move on to the unfamiliar, exploring the issue of food security and the relationship between food production and water usage. They can also investigate the "land grabs" that can result in the most productive land in some less-developed countries being owned by foreign (often European) companies.

Two free online CPD courses on food issues have been produced by the Geographical Association. They provide classroom resources and offer the chance to think about some of the key questions. One focuses on geographies of food, including sustainable fishing and climate change. The other looks at food security, including the growing number of food banks in the UK and Oxfam's GROW campaign.

Food is the subject of the fourth book in the Geography Collective's award-winning Mission:Explore series. It's a children's book that asks young people to "meet their meat", make scary soup and keep a poo diary. Mission:Explore Food's 159 activities encourage children to learn about growing, harvesting, waste and soil: essential ingredients in appreciating that their choices affect people and places around the world. Creative Commons-licensed samplers of all six chapters can be downloaded from the TES Resources website. They include ideas for homework and fieldwork tasks.

When teaching about food, why not extend the metaphor into the organisation of the lesson, offering a "menu" of choices? After all, lessons often begin with a "starter". You could even ask groups as they arrive whether they have booked a table.

Alan Parkinson is an author and freelance geographer. He is a former curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association and a former head of geography


The Geographical Association's online CPD courses can be found here: bit.lyGeogCPD

Find out more about Oxfam's GROW campaign at bit.lyOxfamGROW and check out Oxfam's teaching resources at bit.lyOxfamTES

The Geography Collective's fourth book, Mission:Explore Food, is available in several formats. For information see bit.lyExploreFood and download the resources at bit.lyTESMissionExplore.

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