Sustainable food education: what food preparation competences are needed to support vegetable consumption?

Caroline Huyard (2020)

Environmental Education Research. 26(8), pp. 1164-1176

Abstract. Contributing to more sustainable diets is a major challenge for contemporary environmental education. It implies an increase in the share of plant-based foods and of home-cooked meals. Awareness of this is widespread but taking concrete action is not easy. What competences does it call for? To identify them, we proposed an 8-month training course to groups of young adults in France. Their consumption of vegetables and the competences they mobilized were collected at the end of the training and 8 months later. The competences used by the participants with the lowest consumption of vegetables included controlling their food budget, collecting information about processed foods and planning what they would like to eat. The competences used by the participants with the highest consumption included planning meal preparation, being flexible, choosing quality products and mastering the preparation of fresh vegetables. These results are of interest for designing education programmes for sustainable diets.

Extract. “The qualitative data were collected from a food training with young adults (students or recent graduates seeking employment). Young adults were chosen as the target population because there is evidence that young adults’ diet, and in particular students’ diet, is generally too poor in fruit and vegetables with respect to nutritional recommendations (Larson et al. 2012). The study however did not consist of measuring the impact of the training, but it made use of it to access data on the participants’ food preparation competences and on their diet. It draws on the notion of ‘test’ as developed by the sociologists Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot (2006). A test can be viewed as a critical moment that confronts people with a disruption of their usual course of action. This disruption leads to reactions that are different from one person to another and that can be described and accounted for. According to Boltanski and Thévenot, people are able to provide ‘justifications’ for these reactions. This is particularly important regarding habits or routines, because it can be difficult to reflect on this type of action when they are performed in the usual way. On the contrary, after a test, it makes sense to ask the participants what happened exactly, how they reacted, and why they reacted this way, because they can now think in a meaningful way about the investigated routines or habits. Interviewing the participants during the training and several months later was thus an opportunity to collect rich and robust qualitative data on their concrete practices.” (p. 3)

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