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Topic: School meals

In West Germany, eating at school is still a relatively new concept. The majority of today's adults went home for lunch – at least at the regular schools. For Waldorf schools were pioneers also in this field, offering warm lunch at school already in the 60s. In many other countries this has been established for decades, while in Germany it only reached greater public awareness after the introduction of all-day schools. But providing students with hot meals is always a challenge: financially, educationally, and culinarily as well. This of course also applies to Waldorf schools – in Germany and all over the world.

When in 1985, the Waldorf School in Berlin-Kreuzberg opened its doors, Dorothee Brosi-Burmann began to establish a kitchen for the school. In the beginning, she cooked at home for the after-school group of her daughter, who was enrolled at the school in its founding year. From the beginning, the afternoon care and thus also providing children with food was an important part of the school, Brosi-Burmann told the Friends of Waldorf Education. “At the time, this was a poor neighborhood here. After-school care was a necessity. The majority of children were at school all day. Most of the parents had to work. Both parents, that is. It was not easily possible to support a family on one salary. And since most children were at school throughout the day, they had to be fed. At the time, there were no caterers like there are today. So, it was necessary to establish the kitchen." What is today increasingly becoming a part of everyday school life in Germany  – a school kitchen with a cafeteria  – was developed by Dorothee Brosi-Burmann virtually from nothing. She was a trailblazer not only with regard to school meals, but also with regard to a vegetarian and whole food diet. She always had very specific demands concerning the food at school: "I always tried to give the students – from the substantial point of view  – what they needed during classes. And that they have a healthy diet in general." She finds this to be an eminently logical demand, just as that for a purely vegetarian diet: "In the beginning, we were exotic in this regard – also in what concerns organic farming. I proceeded unwaveringly. As a school kitchen, we do not need to make what you find everywhere else.  Most certainly not as a Waldorf school kitchen. In terms of education, we pursue a different path, so why not also when it comes to eating?"

What once began in the home kitchen has now become a large business, in which more than 1.400 servings are prepared on a daily basis. But many Waldorf schools in other countries are today at the point at which Dorothee Brosi-Burmann was over 30 years ago. The same applies here: Since the education is supposed to do more than just convey the subject material, the food is also supposed to do far more than just fill. Even if having enough to eat is, of course, in many places of eminent importance.  Heidi Leonhard, a domestic science teacher of many years and a food expert, agrees: "A balanced, whole food, mostly vegetarian diet of the highest possible quality, preferably regional, seasonal, and organic, traded fairly – that is the sustainable way to go!” Of course, it would be good if the kitchen staff had a foundation in the Anthroposophical understanding of food, since the entire human being needs to be addressed. It is about fostering strength at all levels of the threefold nature of the human being. The meals need to provide children with good, traditional food. They also need to help children and adolescents think outside the box. And a good diet supports the ability to concentrate and learn and it also affects behavior.

"While malnutrition is often a problem in poor countries, nutritional deficiencies frequently occur here as well," Leonhard explained in conversation with the Friends of Waldorf Education: "Children who are malnourished or have a poor diet have been shown to be restless and cannot concentrate as well.” She also emphasizes the need to recognize the value that food has: "First, one has to make the decision that providing the children and adolescents with high-quality food for is a principle of the school. Then, you need to accept that food may cost money and is therefore something of value. The school kitchen cannot be a profitable business and will very likely need to be funded, just like other important elements of the school, such as handcrafting, computer and technical training, or public relations." Even here in Germany, funding good school meals is often a sensitive topic. But what does it look like in areas of the world where less money is available, both for education and for food?

With the topical focus on “school meals”, the Friends of Waldorf Education would like put the spotlight on Waldorf schools that are exactly in such a situation. In some of the schools, which we will tell you about over the next few pages, the children hardly get enough food at home.  The parents are poor, work a lot just to be able to buy the bare essentials for the family, can hardly take care of the children during the day. A common, whole food meal for the entire family is often not possible. "This makes the school the place where not only a good, full meal is offered, but also where children can practice cultural techniques and social skills, and finally, where they learn about food and its importance. If you have a look at the situation in the world, there are even cases where school lunch is the most important and the only reliable meal for the children," Heidi Leonhard explains. To support the schools, and thus the children, in this aspect is an important foundation for the future. Healthy eating is also the foundation of good nutritional awareness. Thus, the vicious circle of malnourishment can be broken.

Christina Reinthal

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