Last week Beth, the executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center, wrote an article about our ONSC motto "take what you need, and eat what you take!" The children repeat the motto before every meal at ONSC. Beth tells of how we encourage children to put only what they want to eat on their plate and then eat everything. The idea is to teach them to not waste food. Any waste they have is put into a clear plastic "compost bucket" and is shown to the children before the meal ends. If there is a lot of waste, we make a point to illustrate what is being wasted. Suppose the wasted food is mostly grilled cheese sandwiches, we illustrate the journey of that the cheese made:
"So where did this cheese come from," I ask the cafeteria of children, finishing their food.
"From a cow," a child answers.
"Okay, from cow, but it takes a lot to raise a cow, right, so let’s take another step back. What goes into raising a cow?"
"It has to be fed," a boy says.
"What do cows eat?"
"Grain," a girl answers.
"Okay, so grain has to be grown, right? What goes into growing grain?"
"A forest has to be cut to plant the grain," one child suggests.
"And the ground has to be fertilized," says another. "And watered!"
"Great, so then the grain is grown, but how does it get to the cow?"
"Someone has to harvest it," a child says. "And then it goes onto a truck and is transported to the cow!"
"Awesome, so all of that energy goes into just getting the cow its food. The cow also has to have water and maybe medicines and people to care for it. Eventually that cow grows up, has a baby, and is able to be milked. Then what?"
"The milk has to be made into cheese."
"Do you think the cattle farmer makes the cheese?"
"No...It has to be shipped to a cheese factory!"
"So the milk is moved by trucks to the cheese factory, and what type of energy is used in that truck?"
"Right, fossil fuels. And what goes into getting that fossil fuel? Where does gasoline come from?”
“Exactly, it has to be mined out of the ground, trees are chopped down, the ground to turned up, and people work hard to get the raw fuel out of the ground. Then it is moved to a refinery where it is made into gasoline. Finally it is transported to a gas station and put in the truck. Still with me?”
“Once the milk gets to the cheese factory it is processed by machinery. What powers that machinery?”
“Where do we get electricity?”
I laugh, “I wish, most of our electricity some from one source, a much more dirty source.”
“Coal,” someone says.
“Yeah, coal is mined and then it is burned, creating pollution, to power the machinery. The machines are operated by workers and the milk is made into giant blocks of cheese. But we don't buy giant blocks of cheese, do we? So where do those giant blocks of cheese go?"
"To a packaging place?"
"Yes, to yet another factory where the cheese is cut into smaller pieces and put into plastic bags. But then we don't pick up cheese from the factory so where does it go next?"
"It has to be trucked to a store."
"Well, usually it goes to a distribution plant first and then to a store, but yes. And there it is purchases but our cooks, driven all the way out here to the science center, cooked, and served to you.”
I take a deep breath and let some of this information sink in before I continue, “So if you waste the cheese on that sandwich, you are not just wasting cheese, but all of the time, energy, and resources that went into making the cheese and bring it to you!"
Jaws drop, these children have never pondered where their food comes from in such detail. Seeing their shock faces I know they will never think of food the same way again!