Few school kids come home from school to say they learned how to debone a chicken or cook dried beans.
But high school students in Lauren Sawchuk’s home economics class at Sisler High School in Winnipeg can.
“We are basically doing everything from scratch,” says Sawchuk, who teaches extra cooking classes each week so students learn some basic preparation for meal making.
“There’s a lot of extra steps that go into everything.”
Those extra steps go beyond learning how to make simple, nutritious meals entirely from scratch. She’s also teaching her students where the ingredients come from. She’s made it a priority to find the ingredients her classroom uses from local suppliers.
“All my meat I use in my classroom is local. Most of the veg is local too. What I do is I stockpile in the fall and then I teach kids how to preserve, freeze, blanch, and how to process it so that it’s available for the rest of the year.”
The flour for baking comes from a farm near Swan Lake and the dried beans for their soups and stews from a farm at St. Francois Xavier.
All the extra work that goes into preparation of raw ingredients is admittedly “a chaotic” way to teach a cooking class, she says. And while finding local suppliers isn’t difficult, it adds to the time because she must co-ordinate deliveries and tie lesson plans to them. More time is spent on searching for storage for bulk and frozen goods too.
(Sawchuk, who was presented with a Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability Award earlier this year by the province, also runs after-school cooking classes, plants a school garden that students help with throughout the summer, and has set up a compost program at the school.)
“I do put in a lot of extra time, but I’m not giving myself a pat on the back,” she said. “I just do this because it’s something really important to me.”
Her school thinks it’s important too. Her administration has agreed with placing this emphasis on local suppliers even though it typically pushes her classroom’s grocery bill higher than the other five home economics teachers at Sisler.
“My administration is very, very supportive,” she said. “At first I had a grant for two years through Dietitians of Canada to do this. This year I’m not getting the grant so they’ve just said, ‘we know this is really important to what you’re promoting in your classroom.’”
The emphasis on buying groceries closer to home started after teaching classes on the concepts of fair trade, and teaching students about fair wages and environmentally sustainable practices.
The case she makes for buying local and fair trade food is that it supports small businesses and ultimately a food system that is less exploitive and driven by low cost.
Her students don’t care about these things, she admits. “I think the interest is zero,” she said. “They don’t care at all, because they’re not consumers, after all. They enrol in my classes because they want to eat at school and they want to learn how to cook.”
However, she hopes that doing things as she does will inspire them to care someday about the bigger picture related to how they eat, she said.
“It’s more work on my end, but I happen to think the outcome is more valuable.”