Food helps us to understand our place in this world, therefore education relating to and involving food is crucial, but what form should it take and where are the new nodes of learning?
In this five-question series on food and education at The Common Table, we ask experts about their strategies and practices for fostering a healthier relationship with food. Here: Friederike Gaedke, head of Die Gemeinschaft, a network of artisanal food professionals and their new education programme dedicated to transforming food systems.
The Common Table: How would you explain your perception of food as an educational discipline or tool to someone who might think that means just cookery lessons?
Friederike Gaedke: Food doesn’t come from nowhere. We need to start thinking about the food system as a whole of interdependent elements, involving actors across the world, and activities from growing and processing to distributing, as much as structures from education to politics.
So at a cookery lesson (to take your example), we shouldn’t only speak about how to make a particular dish, but also why we want to cook that food in the first place, not to mention the cultural dimensions, how we got hold of the ingredients, social dimensions, what and who happened to produce them, the agricultural and ecological dimensions and so on.
The great news is that, seen this way, food is about way more than recipes or human nutrition – it’s about cultures, it’s about climate change and it’s about social justice.
The Common Table: What are you doing/have you done to change understanding related to food?
Friederike Gaedke: Since 2018, Die Gemeinschaft’s annual symposium has been a platform for all actors in the food system to get together, learn and understand each other’s work. We organise farm visits for kitchen and food staff to get out of the city, onto the fields and into the stables. At kitchen meetups, we focus on individual ingredients, techniques or a particular food culture, its production, use and potential.
Now in 2023, we’re launching an educational programme called EssKulturWandel (EatCultureChange) that combines practical exchange between pioneering businesses from our network with theoretical deep dives into all things related to food system transformation; from agricultural politics to new work.
The Common Table: Who are you trying to reach and teach and why?
Friederike Gaedke: All food professionals out there – be they bakers, chefs or service staff, as well as the producers of cheese, chocolate or clay cups. We connect them with activists, academics and practitioners along the entire value chain and empower them to make decisions that make food systems more resilient, ecological and just. Because, at the end of the day, a single restaurant has the potential to reach hundreds of people every day and not just with plates of food. We can also get the message across that it matters how we choose to produce, who we source ingredients from, and how we work together with our team as well as our partners.
The Common Table: Where would you like to take your work in this field; what are your goals?
Friederike Gaedke: Die Gemeinschaft is filling a gap in education for food professionals and we plan to extend that to reach more people, go deeper and specifically address new leadership styles and working cultures in the industry. We would love to see organisations across Germany and Europe taking up this approach and creating offers that are cross-sectoral, value-driven and actionable. Fortunately, the idea that food is political is slowly finding its way into industry discourses, but it’s going to take more initiatives as well as political and institutional support to actually change the structures of the food system.
The Common Table: What is the big-picture perspective in terms of the future of food education and where is it coming from?
Friederike Gaedke: Estrangement between humans and what they eat is real – and that’s not going to be helped by clean vertical farms or lab-grown super meat. Our vision is fundamentally an agroecological one, in which food sovereignty means that people have access to the knowledge and means they need to produce and consume high-quality, locally produced, affordable and culturally appropriate food. That entails school education as much as chefs being taught in fields, farmers studying fermentation and political science students learning from bakers about the effects of land speculation on the taste of bread and more.
Friederike Gaedke studied gastronomic sciences and food systems and cultures at UNISG, the university founded by Slow Food in Piedmont, Italy. She is now based in Berlin where she is the Director of Die Gemeinschaft, a network that connects artisan food producers such as farmers or bakers with restaurateurs and chefs. Their goal is to create a more communal understanding, foster local craftsmanship and sustainable practices, exchange knowledge and define a new understanding of food culture. In 2021, Friederike was recognised for her work by 50Next as a “Trailblazing Activist”.