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Life, the universe and everything on your plate

"Food is never just something to eat." Margaret Visser

This plate is some 5000 years old. It's from ancient, ancient Egypt and depicts a man netting a crocodile. There is no food on it, but even so there are so many strands of human learning here - design and art, craft, science - how to make a plate, how to net a crocodile, the history of Egypt, and the importance of the crocodile - indeed the Nile - in its culture. Perhaps those diagonal lines on the left represent the Nile. Is the crocodile for food or for religious sacrifice, or merely defence - a gift perhaps? So much to discover and learn. Without any food on it.

I have been pondering for some time now on introducing yet another occasional series, in the hopes of introducing something new. In my process of deleting old posts, and saving them on my computer, I have noticed how repetitive I often am. I do apologise, but I guess I just don't remember what I have written. Hopefully neither do you and so it is not all as boring as it could be.

Then quite a long time ago now I found an article in The Guardian about an English primary school:

"an inner-city London state school whose alternative curriculum revolves entirely around food, weaving it into the curriculum across the arts, sciences and humanities." Amelia Hill/The Guardian

It began like many other schemes from Jamie Oliver's school dinners crusade to Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Foundation here - and a host of other schemes across the world, which fundamentally are all about teaching children to grow and cook their own food. It seems, however, that Greenside took it that one step further by making the entire curriculum focussed on food:

"At Greenside we understand the importance of putting food and nature within the heart of the curriculum and school experience. We promote learning experiences linked to food and nature within all aspects of our curriculum. Learning about the natural world is more than a single subject specific lesson a week, or an opt in extra curricula offering - it is integrated into everything."

I thought it was an interesting idea, and wondered whether it would work in a high school situation as well. I've spoken many, many times of all the subjects that one dish encompasses, but have mostly focussed on history, so over time I have been pondering on a long list of subjects to see if food can be incorporated into them. Now is the moment I think, to launch this idea as an occasional thing, but today I am going to list all the subjects I can think of with a brief thought or two about how food (and drink) could be incorporated into that subject. Or is it the other way round?

To begin with a list of all the subjects I studied at my high school, bearing in mind that many of them have aspects in other subjects. There are lots of crossovers:

Grammar/Language - I suppose this could include etymology - the origin of words - so why are foods called what they are? Language structure - well the vocabulary of food - words again. Grammar? This needs more thought. If we are talking of learning foreign languages well it's easy to incorporate all the language around food.

Literature - So very many options here, from writing about food - and the history of writing about food. The symbolic nature of food in literature, types of writing about food. From the Bible to TikTok. Novels centred on food - all those 'I found myself in Tuscany' sort of memoirs. Biography ... Does literature include journalism? There's plenty of that around food.

Maths and Economics - we did do a little bit of economics at school - a bit about stocks and shares, and simple and compound interest in maths, and a bit of economic history in history. Budgeting in home economics too. Trade. Pure maths? Well arithmetic is needed to budget, although not as much these days because it's all done for you on the labels in the supermarket. Geometry? Algebra ... Will have to think on that, but I bet that you can weave food into them all somehow.

History - I don't think I need to say anything more here, other than to say that every other topic on the list has a historical aspect. Time passes. Things evolve.

Geography - ditto for geography really and remember that geography encompasses a whole series of subsets - geology, meteorology, town planning, travel, farming, climatology ...

Biology - biology is food. Today biology also encompasses the worlds of medicine, nutrition, disease, agriculture, environmental science, animal husbandry - and many, many more.

Physics - back in the day we had Julius Sumner Miller teaching us physics through techniques used in the kitchen. Well there are certainly all manner of cooking processes that depend on basic physics concepts like heat, electricity and light. Does this extend into astrophysics? Yes of course it does - all life depends on the sun. When I get to physics I shall have to consult with David. I don't know enough about it.

Chemistry - ditto for chemistry, which is, of course fundamental to cooking. After all what is cooking if not chemistry, both in a scientific and symbolic sense? And it has also played its part in modern food production - all those mysterious things with chemical sounding names of the food labels, for a start.

Scripture - We called it scripture but I'm talking religion here. You could almost say that religion could not happen without food. So many festivals, traditions, taboos, rituals associated with food, from the Last Supper to hot cross buns - and that's just Christianity.

Music - 'If music be the food of love play on'. Well I suppose that's just symbolic, and maybe there is not so much to say about music and food? Are some musical instruments made from gourds? How many songs are there about food? Traditional music associated with some of those religious and cultural festivities? The musicians that play in restaurants. - and why do they? There's probably more than you might think.

Art - It's one of the main themes of art is it not? Still lifes, people eating, people producing food. Van Gogh even painted a few of his pictures on tea towels. And today there are other arts - photography, filmmaking, dance - well that's an old one ...

Sport - a crossover with biology and medicine - you have to feed your athletes properly. Chemistry too with all those supplements and drugs. Which brings you into criminology!

And that's the end of my school curriculum. But that was then. Now there are all sorts of other subjects - some, subsets of some of the above I suppose, but some, new, or just not taught at my school. So here is my list - I'm sure there are more.

Philosophy - this is Epicurus who gave us the word Epicurean and a way of being happy. I don't know a lot about philosophy but I'm sure that there is plenty more to find out. There have probably been books written about it.

Psychology - another crossover subject with medicine and sociology. A subject full of questions - why do some foods give joy, some misery, why do we overeat, undereat ...?

Technology and Engineering - not quite the same but so tightly connected that I have put them together. A vast area to explore from the technology of food production, through the invention of machines to convey and create foods, ways to improve agriculture, ways to cook, food gadgets, to social media and how it affects the food universe. Not to mention the billionaires it has created.

Commerce/Business - a subject that in itself encompasses almost every subject that exists. Even religion.

Politics - say no more. Politics dictates the way we live - or tries to. And that includes what and how we eat.

Law - I suppose you can't have law without politics, but it's not quite the same. The politicians make the law but the lawyers, the police and other enforcers, make sure those laws are followed. And we at least try to make sure the right laws are enacted. Laws around food stretch from trading treaties between nations, through what your religion dictates you can and cannot eat, to laws about cleanliness, opening hours, drink driving - oh so many.

Climate change - a subset of biology and geography/meteorology I suppose but essential to food.

Design - a subset of art I suppose that includes architecture, pottery, industrial design, food styling, advertising ... The plate on which your food sits.

Tourism - I suppose this is a subset of commerce, mixed with environmental science and design, law ... So much to factor in and all associated with food.

Sociology - How human populations behave and interact. Obviously this is associated with many other subjects - history, geography, psychology, technology. Fascinating though, and food is one of the great social connectors.

As I say I have probably forgotten something. Let me know if you think I have. I hope the list demonstrates however, how important - no essential - to Life, the universe and everything it is. Is there anything else that competes? Well yes, I'm guessing, shelter, clothing, and maybe sex could be equally all-encompassing. Without them we die. Just like food.

I also thought that in an ongoing side to all of this I will try and photograph our dinner every so often, highlighting all the curriculum subjects that might be relevant to that particular meal. It could be enlightening. Or it could be very boring.


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