Food Literacy: Why it's important

August 3, 2023 Updated: January 25, 2024
What is food literacy?

Food literacy, simply put, is understanding how the food system works (and sometimes doesn’t):  how food is grown and produced, how it impacts your health, why hunger and food waste happen, and much more. Developing an awareness of how food impacts society (everything from the kinds of foods we eat, to what we pay for them, to what resources are available in communities) highlights challenges in our food system and allows us to respond to those challenges head-on.

What is food literacy education?

It’s education around the food system – and we think it’s important (so important that it’s among our Advocacy Priorities at Spoonfuls). Helping people gain better foundational knowledge, starting from little on up, enables them to see the links between issues like food waste, food insecurity, and the climate emergency. It encourages developing habits and making choices that are good for the health of people and the planet. 

And, here in Massachusetts, there’s legislation in the works that would add food literacy to the curriculum framework. More about that below!

Is food literacy education taught in Massachusetts’ schools now?

Currently, food literacy isn’t a standard part of Massachusetts’ K-12 curricula. Sure, some teachers weave it into broader lessons in science, social studies, and wellness. And some school gardens offer a hands-on opportunity to learn about food, but it’s not uniformly or widely the case that food literacy education is offered in the Commonwealth. It’s also not included in most teaching frameworks or MCAS preparation. What students are currently learning about food and the food system is limited.

How can we improve food system education?

Funding for food literacy education and legislation to standardize food literacy curricula for Massachusetts’ K-12 schools would be a good start. It would provide teachers and school districts with more resources and support to incorporate food literacy (including building awareness about the problem of wasted food) into their teaching frameworks.

Where does food literacy legislation stand?

Recently, there have been two efforts to expand food literacy in Massachusetts K-12 schools through both the state budget process and legislation. The two approaches are not dependent on each other. If either passes, that means significant expansion of food literacy education across the Commonwealth. If both the budget and legislative efforts are successful, however, their complementary parts will combine to create an even more robust and formalized system of professional and curriculum development, funding, and guidance that would encourage teachers to incorporate food literacy into their classrooms and make doing so more accessible.

The budget – approved!
The Massachusetts legislature recently approved $1M for food literacy in K-12 schools in the Commonwealth. This funding will support professional development, coaching, and funding for teachers to implement food literacy into their classrooms and in field trips, and staffing at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), and in some school districts to support and coordinate that work. This is a great step for integrating food literacy into Massachusetts curriculum!

The bill
Separate, but related to, the budget is a food literacy bill titled, An Act to promote food literacy (S.310; H.601). This bill would make it easier for food literacy to become a part of the State’s educational standards, establish a funding stream for food literacy in schools, and provide professional development and curriculum support to teachers looking to incorporate food literacy into their classroom. A hearing for the Joint Committee on Education has been scheduled for this fall to consider the bill. In order for it to continue through the Massachusetts legislature, it needs to be reported favorably out of the Joint Committee.

How can you support these efforts?

The bill
Submit testimony in support of food literacy education for the Joint Committee to consider. Before deciding how they will “report out” in favor or not in favor of food literacy education, committee members will review and consider testimony from the public. Anyone is welcome to submit testimony before fall. Check out the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative’s resource for submitting testimony (bottom half).

Get connected
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