Adolescents Want To Learn More About Food Origins And Preparation
Advocates seeking to promote plant-based diets often target adolescents who are often beginning to make food choices independent of their families and are receptive to learning about where their food comes from and how it is produced. This paper, published in Appetite, explored adolescents’ perspectives on food literacy—knowledge about nutrition and food skills as well as the impact of food choices—and its potential to influence their dietary behaviors.
The authors conducted 15 focus groups with student participants from high schools and colleges in Australia. Participants were given a list of 22 aspects of food literacy covering three categories: food and nutrition knowledge (including knowledge of sustainability and animal welfare), food skills, and capacity (attitudes and experiences involving food). They were asked to choose six aspects they thought were the most important to know and six aspects they thought were the least important to know when making food choices. Everyone then participated in a group discussion, which was later analyzed to identify common themes and responses.
Results showed showed which aspects of food literacy adolescents consider to be important and how much knowledge adolescents already possess or would like to possess about them. Five of the six aspects identified as most important on average fell into the food and nutrition knowledge category. Participants felt that they had sufficient knowledge about two of them: healthy and unhealthy foods and food safety and hygiene. However, they indicated that they would like to have more information about the other three: appropriate portion sizes for different foods, dietary guidelines, and animal welfare. Discussions showed that participants had little knowledge of terms such as “cage free eggs” and wanted to know more about how animals are treated and what producers feed to animals.
Interestingly, five of the six choices identified as least important fell into the food skills category, including the abilities to use kitchen appliances, follow recipes, budget for meals, and read food labels. Participants primarily noted that they were not currently responsible for these aspects in their homes, but they indicated that they wanted to develop these skills for the future.
In the category of food capacity, participants ranked having a positive attitude about food as an important aspect but confidence in skills related to food as a less important aspect. In group discussion, they again indicated that they were not currently concerned about cooking confidence but wanted to increase their confidence in the future. They also noted that both eating with family and eating socially with friends could both positively and negatively impact their ability to eat healthy diets.
The authors conclude that “although adolescents stated that food and nutrition knowledge is important for them to eat well, the majority did not apply their knowledge to practice due to low confidence in food skills.” They also note that participants had “very limited knowledge about macro aspects of food literacy such as animal welfare” and were interested in developing food skills but “had very limited opportunities due to lack of food literacy education in home and high school settings.” They therefore recommend that both families and schools provide more information about dietary guidelines, adequate portion sizes, and food labels, as well as help adolescents develop higher order food skills.
For advocates, the paper confirms that adolescents are a prime audience for outreach regarding farm animal welfare and the vegan diet. It indicates that while many adolescents currently possess little information about animal welfare in food production, they believe that it is important and want to learn more about it. Additionally, because it appears that schools and families do not always provide adequate education on food skills, advocates have an opportunity to fill that gap by sharing information on how to cook healthy and appetizing plant-based food, follow dietary guidelines, and read and understand food labels.