Advancing Youth Education on Food and Food Systems to Increase Food Literacy
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The contemporary industrial food system has purposefully distanced eaters from food's origins.This has created a lack of knowledge not only about where food comes from, but also about thefood system's impacts on our well-being and that of the environment. With eaters havingundergone this purposeful "deskilling", the popularity of food education programs for childrenand youth has grown in recent years, with an intent to re-skill eaters and (re)create a food literatepopulation. This paper seeks to examine the role of such food education programs in facilitating food literacy through a case study of Food Leadership for Youth (FLY) – a youth communityfood education program at one of Toronto's most well-known community food centers. Grounded in qualitative research comprised primarily of interviews, participant observation, anda literature and document review, this paper first examines the various interpretations of thesomewhat contentious term "food literacy" and puts forth two primary food literacy paradigms.These are an individual, consumer-driven and functional food literacy grounded in healthychoices and behavior modification within the current market system, and a more criticallyengaged, politically and socially aware food literacy that facilitates participation in disrupting thecurrent food system rather than navigating it for individual benefit. Benchmark measures of food literacy are also established, which are used to assess the FLY program's impact on participants' food literacy. Using a mixed methods approach to qualitative research, this paper evaluates the FLY program's ability to facilitate food literacy in its participants within the context of the two identified paradigms, and also considers whether the program is meeting its internally developed goals. The results indicate that FLY's success is predominantly in fostering the individual, functional food literacy of neoliberal consciousness. Given that FLY's internal objectives encompass both food literacy paradigms established in this paper, FLY fails to fully accomplish its layered objectives.The FLY case study also considers the challenges, barriers, and possible opportunities within the program model. This research is then situated in the presumed transition from food education tofood literacy to wider food systems change, with consideration of whether the type of food literacy imparted through the FLY program can offer some wider impact in food systems change.The findings of this paper can be used as a resource for establishing and improving food education programs where food literacy is the goal. They provide insight into the complexities of food literacy and the challenges of facilitating food education programs that move beyond teaching healthy choices and individual behavior modification to a larger reskilling and reclamation of the food system.