Successive five year plans laid priority on increasing the literacy rate and reducing poverty in the country. But all the plans and programs undertaken to achieve universal literacy were largely to make the population read and write so that they can be well informed about the developments around them and draw them into the main stream as stake holders in the country's progress. The objectives are laudable and fairly good success has been achieved so far. Are we satisfied with this? Is our education system making citizens narrow focused and single target pursuers, not capable of seeing and understanding developments outside their area of interest? Are the citizens becoming illiterate in some areas, critical to build a responsible society? There are 30 ministries in 30 states 'supposed' to look after the responsibility of education and a central ministry at Delhi with the same mandate. Unfortunately the education system as it is now is producing engineers, doctors and managers who seek fortunes outside the country. What about our own requirements?
Two most important needs are to 'educate' the children at an early stage about the critical importance of good food and sound eating and the 'sacredness' of civic responsibilities an honest citizen has to shoulder for the welfare of the society. While adequate literacy about food will keep at bay the scourge of many health ailments and diseases, civic literacy will create an environment congenial for good living. Lack of emphasis on civics at the primary education level is manifesting in utter disregard for fellow citizens, development of selfishness, disrespect to elders and peers, reckless behavior, dishonesty, violent behavior, frequent disruption of public activities, lack of respect to the laws of the country etc commonly noticed amongst many youngsters. This blog does not want to elaborate on these traits but will touch upon the food illiteracy.
It is often said that what is learned in childhood becomes a part of life that ensues and if so the best time to inculcate the values of correct practices vis-a-vis food consumption is at the nursery and primary levels. In many house holds the parents are not in a position to train their children in scientific eating practices because their own past did not qualify them to take up this role. That is where the school comes into picture. Some of the fundamentals of food that must be dinned into the young minds include information on variety of foods, food composition, role of nutrients, nutrient deficiency consequences, balanced foods, cooking of foods and consequences, food hazards, personal hygiene and sanitation, diseases and consequences, good eating habits etc. Though it looks like a syllabus for a food science course, the basic information can be packaged in simple language and demonstration models for easy understanding and retention. There are many Universities with training programs in food, nutrition, diets and related subjects and each school should have at least one trained food counselor, trained in these institutions, for imparting the knowledge to the pupils in that school.
In 2005, AFST(I) did an exercise in Hyderabad to organize such a program for school students from nearby rural areas with the help of UNICEF which showed that, given sufficient resources, universal food literacy can be achieved. Agencies like NCERT of GOI must evolve model syllabus for teachers to follow uniformly through out the country in English as well as all regional languages. There are some pockets of excellence here and there, largely private initiatives but it has to be a national movement to achieve the objective of making every citizen in the country capable of selecting the right food and consume them in a manner, "Generally Recognized As Good And Safe". There is a saying that "Army Marches on Its Stomach" but we may as well change the slogan to "The Country Progresses on Its Stomach With Right Food"!