While worlds apart in terms of size and setting, the two Bulgarian schools participating in the Slow Food in the Canteen project share the common goal to improve the daily food served in their schools and increase their students’ knowledge and understanding of the taste, origin and production of the food they eat.
From the Big Smoke…
In the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, the urban public school Petko Karavelov has joined the European canteen project and as much as they would like to see the menu change significantly to include more local food, fruit and vegetables, the challenge is that the selection process of food providers and catering is always based on lowest price. Currently five staff serves 1140 students a combination of hot and cold meals daily including breakfast, lunch and a snack. The children buy weekly coupons at 78 cents per day which they then exchange for food.
“Before staring the project and joining the two schools together I didn’t realize how much children in big cities are removed from the origins of food,” says Dessislava Dimitrova, Slow Food Convivium Leader, Bulgaria. “It is so difficult to change anything at a state level and to change the selection criteria for catering, so we have decided to make small but positive changes to increase the children’s awareness.”
Following the enthusiastic launch of the school’s European canteen project, the school soon identified a number of obstacles that it addressed at the Slow Food Balkans meeting in July 2010. After the success of this meeting they decided to create more opportunities to address common problems within the Balkans through further regional meetings and seminars. Along with biggest steps, the project will also include a number of smaller initiative, such as making use of the Ministry for Health’s apple program, where schools can apply to the ministry to receive cheaper apples.
One particular challenge for the project has been the lack of a classroom in which to hold taste education workshops. The school is trying to overcome this by renovating a classroom into a cooking space. Health and safety regulations are also an issue as teachers are currently not permitted to serve food to the children. Those driving the project have also identified a lack of involvement in the project by some parents and teachers and a general undervaluing of the significance of food as factors to overcome.
…To the Country Folk
In the quiet village of Tcherni Vit huddled amongst the peaks of the Balkan Mountains -known in Bulgaria as the Stara Planina Mountains - 64 students are taught a curriculum based on folk music at the Georgi Benkovski Primary School, providing a convenient basis to learn about food traditions. This small rural primary school has been familiar with Slow Food for some time as the village and its surrounding communities are home to the Tcherni Vit Green Cheese Presidium.
The school’s canteen is managed directly by the school, allowing them to make important choices about the produce they use. There are three staff members who are responsible for serving breakfast, lunch and a snack to the students every day. Although price is a major factor when choosing food for the canteen, the cooks try to adopt the menu to the local area. The school is on a very tight budget: Daily meals are free for students in grade one to four but other students pay 0.6 Leva (30 cents) and the state contributes 0.5, allowing for a budget of 1.1 Leva (56 cents) per child. The entire budget per child can buy just one plate of chips.
Currently the majority of fruit and vegetables and most other foods that are used in the canteen are imported, and of the small amount of foods coming from within Romania, only ten percent is sourced locally. Cheese and milk are sourced from a local dairy, and some native apples come from the schools orchard, yet fruit is only served twice a week.
Cooking lessons and taste workshops using Slow Food’s taste education kit, Journey to the Origins of Taste, already form part of the school curriculum and offer children a way to get involved and learn about the food they eat. Students have also produced a recipe book to use in the canteen, both as an educational activity and a way to influence the canteen menu. Teacher Tzonka Dimitrova says that they have plans to research recipes on preserves of the region and would like to create situations where the elderly can pass their knowledge of food to the children.