Children and adolescents from modest backgrounds suffer more from dietary imbalances. To remedy this, several initiatives are trying to get involved in colleges to teach young people to cook in the form of practical workshops.
Abd-el-Majid slices a courgette, Salma slices a pumpkin and Lina slices an onion. But beware, not just any onion. These fifth graders at the Grands Champs middle school in Poissy (Yvelines) are first instructed to make a vegetable brunoise - that is, to cut them into small cubes.
On this Wednesday afternoon in November, fourteen schoolchildren voluntarily swapped sports, cultural activities and video games for cooking. Their school, like a dozen other schools in the Reinforced Priority Education Network (REP +), benefits from the Culinary Brigades proposed by the association La Tablée des chefs. This allows them to participate in ten cooking workshops spread over the year and led by volunteer chefs. This allows them to gradually take ownership of their food and thus their health. For, like many other areas, food suffers from social inequalities, since one in four children of workers is overweight, compared with just over one in ten sons and daughters of managers.
" Good health'' should not be the privilege of a few, but an opportunity for all. "Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in March 2019, as part of the second inter-ministerial committee for health. On this occasion, the government announced its intention to reduce obesity among adults by 15 % and 20 % among children and adolescents by 2023.
One of the measures put forward to achieve this is to "extend food education from kindergarten to high school". However, these disparities can be explained more by differences in habits than by financial means or lack of knowledge. Hence the multiplication of initiatives to learn how to cook in school and out-of-school settings, which however lack coordination - at the local or even national level.
Poor perception of nutrition messages
" Depending on the social environment, the relationship to nutrition messages is very, very different.says Aurélie Maurice, a specialist in education sciences at the Health Education and Practice Laboratory. It must be understood that all these recommendations come from a certain social group that has a preventive relationship to health and makes it its primary objective. This is not the case for everyone. If we ask ourselves the question of how to end the month, we do not have the same time frame or the same relationship with children. To talk about extreme cases, those who have experienced famine in their country will above all make sure that their children do not lack anything... "She also notes the rejection of some mothers and fathers by the High Council of Public Health through its National Nutrition and Health Plan, which makes them feel guilty about the messages they receive.
To illustrate her point, Aurélie Maurice cites the project " Flam (Fruits and Vegetables at Home)" conducted in 2016 in Saint-Denis at the initiative of the Ministry of Health. Around a hundred underprivileged families were given vouchers dedicated to fruit and vegetables. The aim of this experiment was to determine whether lifting the economic brake alone was enough to increase the consumption of fresh plants in these households. This was not the case. « Some bought only fruit juices or continued to buy the foods they usually ate to free up their budget for branded products they could not normally afford. "observed the researcher.
Children and adolescents from families with low levels of exposure to nutritional recommendations are, in fact, faced with significant inequalities that directly affect their health. Physical but also mental. Guillaume Ferreira, director of research on "nutrition and the brain" at the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), believes that excessive consumption of both sugar and fat among young people, aged 5 to 20, impairs the development of their brain and memory. This link is confirmed by Australian researcher Margaret Morris in the documentary "Bien nourrir son cerveau" (Feeding your brain well) broadcast on Arte :
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Making the young actor
Raising awareness directly among the youngest, and therefore the most vulnerable, therefore appears indispensable. But it still has to be effective. Contrary, for example, to Taste classesincluding Catherine Arriudarré, dietician and president of the association. Caralim (Centre aquitain rééeducation alimentaire), denounces the "flop". Introduced in 2010, this system, which is supposed to "(re)discover food by taste but also by nose, touch, hearing and sight" to elementary school students, had the mistake, according to the person who ran it, of aiming to "make children love fruit and vegetables in five workshops. It didn't work out very well. This type of approach needs to be supported and followed over time...".
Above all, they must make the young actor responsible for his diet. « It is necessary to see how, using school curricula, one can get out of "all knowledge". Because eating also involves emotions, experiences and sharing. This is perhaps the dimension that is missing... ", continues Catherine Arriudarré.
Offering cooking workshops is "a key", according to educational researcher Aurélie Maurice, who also believes it is more relevant than "wanting to increase knowledge" - the multiplication of nutritional recommendations for young people even tends to promote eating disorders, according to her.
As a researcher in the behaviour of young consumers, Emilie Orliange also advocates cooking at school and more particularly at college. « This is the period when the young person begins to become independent in culinary practices, to get their hands on the dough by themselves and therefore can be taught a certain number of reflexes and habits about cooking with seasonal, raw, local products... "But she says she believes there is still a possibility of introducing food education earlier.
Integrate into school curricula
In 2013, Emilie Orliange participated in the launch of the Arts to do culinary at the college (AFCC), co-piloted by the association CENA (Club Expert Nutrition Alimentation), which it has chosen to test in an establishment classified REP+, such as the collège de Poissy, and therefore welcoming a majority of students from modest families. « Since it was realized that not all information campaigns are enough to change eating practices, we proposed an alternative to conventional nutrition education that merely conveys information, details the researcher. We have tried to value these populations in relation to their own culinary know-how. "
While AFCC integrates itself into the school curriculum by associating the different subjects to the project, parents are not forgotten and are invited, at least twice a year, to take part in convivial events where everyone brings a culinary speciality. « The child can certainly become a vector for prevention messages, but in a health promotion approach, everyone must be involved. Parents are an important stakeholder because they are the ones who hold the purse strings! "Emmanuelle Godeau, who is in charge of training national education doctors at the École des hautes études en santé publique, insists.
Supported by the Ministries of Education and Agriculture, the five workshops per year devised by Emilie Orliange in conjunction with the educational teams plan to expand to seven regions by 2022, while "the ultimate goal is to offer them to all colleges by making them part of the compulsory curriculum. »
While researchers and field actors seem to unanimously recognize the interest of these cooking courses, some prefer that they remain optional. « Our final goal would be to reintroduce them [systematically] on extracurricular time, but it must not become an obligation at the risk of losing the notion of pleasure. "says for example Laure Anidjar, the association's commercial director. The kids are cooking which also operates in schools.
Still, better coordination is needed. « There are many initiatives on the right, on the left. What is missing is coherence and the pooling of projects. We are trying to get in touch with each other but it is not easy. ", says Emilie Orliange.
Well aware that the obstacles are both budgetary and logistical, the researcher hopes that "... the project will be a success". in the spin-off project, it is the heads of the school canteens who take care of this. We're going to try to train them so that they will be able, particularly following Plaisir à la cantine [a programme promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in 2010], to learn how to pass on their knowledge to schoolchildren. In the long term, this will enable them to be taken care of internally, avoiding any additional costs at the school. But also to enhance and create a link with the kitchen teams. "Emilie Orliange's ambitions.
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For her part, the chief Virginie Legrand, who works at the Poissy college, is campaigning for "a truly unifying project driven by the National Education system". Delighted to pass on her passion, she notes, this Wednesday afternoon again, "a lot of gaps" among some students who confuse for example zucchini and cucumber.
But for Emmanuelle Godeau, who is responsible for training national education doctors, a simple generalization is not enough. « There's no magic recipe that could fit all schools, she warns. As the role of food in health inequalities has been proven, the question of setting up these workshops is being raised everywhere. The answer must be adapted to each institution. The government must therefore issue instructions to this effect, but these must be broad enough to be appropriated by each school or college. "She summarizes, recommending, among other things, that the scheme be extended to include meetings between young people attending school in rural areas and farmers.
In the meantime, the pilot colleges are already looking forward to seeing changes in the students taking these courses. « There has been an increase in the culinary skills of secondary school students and a gain in autonomy insofar as 45 % of them have become capable of cooking main dishes with several cooking methods. They are also aware that they are more cautious about reading labels and less candid about food marketing. "says researcher Emilie Orliange, who followed a cohort of students from Collège Marguerite de Valois in Angoulême (Charente) who participated for three years in the AFCC program.
At Poissy, many school children have reproduced the recipes they learned with Virginie Legrand at home. Rodrigo, 13, had his parents taste a dessert with seasonal fruit and Greek yoghurt. Hafsa, 12 years old, has renewed the experience of homemade pasta with tomato sauce. « I made the sauce. Whereas before we used to buy it ready-made. It was better.. ." she assures.
A few metres away, in the kitchen provided by the Collège des Grands Champs, Salma covers the brunoise of courgettes and pumpkin with a sandy dough made from flour, butter, parmesan and almond powder before putting the vegetable crumble in the oven. « It already makes you want to eat! ", the teenager salivates.
Small victories for Virginie Legrand and the association La Tablée des chefs since home-cooking not only avoids the additives present in nearly eight out of ten processed products. But also to protect the health of young people when the consumption of highly processed foods increases the risk of overweight or obesity by 26 %.
Header photo : Chefs' table with Gérard Cagna - Photo Jean-Claude Guilloux