Last month I met Max MacGillivary and Gareth Jones in sunny Cape Town, the final destination of their 18,536km Great Fruit Adventure. Over the last year I have felt privileged and proud to be an Ambassador of the The Great Fruit Adventure. Now let me tell you why.
Max MacGillivray (MD RedFox UK) has a deep rooted personal passion to educate his three young children about growing food, where food comes from and how it influences their health and wellbeing. After a life-changing and extremely challenging three months travelling through 18 countries on Triumph motorbikes, visiting 48 schools and presenting to 5,000 African children Max is no longer simply educating his own children about where food comes from, but has also been able to educate his children’s friends, his friends’ children and thousands of other children just like them from the UK to Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and more.
This has really inspired me. My personal passion for fresh fruit and veg came from my mother and both of my grandmothers. Fresh produce was something I grew up being very familiar with, loving to cook and prepare with my family. Being taken to the Saturday market at the crack of dawn, harvesting produce at the local farm, growing vegetables in the garden, tending to the local allotment and foraging in the Chiltern Hills was such a privilege as a child. Having good access to fresh produce was something I took for granted.
On the other hand, my consciousness and sensitivity of health and well being came from my father and both grandfathers. Unfortunately, this was not such a positive tale, as all three were taken by fatal heart attacks far too young. Growing up, this led me to be very conscious about my health and the food that I was putting in my body. Could my family losses have been prevented by diet? We will never know, but if I can help to educate children and adults alike about the benefits of fresh produce and eating a balanced diet hopefully I will improve lifestyles and extend the lives of as many people as possible.
As you can imagine, with this strong passion for fresh produce, health and well being I jumped at the chance to support Max and Gareth's Great Fruit Adventure and their incredible journey through the fertile lands of Europe and Africa.
In the UK, over the last few years, there has been a glimmer of hope that childhood obesity rates are at least plateauing and some improvements to average calculated nutrient intakes have been made in the past decade. Although there is still considerable room for improvement, this is the opportunity that planted the idea in Max’s head.
Six out of ten children do not know where their food comes from and almost one in every ten children is obese when they start school (reception class), and that rises to two in ten by age eleven. Whichever direction these statistics are heading, they are still way off where they need to be and the UK’s parents and early-years educators need as much help as possible to make considerable sustainable improvement.
In 2013 a new school curriculum for England was published. From September 2014, food and nutrition education became compulsory for five to fourteen year-olds. This was also introduced to complement the work that has been done to improve the food served from of school kitchens.
Along with these changes in curriculum, schools still need support. I see such an opportunity for proactive retailers to be this support.
As a retail buyer, I am one of a very privileged community. My community engages with millions of customers of all ages every day. We need to make the most of this engagement, educating, encouraging and providing affordable fresh produce to the whole community.
In 2014, Tesco really made some bold moves to use its influence on the community for the positive, becoming the first major retailer in the UK to remove sweets and chocolates from its checkouts across all store formats, including smaller convenience stores. I think this was a significant move, but it took many others time to follow. In July 2016, Tesco decided to engage young shoppers further, and started to offer any child that came into the store a piece of fruit, free of charge from a bottomless fruit bowl.
I feel initiatives like this can really make a difference, although most of all for me is the launch of the Tesco Eat Happy project. Tesco has enabled children to be able to touch, smell, see, hear and taste the supply chain for themselves. So far over one million children have visited farms, factories and Tesco stores to learn about where their food comes from and how to eat more healthily through Eat Happy project. Teaching resources are available, as are cookery courses and live Q&As with suppliers. An effort has really been made to inform children about the provenance of their food and how to enjoy living a healthy lifestyle.
Many UK retailers have launched initiatives over the last few years to drive fresh produce consumption. Waitrose, of course, is also a keen supporter and active member of its local communities, and a few years ago it launched Grow and Sell Seed Kits, aimed at encouraging 7-11 year olds in local schools to grow their own produce and sell it outside our stores to our customers. Helping children to gain business enterprise skills as well as getting their hands dirty, understanding where their fruit and veg comes from and how much passion and effort goes into growing it.
Where can we take it from here?
Whilst back in the UK earlier this year I was pleased to have met Anna Taylor, Anna is the chief executive of the Food Foundation, an independent think tank that tackles the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system.
Peas Please is their new flagship project focusing on tackling supply side barriers to eating vegetables. In line with Max, Gareth and my own thoughts and passions, the Food Foundation recognises that we need to look at things differently to drive fresh produce consumption to the next level, for our health and the health of our planet.
The Peas Please project aims to bring together farmers, retailers, fast food and restaurant chains, caterers, processors and government departments with a common goal of making it easier for everyone to eat veg. Peas Please recognises that, to date, education programmes have not had the desired impact and can be taken further. So this project will focus on the wealth of opportunities there are n the supply chain for improving vegetable intake.
The Food Foundation is bringing together the whole supply chain, understanding different perspectives and hoping to create sustainable solutions for the UK population, driving fresh produce consumption. To get in touch or jump on board, visit their website (http://foodfoundation.org.uk).
Gareth and Max have also mentioned to many that they are only at the start of their Great Fruit Adventure. Now they are extremely excited about continuing their work and bringing their tales back to children in the UK, teaching them the importance of fresh produce, production, health and well being.
With initiatives such as the Great Fruit Adventure, Eat Happy, Grow and Sell Seed Kits and the Food Foundation’s Peas Please project I think things are moving in the right direction, maintaining this momentum may be difficult but possible if everyone in the supply chain is getting involved and maintaining enthusiasm for such an important cause.