Food Education is a comprehensive educational approach that brings the power of food into the classroom.  

At Pilot Light, we believe in the expansive, complex power of food. 

Elementary school students connect through a Food Education lesson sampling mango lassi as a class. Food is personal, cultural, political, and nutritional to both the mind and the body. Therefore, we believe in a non-prescriptive Food Education model that does not dictate which food choices are “best.” This is key to our equity-based, teacher-led approach.

Food Education views the social, cultural, nutritional, and environmental aspects of food as equally important components to the human experience.

Inviting Curiosity and Finding Connection

“The idea behind Pilot Light isn’t: Do things this way. It’s: Learn. Get excited. And take that with you.-Pilot Light Fellowship Alum Bryan Soto 

Pilot Light believes that Food Ed. for PreK-12 students is vitally important to creating a better food systems future. Our comprehensive model incorporates “learning about food, nutrition, and role that food plays in one’s life, relationships, culture, communities, environment, and in history and society. Through this framework, Pilot Light educators inspire students to become active and informed members of the food system. 

Learn more about Pilot Light’s Food Education model below. 

METHOD: Pilot Light’s Food Ed. model partners with educators who integrate food topics into everyday classroom learning.

By working with educators to make food topics relevant to a variety of school subjects, Food Education promotes a comprehensive understanding of food. Inspired by the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child approach, our model supports the needs of the whole person who learns through Food Education.

GOAL: For students to become informed and active members of their food system and environment.

When students build on their knowledge about the social, cultural, nutritional, emotional, and environmental factors that determine their relationships with food, they become equipped with a working knowledge of the nuanced way food relates to their everyday lives.

EQUITY: We know that the needs, wants, and possibilities of each person’s food relationships are unique to each individual’s lived experiences.

We strive to build on student knowledge and empower young people to grow into thoughtful and informed members of the food system. Therefore, our programs invite inquiry and promote curiosity about food. By trusting teachers to know their classrooms and communities best, we aim to ground Food Education in individual experience rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all relationship to food.

One cannot exist without a relationship to food. However, food topics are often excluded from or considered ancillary to students’ educational development. By weaving Food Education into every day classroom learning, we are able to simultaneously support teachers and bring vitally important information to students across a variety of ages and academic levels. Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many adults had to learn on their own about how the food system works – and doesn’t work.
At Pilot Light, we ask the questions:

What would the world look like if we learned about food throughout our educational experiences?

How would our food systems change if more people became informed and engaged with food at an early age?

If young people are connected with food through education, where will they lead us?

Since our founding in 2010, Pilot Light has proudly utilized a comprehensive framework for Food Education that showcases the central role of food in all areas of life including social, cultural, nutritional, and environmental contexts.

In the following years, Pilot Light developed a framework for educators, school districts, policymakers, and health agencies looking to adopt a comprehensive model through our Seven Food Education Standards. Published in 2018, the Food Education Standards (FES) were developed through a four-year collaborative process between thirty educators, community members, and interdisciplinary experts.

Pilot Light’s Food Ed. framework understands the relationship of food to students’ physical, emotional, and cultural wellbeing. Accordingly, The Food Education Standards (FES) equip educators with the tools to implement lessons that reflect this comprehensive understanding of food.

FES #5 is “Food Impacts Health.”
It is important to understand that this Standard is not “Food DEFINES Health.” We believe that health is determined by a variety of factors: social, emotional, environmental, biological/heredity, and more. We believe that individual foods do not hold moral value, and that health cannot be easily defined by metrics like weight, BMI, or individual food choices. Instead, FES #5 is rooted in understanding the impact of dietary patterns on health and disease alongside food’s relevance to other areas of life.*
The World Health Organization lists a variety of social determinants of health, including social and economic environment, physical environment, access to health care, genetics, social support systems, and more. The WHO also states that “research shows that the social determinants can be more important than health care or lifestyle choices in influencing health.” This is an important part of the reason Pilot Light promotes a comprehensive understanding of food.

As an organization working with young people and dedicated to equity and inclusion, we believe in utilizing language and evaluation practices that do not stigmatize body size or type, health status, food choices, or food experiences. We believe that Food Ed. promotes the cultivation of a positive and informed relationship with food. With Pilot Light, students are empowered to navigate their relationships with food through a variety of lenses both inside and outside of the classroom.

*Pilot Light wishes to thank Dr. Edwin McDonald, M.D., Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark, and Dr. Disha Narang, M.D. for their contributions to our statement about FES 5.

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