Associated with University of Innsbruck

A teaching model for sustainable nutrition

Within the  BigPicnic framework, a diploma thesis has been written on the topic of ‘sustainable nutrition’. The aim of this thesis was to develop a theory-driven approach to teaching sustainable nutrition. To establish a relationship between several aspects of a sustainable nutrition, we decided to employ the current trend for smoothies. The preliminary findings of this investigation will be presented at the International Conference New Perspectives in Science Education, held in March 2019 in Florence, Italy.

Students preparing a smoothiePhoto credit: Birgit Schlag-Edler

Recently, researchers of the Stockholm Resilience Centre highlighted that food connects to all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, they recommend that the scientific community should move away from the sectorial approach segregating social, economic and ecological developments and think of them as inextricably linked. Hence, a central question that needs to be addressed in this context is which aspects learners should take into account in their diets to comply with principles of a sustainable nutrition. So far, in science teaching and learning research the topic of nutrition has primarily dealt with health issues. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to establishing teaching and learning materials that impart understanding of both a healthy diet and a sustainable nutrition system.

The term ‘sustainable nutrition’ tends to be used to commonly refer to von Koerber, Männle and Leitzmann’s concept of a ‘wholesome nutrition’ .

 This is a mainly plant-based diet, where minimally processed foods are preferred. The concept incorporates five dimensions: individual, environment, economy, society and culture. It includes seven so-called ‘principles of a sustainable nutrition’, ranked according to their potential to save on CO2-equivalents. These are:

  1.  preference of plant-based foods
  2. organically grown foods
  3. regional and seasonal products
  4. preference of minimally processed foods
  5. fair trade products
  6. resource-saving housekeeping
  7. delicious meals

Following these seven recommended actions, sustainable nutrition contributes to the requirements for health, environment, economy and social compatibility simultaneously. 

Since, on the whole, Austrian students do not eat enough fruit and vegetables, we decided to make use of a current food trend for smoothies to establish a relationship between elements of sustainable nutrition. 

We developed learning materials utilising an inquiry-based approach. In four 90 minute workshops, young people aged 14-18 worked with these educational materials. Two workshops took place at a youth centre in a Tyrolean small town; participants were mainly male apprentices, aged 14-18, some of them with a migrant or refugee background. Two workshops were held at the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna; students were from a private lower secondary school, were 13 and 14 years old and from a multicultural backgrounds. Data was gathered using participant observation and by audio-recording the learners’ oral contributions. A case study approach was used to analyse the data. The statements of the attendees of the workshops specifically accentuated the importance of a sustainable diet and food system. The issue that smoothies are a meal rather than a drink, in terms of its nutritional effects, was mentioned frequently. The findings, so far, seem to suggest that the inquiry-based educational materials are successful in supporting learners to make a link between sustainable nutrition and food trends such as smoothies.

So far, the investigation has shown that the teaching approach, applied in both, formal and informal educational institutions, has led to an awareness of particular components of sustainability and shows the potential to create and expand nutritional knowledge in this area. These preliminary findings will be presented at the International Conference “New Perspectives in Science Education” in March 2019.