Recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy school lunch at one of the elementary schools here in Itoigawa. Much like in many places around the world, school lunch is an opportunity to teach children about proper nutrition and healthy habits. But here in Itoigawa schools take school lunch education a step further and teach children about Itoigawa’s natural treasures and local delicacies as well through a program called Geo School Lunch.
For growing children, few things are as important as a healthy, varied diet. For a geopark, few things are as important as community involvement. Here in Itoigawa, we are working to meet both of these needs together through the Geo School Lunch Program. Served once a month, Geo School Lunch provides a creative way to teach children not only about the Itoigawa Geopark, but also the community where they live and its local produce.
The Geo School Lunch program builds upon the in-place nutritional education curriculum at Itoigawa’s schools and preschools by teaching children of all ages not only about the Itoigawa Global Geopark they live in, but also the profound way in which it shapes and enriches local cuisine.
Geo School Lunches are often themed to highlight some part of the Itoigawa Geopark. They might serve mille-feuille pork cutlets to represent the geological stratification seen in the mudstone and sandstone layers at the Tsutsuishi and Hamatokuai Geosite. They might serve edamame rice to represent the naturally-polished jade stones found on the beaches of western Itoigawa. Or, as was the case at Shimohayakawa Elementary, they may focus on the special local products that make Itoigawa such a delicious place to live and grow.
Shimohayakawa Elementary, located in Itoigawa’s Hayakawa River Valley, is quite rural. Most of the school’s lunches make use of rice and vegetables farmed in and around the valley. Located on a hill overlooking the Aramachi district of Itoigawa, Shimohayakawa is surrounded by nature and within walking distance of the Tsukimizu-no-Ike Geosite.
For February’s Geo School Lunch, Shimohayakawa Elementary focused on the local foods that form an important part of Itoigawa’s food culture. It is almost entirely made of local ingredients and the children are explained the source of each one. From left to right are pictured: Locally-farmed white rice (an important part of Itoigawa’s economy), fishcake fried with laver (also made locally, a historically important staple of the Itoigawa diet), ‘autumn poem’ salad (another locally-grown, asparagus-like vegetable), and monkfish stew. Monkfish is a rare delicacy in Japan; to maintain sustainable population, fishing is limited to a short period of time during winter. Itoigawa’s monkfish is prized for its flavor and once a year children are treated to it at school.
Through eating these dishes and learning more about the geosites from which they are derived, children become more aware of the geopark’s activities throughout the community. They also develop a deeper understanding about how food gets to their plates. It is our hope that children take from the Geo School Lunch Program an interest in and appreciation for not only the Itoigawa Geopark, but the natural world around them, its importance, and the gifts that it provides to those who manage it carefully.