By Dr. Janey Thornton, former Deputy Under-Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, USDA.
As I think back over my years serving as Deputy Under-Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the United States Department of Agriculture, some of my fondest memories center on International School Meals Day. I was so excited as I sat in a classroom in Montgomery County, Maryland back in 2013 waiting for that first international Skype experience. While I was excited, the students could hardly sit still in their seats.
As the Skype progressed, I was reminded once again of how much more we have in common than we have that’s different. These young students talked together for over an hour, sharing customs and talking about the different interest and hobbies they had—much connected to foods. They also discussed the importance of healthy eating habits and the impact that these habits have on their success in school. They talked about school meals and family meals, they talked about snacks, they talked about unusual foods they liked and identified foods they’d never tasted before as they talked about foods that were unique to their countries.
I could tell the classroom teachers had worked with the students to be prepared for the discussions. They had studied the countries of their counterparts. They had tied their Skype experience to math, history, science and geography. I noticed the excitement of the teachers and was pleased, when at the end of the Skype session, they were discussing future communication and connections between the classrooms. I could tell both teachers and students had benefitted from the session and as the kids were discussing future plans, it was obvious they were also growing as global citizens. This country across the ocean was no longer just a spot on a map but now, to those kids, was a real place with which they could truly identify. They realized that they had so much more in common than they’d at first suspected.
While I wasn’t in that classroom for future Skype sessions, I learned that the kids enjoyed several more connections and that the teachers felt they’d benefitted as much as the children. I’m hopeful that teachers, students and advocates will share information about ISMD and the benefits that are seen and felt in every participating classroom.
As we move forward as a world, these connections have the potential to not only have a huge impact on the health and well-being of our children today, but can also have an impact on them as our leaders of the world tomorrow. These leaders will be able to see people across the world in a different way. Not just as people but as former Skype-mates and friends; recognising the many characteristics that make us one rather than the few characteristics that might be seen as making us different.