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Human Food Project

Human Food Project

Nearly 50% of the world’s population lives in urban settings – with that number expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades. While this mass migration of humanity has greatly improved opportunities for many, mounting evidence suggest it comes at an ecological price for the inhabitants of these new concrete and steel villages of the modern world.

If you were to drop a Hadza hunter-gatherer from Tanzania at a street corner of one of these mega-cities, the endless stream of cars, noise and frenzied running about would no doubt cause some trepidation as he slowly stepped back from the street corner. I suspect it wouldn’t take long for our Hadza friend to think to himself, “what have these people done with all the plants and animals?” 

With real estate at a premium and a Starbucks needed on every street, there’s very little incentive to nurture nature anywhere outside of designated parks, limited green spaces or on our window seals. As mounting research and our work in Africa with the Hadza is starting to reveal, humanities steady march away from nature and its menagerie of plants, animals and microbes, may have given rise to one of the greatest, ongoing ecological disasters in human history: the modern human gut.

Advances in technology and computing power have lead to an astounding drop in the costs of genetic research. At the forefront of this new scientific and medical revolution has been the study of microbes – the tiny little bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit every imaginable piece of fleshy real estate – inside and out – of every living thing on earth. And that includes us.

What researchers are starting to discover is that these tiny little microbes might be playing a role in diseases as diverse as obesity, autoimmune disease, heart disease, IBD/IBS, cognitive disorders, atopy, some cancers, and so on. 

For the last few years, colleagues and I have been living and working with the Hadza hunter-gatherers of East Africa. Far from being untouched by the modern world, the Hadza still collect and hunt nearly the same plants and animals that humans have for millions of years. Importantly, as an active and intimate member of the landscape of East Africa, the Hadza are literally covered in the patina of nature and its diversity microbes, which has endowed the Hadza with one of the most diverse set of gut microbes of any group in the world. It’s not a stretch to say that the Hadza gut, and presumably that of our not-so-distant ancestors, sits at the crossroads of a microbial super highway that shaped our immunity and what made us human.

As mounting evidence has started to reveal, the ongoing assault against our microbial diversity in the modern world through our buildings that walls off the microbial world outside to the overuse of antibiotics to changing birthing methods and a decrease in breastfeeding to diet and hyper-hygiene, has “potentially” led to an increase in a dizzying number of modern ailments.

With the kind support of the A Team Foundation and others, we will continue to try to understand what the gut (and skin) microbiome of a free-living human population looks like as the Hadza literally run gut first into the buzz saw of globalization. The clock is ticking.

Our work is not focused – or even suggesting – that a Hadza diet is what we should be eating. What we are suggesting and discovering is that all humans on Earth may have depended on nature for a steady flow of microbes – that is, constant dispersal and immigration from a pool or sink of microbes maintained in nature. This intimate connection to the microbial super highway on the landscapes that gave rise to our genus, assured that humans had a steady supply of new microbes to bolster against any drop in diversity brought on by shifts in diet or other perturbations of life.

Remove that natural source of microbes – what we’ve essentially done in the modern world – then any assault on our gut microbiome such as antibiotics or diet could possibly be met with a shift in our inner ecosystem that may tilt one towards opening the microbial door to disease. If this is indeed the case, then human-microbe health is directly linked to ecosystems much larger than ourselves. 

school food matters

school food matters

School Food Matters is a small but influential charity that punches above its weight. We campaign on school food policy and deliver food education through our innovative projects.  Our mission is to ensure that every child enjoys fresh sustainable food at school and understands where their food comes from.

School Food Matters - A Team Foundation

The charity was founded in 2007 by a parent perplexed by the school food offered to her two small children; frozen food, unappealing and quite often unidentifiable.  She then heard a head teacher declare that children at his primary school couldn't identify an onion, let alone know what to do with it.  There was clearly a job to be done.

We began working with The A Team in 2011 when the charity needed extra capacity to help it grow from a one-woman mission focused on a local campaign to an organisation reaching children across the UK through policy development and its exciting food education programmes.

The A Team has helped us to reach an important milestone.  2017 marks our 10th birthday and we’ve got much to celebrate. Our food education programmes have reached tens of thousands of children across London and beyond we’ve racked up some pretty impressive numbers:

  • 52,140 children have been either directly or indirectly involved in our projects
  • Over £16,500 has been raised by children participating in our enterprise projects to support food education
  • Since 2010, 267 schools have taken part in our programme.
  • Over 60 different varieties of fruit and vegetables have been grown and sold by school children.

Projects help us deliver our mission and help schools tackle issues around healthy food and nutrition in a really exciting way but campaigning and advocacy work remain central to our charity's core purpose. 

School Food Matters - A Team Foundation

As a result of our successful campaign in Richmond, school meals across 60 primary schools have been transformed and children now enjoy fresh sustainable school food cooked on site by skilled school cooks. Take-up of school meals has doubled and the cost of a school meal still remains lower than in 2010 when children were eating those frozen ready-meals!

Our success in Richmond caught the attention of the School Food Plan (SFP), the team tasked by the Department for Education to create an action plan to support head teachers to improve school food. As a member of the SFP Expert Panel, SFM was able to bring to the policy table an example of just what can be achieved with parent power, effective campaigning and a will to get the very best deal for school children.  The work of the Plan continues in the form of the School Food Plan Alliance; a group that have become custodians of the Plan and its 17 actions.

From its humble beginnings, School Food Matters now has six core members of staff and together with our dynamic board of trustees and a band of enthusiastic volunteers, we’ll be celebrating 10 years and reflecting on how far we’ve come!

School Food Matters - A Team Foundation