Food is readily available, supersizing is commonplace and people are bigger than ever. What would John Boyd Orr think of it all if he was still alive today?

John who? John Boyd Orr, the original food crusader and Nobel Prize winner, whose research into nutrition underpinned the Word War II rationing system in Britain.

He is also the central figure who has been resurrected in an exciting project called RATIONal Food developed in conjunction with the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen.

In a specially produced DVD, John Boyd Orr, played by an actor, discusses the processes of devising and implementing the rationing system through a series of realistic and effective video diaries.

There’s a guest appearance by me in my younger days introducing the video!

Boyd Orr’s research showed for the first time a link between diet and health. He was way ahead of current thinking at the time and concluded that rationing should be based on individual nutritional needs.

The DVD shows video clips of Lorna Saunder’s Y5/6 class from Monymusk School in Aberdeenshire debating Boyd Orr’s ideas.

In one task they are asked to devise and present an argument to persuade their classmates why certain members of WWII society would have been given extra rations.

They do this by role-playing characters such as a doctor, soldier, farmer, munitions worker, pregnant woman and Winston Churchill.  Stepping into the shoes of another character in this way really helps children consider why they need more food.

The footage shows children thinking things through, preparing an argument together and presenting their reasoning to the rest of the class. For example, two pupils argue that a mother of three requires extra rations because she will need the extra energy to look after her children properly.

Some of the class disagree with this argument saying that a soldier or builder would need more because they work harder. One pupil argues the case for a farmer with the clever argument that if he didn’t get extra then he wouldn’t be able to provide the food for the basic ration, let alone any extra.

A class vote is held in the style of ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ with pupils holding up a voting card of oranges for a ‘yes’ vote, as oranges were rationed and cabbages for a ‘no’ vote as cabbages were not rationed. It’s clear to see that pupils thoroughly enjoy this voting system and take their decisions very seriously.

The DVD transports children back to a very different world of their own and is used alongside a book containing a wide range of resources and active assessment strategies.

The idea is that teachers sandwich the activities in between the video clips and feast on the pupil talk it generates as a way of assessing their learning.

‘What makes a good ration?’ is a question Boyd Orr poses in another video clip and children are asked to classify foods according to whether they would have included them in the ration through a card sort activity.

This makes for fascinating viewing as children talk through what they think they know about how people lived in wartime Britain.  For example, two boys agree that people in the 1940s would have had margarine in a ration with one saying, ‘I heard of that in Dad’s Army.’

Other discussions centre around whether people would have had pizza, orange juice, tuna, cakes, bacon, sugar and coconut. There is a real buzz in the classroom.

When the class are shown a typical weekly ration for one adult they are quite shocked to see how little food there is and surprised that certain foods aren’t on the ration such as potatoes.

This neatly introduces children to how people supplemented their rations by growing their own produce and the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and whether the ration would represent a varied diet or not. People had to make some rational decisions when it came to eating in the 1940s and in postwar Britain and this makes children think carefully about their own food intake, where it comes from and how balanced their diet is.

Children might hear their grandparents saying ‘Always eat your greens’ but they learn that eating their oranges, reds and yellows is important too.

The RATIONal Food project doesn’t shy away from asking some big food for thought questions either.

In another challenging activity, children are asked to debate how a food rationing system would work for the way we live today. This requires children to think creatively and problem solve together. It also gets them to think about so called good and ‘bad’ foods and the way in which certain foods have been demonised. For example, chips are often seen as a villainous food but not all chips are high in fat and can provide a useful source of vitamin C. This helps children realise that there aren’t ‘bad’ foods, just bad diets.

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