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Food that's tasty and sustainable?

School classes can learn just how healthy meat substitutes and alternatives to cow's milk are in tasty experiments at the new food:labor by the Kiel Science Factory.

Three scientists in the food:lab
© Heike Groth

The food:lab team (from right to left Antonia Grubert, Timon Heyn, Michael Baum) tinkers with the experiments for pupils.

Sustainable nutrition is a topic that is on everyone's lips. More and more of us are turning to fresh organic food grown locally as well as meat or milk substitutes from purely plant-based raw materials. In future, students from Year 10 onwards will be able to research these and other foods at the food:labor. The new offers by the Kiel Science Factory, the student laboratory of Kiel University and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) will be opening soon.

"Thinking about the food we eat is something that is tremendously important to many people," said Dr Timon Heyn from the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food Science. There are many reasons for this, adds the food technologist, who is responsible for the specialist subject content at the food:labor. Being healthy is something that is important to lots of us. As is animal welfare. In times of climate change, ecological and sustainable aspects are increasingly important. "But there are also often uncertainties as to how healthy our food is and whether, for instance, it covers our protein requirements," added Dr Michael Baum from the IPN, who is responsible for the didactics of natural sciences at the Kiel Science Factory.

"The sustainable production of food also plays a major role in research in the university's Food Technology department. At the food:labor, we want to give students an insight into our work and let them find their own answers to their questions," said Antonia Grubert. "Our aim is for these youngsters to take a critical look at food and its sustainability," said the nutrition and food scientist, who, together with chemistry professor Ilka Parchmann and food technologist Professor Karin Schwarz, completes the team at the new laboratory. It receives funding from "Science Year 2020/21 – Bioeconomy" of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The individual stations of the food:labor were developed by chemistry students training to become teachers and the nutritional and food science department in a joint course.

At the stations, the school classes will learn from specialist lectures, paired with their own experiments. One example: "We show the youngsters what it means when it says 'contains gelatine’ on a packet of gummy bears," said Heyn. So there may be an animal bone in the laboratory from which this ingredient is obtained. One alternative to them is gummy bears that contain agar-agar from algae as a gelling agent. The groups can make their own gummy bears – and a tasting session is included at the end of the day. For this purpose, a "buffet" is set up outside the lab rooms. In another experiment, the pupils make milk substitutes from almonds, soy and oats. They also determine how many essential proteins these products contain and whether this covers an adult's daily requirement.

Our aim is for these youngsters to take a critical look at food and its sustainability.

Antonia Grubert

Other stations deal with meat and palm oil substitutes as well as the potential of the mussel as a natural biofactory for valuable proteins and healthy oils. "We'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various alternatives with the pupils," said Heyn, who is well aware that it is not possible to make a clear distinction between good and bad foods. "Food evaluation is far more complicated than you would at first think."

Individual topics should be addressed in greater depth at school. The team at the Science Factory lends out station boxes with experiments and teaching materials for this purpose – and to schools that are unable to come to the lab. "We're also planning a digital offer that can be visited online," said Baum, who, along with the entire team, is available to answer questions and provide information.

Author: Jennifer Ruske

The food:labor offer is aimed at upper school pupils (from Year 10) at community and grammar schools. Contact and information: Tel.: 0431/880-5916, e-mail: info@forschungswerkstatt.de.

www.forschungs-werkstatt.de