Food is culture, memory but also chemistry, anthropology, mathematics. And kitchens can – and should – be the focus of the educational project of preschools. We interviewed Paola Cavazzoni, managing director of Pause Atelier dei Sapori, after her experience in Kosovo
PAUSE Atelier dei Sapori initiative has been active in Reggio Emilia since 2013, seeking to raise awareness of the principles and values of the approach to food, taste, and nutrition in childhood education. At the end of November, thanks to the Pedakos project, the protagonists of this experience promoted various workshops on these issues in Kosovo, exploring the many opportunities that fruit and vegetables offer in educational terms. Paola Cavazzoni, pedagogist and managing director of Pause, was also present: an interview.
One of the strongest memories I have of my childhood school years is when some of us were allowed, for a few hours, to help the cooks in the kitchen... yet often the "lunch break" is conceived as a "break" also from an educational point of view…
It is indeed a beautiful anecdote and a beautiful memory. If we fail to recognise the value of food and its knowledge, the stories and feelings that food can tell and of which it is made, if we fail to witness and give voice to the idea that food is language, a language between the most powerful at an intercultural level, if we fail to understand that food is chemistry, mathematics, history, geography, memory, science that is life; if we fail to look at kitchens – just like those of the schools you mentioned – as natural workshops of participation and care and real taste ateliers that define the very identity of the school as an educating community and in some way define taste good of a community, if we do not recognise the learning as well as the small and large achievements that happen at the table, if the symbolic value of all this is lost, food becomes a thing, it becomes a commodity, and can be thrown away and can be little considered.
To avoid this, school and education can do a lot so that the lunch break or "recreation" at school are considered moments of relationship, of knowledge of the other and of the world for the child, the man, the woman.
Pause Atelier dei Sapori owes its name "Pause", and also its logo, to a clear and precise interest which is to value the time of food, the care of time and pausing on what we eat and learn. A name as a kind of invitation not to consume but to have a positive, multi-sensory, and loving experience with food. New gestures and even a new grammar that accompanies food can be important steps to bring it back to the centre of school, family, and society.
You are an educator and managing director of PAUSE-Atelier dei Sapori. How do these two souls of yours reconcile in the project that you manage?
I am a pedagogist and have been working for many years with Reggio Children and the Reggio Children Foundation on the issues of consultancy and training in the educational field. Since 2013 I have participated in the birth of Pause and since 2017 as CEO I have managed Pause srl, owned by the Reggio Children Foundation with an educational vocation, which was born at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in Reggio Emilia to improve the hospitality of many visitors who come to Reggio from all over the world to learn about and study the educational approach of this city and propose itself – through its spaces and services and its internal kitchen – as a permanent research laboratory around food and around taste.
In the educational experience of the city of Reggio Emilia we learnt, starting from early childhood, that food is relationship, community, knowledge, creativity.
The kitchens, the food, the education to the taste of food are among the main ingredients of Reggio's pedagogy and of what the educational know-how is of this city and consequently also part of the cultural background of a pedagogist.
Being a pedagogist and managing director of a company dedicated to food has meant for me to feed an ancient value every day to project it forward, to help create a reference experience for many, therefore public and widespread even beyond the school itself.
As an administrator, it was important for me to indicate short and long-term training strategies, create an interdisciplinary work team (cooks, pedagogues, dieticians, doctors, atelierists...), study training courses on taste capable of generating new questions and sensitivities on the cultural and symbolic value of food, designing indicators of a new good and sustainable catering, starting paths of new market consultancy on food and its knowledge.
All this for me has been and still is a tiring, complex but precious opportunity to regenerate the sense of a city-wide educational experience that I have been living for about 40 years and that has its DNA in school, to take it further, and contribute to its social, cultural, and scientific diffusion for the wellbeing of "childhoods" and communities. A chance to concretely testify that starting from a kitchen you can build a new culture of research – in a space that is inclusive, common to all, and democratic – and that the kitchen is one of the main places in which every day we can understand and demonstrate what citizens we want to be.
You recently went to Kosovo to promote some workshops on flavours with local teachers and operators. Can you explain how these meetings take place?
As part of the PEDAKOS project curated by RTM, I had the opportunity, after a journey of knowledge started online, to share and exchange the values of Pause Atelier Dei Sapori with this country. The audience we had the honour of meeting was made up in particular of teachers, directors, and cooks of the schools involved in the project.
Our intervention wanted to combine knowledge in the pedagogical field with that of the kitchen. In fact, I was present as an educator and Alessandro Tagliavini as a cook and expert in workshops on the languages of food. We shared the educational references that place cooking and food at the centre of the Reggio educational experience and we explored together the different formats of workshops curated by Pause where the teachers, directors, cooks of this country and territory were invited to immerse themselves in food experiences, of course food bought in local markets.
The purpose of these events was to present some of our studies and experiences to the schools we met, not so much to ask them to reproduce them but rather to encourage them to value the potential of experience and knowledge that everyone has in their hands every day and that can be lived in a school and its kitchen.
Another intention was to share some guidelines on health that can – even starting from the construction of a school menu – harmoniously regenerate the relationship between tradition, innovation, education, and health. A certain intent aimed at the educational team and school cooks but which can only grow without the alliance with families: for this reason, schools are encouraged to organise periodic evenings in the kitchen with families in which not only to present the dedicated menu to the children but prepare it together with the parents with the guidance of the school cooks and then eat together what was prepared perhaps sitting around a table... well this is still one of the most sensitive ways capable in a simple and concrete way of breaking down barriers or distances and testifying that taking care of the new generations together cannot be delegated but must be done together.
Food is relationships, with others, with nature, with the world. What are the reactions that most impressed you at your workshops in Kosovo?
Among the reactions that struck us most was the amazement of the teachers at seeing the topic of food associated with a pedagogical lesson, where food was treated as one of the languages of experience and knowledge and part of the identity and planning of the school.
Seeing in their eyes the surprise of exploring something of domestic and daily use – sometimes considered as poor – with different eyes and understanding how a simple seasonal vegetable can become a precious treasure chest of learning: from the roots, to the colour, to the taste associated with colour up to the genesis of the scent of a vegetable or fruit etc.…
They immediately understood that reusing or regenerating in the kitchen is a simple and powerful act of friendship towards the environment, which can be practised in the classroom as well as outside and which can attract and entertain adults and children together.
We have also noticed how listening and doing together around this theme has contributed to breaking down the role hierarchies: everyone, from cooks to teachers and directors, set to work to collaborate together, to exchange knowledge on nature and quality of food, to experiment together, for example, the extraction of natural pigments from vegetables – spinach green, salad green, cabbage purple – to then create extraordinary "vegetable watercolours", discovering empirically that colour does not originate in a marker or pencil and that colour is not even taught but that colour is in nature that must be questioned and that you can start from there…
Food is culture and also memory…
Yes, taste strongly evokes memory. From a simple circle tasting test of an ingredient such as a grape many memories emerged from all the participants together with an infinite number of stories related to childhood and life. And if we tried to do this with children, how many things could we discover?
What other indications did you draw from the workshops?
We had a strong feeling that thanks to the involvement of the cooks – who were busy with us during the days in Kosovo preparing local dishes or answering questions about food education in school – we had helped support their educational role in the school.
We then learnt from the teachers and the people involved in the training the value they reserve for the welcome and care they have for their schools. And then we met traditions and knowledge that link the school to the territory, without nostalgia for the past but with curiosity for the future. Care and attention that emerge from the beauty and order of the kitchens visited and shown to us as the pride and conquest of each school.
We can all have an experience with food. In this regard we are all on the same level. What is the value of this aspect from the pedagogical point of view?
In order to be innovative, teaching in a school must be able to welcome the uniqueness of each learning subject and must embrace the culture of research as a permanent dimension that naturally spans all the life of children and adults in school: play, activity, sleep, lunch... no one is more important than the other, they all provide an opportunity for knowledge, conquest, and discovery.
And again I would like to emphasise that education needs children: their approach to knowledge is full of amazement, their perceptions are the fusion of the senses, children know the world through their mouths. For children, food is not just nutrition, it is experience, joy, discovery. It's world! And it is precisely on these sensitivities that we can trigger our own and our processes of care, research, and education linked to nutrition.
Food can be an educational starting point, it can teach us not to waste and to value what we have, it has a strong emotional value... How to recover centrality and attention to these issues in schools, in Italy and in Kosovo?
It is important to value the presence of kitchens in schools as places of great symbolism for taking care of children as people and in their entirety and also of their families.
Kitchens that build food, dishes, which speak of science, chemistry, physics, history, anthropology, which speak of heaven and earth. Kitchens that create scents in which the beauty of dishes and in dishes becomes taste.
This presence can be one of the best vehicles for an approach to respect for sustainability, for the regeneration (in a concrete and familiar way) of things, food but also of thoughts. The kitchen therefore not only as a distributor of food but as a research space that welcomes time understood as the content and essence of the very concept of quality of every educational and growth experience.
Giving time to understand that – as happens with each of us – no fruit ripens at the same time and never the same as another. But also time for research, study, asking questions, pausing on what we learn which is then at the origin and meaning of the very name of Pause and of the shared experience in Kosovo.
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