Editor’s Plate: Help Schools and Help Yourself

Feb. 9, 2021
As remote learning continues, teachers would appreciate videos highlighting the technology in food and beverage companies.

I wish I had thought of this six months ago.

In my eternal quest to kill multiple birds with the same stone, I have an idea that would help the remote learning programs that are still going on in so many school districts, add to the social responsibility efforts of food and beverage processors and even help you recruit a future generation of employees.

Videos! Instructive or at least informative videos of how your company uses science and technology to formulate and manufacture food and beverage products. How chemistry, biology and other sciences are integral parts of product development. How robots pick your products off a conveyor belt and place them into containers. How math skills are important throughout your organization, especially for budgeting and forecasting. 

Fifty years ago I, like every kid since, asked how some of my school curriculum was ever going to be useful in the future, in the outside world. It takes years to learn that it is, and for many kids the realization comes too late – they should have been paying attention when it was first presented in class.

Food is cool. It’s fun. It’s universal. Everybody’s familiar with it, loves it (maybe hates some of it) and thinks they know how to make it better. It’s not as difficult as selling a 13-year-old on neurosurgery or civil engineering.

As fun as it is, food has a hard time recruiting employees. If a student takes a deep interest in chemistry or biology, a lot of other fields and jobs take precedence over food product development. Engineering students are exposed to sexier opportunities than running a plant.

As I write this, Chicago’s public schools and many in the suburbs are resigned to the fact that this new year will at least start with continued remote learning. The teachers, who may strike to prevent going back in person, are nonetheless exhausted by remote teaching. The ones I talk to say it’s many times harder than teaching in person. Two things they would jump at are occasional diversions from the rote of the program and pre-packaged visual material on which they can hit a “play” button and catch their breath, adding commentary and answering questions at the end.

“Food is something every kid identifies with and enjoys,” said an elementary teacher in our neighborhood. “They would love to learn more about it.”

“Students are not too aware of where their food comes from or the processes it goes through to get on the supermarket shelf,” said a Chicago high school teacher. “The basic processes of making a cake (mixing, measuring, heating) have elements of chemistry. I think an educational food science video would be a great addition to any science class.”

“Anything that a teacher can use to tie real world information/data to the curriculum is a benefit to students,” said a suburban teacher. “I asked one of our science teachers her thoughts and she agreed. Videos that show students the connection between the things they use and benefit from every day and academics are definitely purposeful.”

But a Chicago administrator warned, “For better or worse, teachers have been inundated with resources for remote learning – a lot paid or not very good. So I would think it would be more successful if a company partnered with big school districts to deliver content.”

I hope the pandemic ends soon and remote learning becomes just a memory. (But the teachers I talked to said they’re being tasked to plan for and improve remote learning tactics for the next pandemic.)

Regardless, food processor-created videos that are instructive and inspirational would raise the profile of jobs in the food and beverage industry. Companies are always looking for ways to make their jobs more attractive, to recruit future generations of employees, especially the better and brighter ones. They also pursue ways to give back to their communities and add to those corporate social responsibility reports. If, in the process, you raise the stature of your own company, sounds like a multiple win to me.

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