/ Food & Drink, Parenting

Mummy, please can we plant a cheese tree?

A pig with some pasta on a plate

New research suggests that some UK children aren’t sure where the food they eat actually comes from. When you were a child, did you think cheese came from a plant, or tomatoes grew underground?

The British Nutrition Foundation has uncovered some surprising sources of confusion when it comes to kids and food. Its research found that almost a third of primary school pupils in the UK think that cheese comes from a plant.

And it’s not just the little ones who are a bit mixed up. Nearly one in 10 secondary school students think that tomatoes grow under the ground. Almost one in five primary school pupils think that fish fingers come from chicken. Out of all the interesting stats in this research, I have a personal favourite: more than a third of five- to eight-year-olds think that pasta comes from animals.

What happens between farm and fork?

Is it the case that these children simply don’t have enough experience with food preparation to join the dots between the farm and their fork? Thinking about my five-year-old nephew, if I asked him where pasta comes from, he’s most likely to say ‘Tesco’ or ‘Mummy’, rather than give me a more accurate response.

For the older children in the survey, their confusion may stem from spending little time around farms to see where their food actually comes from. I grew up in a town that was quite industrialised, but surrounded by agriculture. It was easy enough for me to make the connection between the cows in the field near my school, and the beef in my dad’s shopping trolley.

I’ll admit that there was a grey area in my mind about how exactly the cow became beef, but I was happy not to worry about that too much until I got a bit older. As a five-year-old, however, my only knowledge of pasta was that it came in lots of fun shapes and was covered in orangey sauce. I don’t think I connected that sauce to fresh, red tomatoes for some time.

A hunger to learn about the origins of food

Hopefully the confused younger children from the survey will grow up to have a healthy understanding of the food they eat. They’ll probably joke about their misunderstandings when they get older. It’s the older children I’m more worried about. How do you get to secondary school without realising that tomatoes grow above the ground?

Still, I don’t believe my early misunderstandings about food have had a long-term impact on me or my food habits. I take an active interest in where my food comes from now and I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to the provenance of certain products.

Can you remember wondering ‘where does food come from?’ when you were little? Did you ever get food sources a bit mixed up?


As Pasta is a processed food (i.e. from wheat) your 5 year old is probably right in citing Tesco or mummy rather than a wheat field (or a large industrial plant).
Not that easy to look at a cow (or bullock) and think of rump steak, nor the white liquid emanating from an udder. It is all about education – preferably hands on – but many without access to gardening or the countryside will have to rely on parents, school and television to gradually learn.
I think today’s children are far more savvy about a lot more topics because of enhanced communication than previous generations. But not always about the best of topics.


I’m afraid that the revelations do not surprise me: it is now almost 3 decades since anything approximating to real education about food and nutrition was removed from the National Curriculum and in the same time period the inexorable rise in range and availability of “fast foods” , take-aways, and “convenience foods” has compounded the effect on people’s ability to cook or to recognise what is required or where to get it in order to cook.

I’ll share with you a couple of horrendous (if, sadly, laughable) statements which came from the Facilities manager where I work. To put this in context, the facilities manager is the line manager to the cafe manageress.

A member of staff bought a Chicken Salad Sandwich form the cafe a while ago. The person concerned does not follow a Halal diet, but the sandwich did carry a Halal sticker and we do have a large number of Halal diet consumers. Whilst eating the sandwich my colleague found a rather salty tasting piece of “chicken” in the sandwich and investigated only to find that the sandwich contained a lot of pieces of BACON. My colleague took the sandwich and wrapper to the cafe manageress who was, at that time, in a meeting with the facilities manager, and pointed out the problem. The Facilities manager’s response was to turn to the cafe manageress and say “will you please ensure that you buy Halal Bacon from now on?”. The cafe manageress replied “I’ll ask the butcher what he can do for us”.

In a similar way, on a different occasion, I was queuing for lunch one day and a student in front of me was laughing and joking about he menu. When I asked her what was so funny she turned the menu around and pointed to the “vegetarian” option ……. fish fingers. I took this up with the facilities manager who replied “What’s wrong with that? Fish isn’t meat so it must be vegetarian”

Now, with a facilities manager in his late 40’s and a cafe manageress in her mid-50’s, both with children of their own, making such appalling and crass mistakes, can we really wonder that youngsters don’t understand? If the parents don’t knwo themselves how are the youngsters going to learn?

I wish I had an answer to the problem as it is a major issue.


Nice anecdotes, Dave. I wouldn’t have expected those remarks from that generation.

I haven’t seen you around this site for some time so I hope you’re well. We could have done with your friendly input on a number of conversations lately. We’ve missed you and your ginger cat.


@John – thanks – good to know I’ve been noticed by my absence.
I’m afraid I got a bit bored of (re)stating the obvious whilst it was equally obvious that Which? and relevant industry people were not taking any notice (I’m thinking mainly issues about Smart Meters and CFL lamps, but a few others too), and when the lighter days started I got out in my garden instead! I’ve still been watching though.


I expect there are many teenagers and young adults who would think fish is OK for a vegetarian and not know the meaning of Halal.

Perhaps kids should learn a bit about farm animal welfare and mechanical recovery of meat. That may help them to differentiate between a vegetarian and a vegan.

Glad to know you are at least lurking, Dave. I thought you might pop in to one of the gardening topics or pass comments on LED lamps and two-pin plugs.


Good points Wavechange.

I’ve clearly missed some interesting topics around here – which gardening topics have been controversial and what’s this about two pin plugs? Are they bringing back BS545??????


Welcome back Dave D. We missed you too 🙂


Dave – For some strange reason, gardening does not merit a tag on the homepage but mobile phones do. A quick search will find the gardening topics. I see you have already dealt with the one about cats killing wildlife. We had a heated discussion about neonicotinoids killing bees, in which some silly bee thought I was posting on behalf of the pesticide industry. I see you have already found one of the Conversations on two-pin plugs.

Fat Sam (blobfish avatar), another early contributor, looked in recently.