Following on from the previous post, another chapter in Roy Wilkinson’s book The Spiritual Basis of Steiner Education” is “Nutrition and Education”.
How could this subject possibly be spiritual,? Well, as with all things Steiner, you will be surprised.
Modern scientific thinking, the author admits, “has produced an extraordinary wealth of facts” but “looks on the human being as a mechanism which is kept working by an adequate supply of fuel.”
Roy says “Things appear a little differently from the aspect of spiritual science”.
He goes on to assert that “food is not just a material substance. It has a living quality and one has to consider the source of its life…The nourishment of which we partake has a spiritual quality” p102
I have said before that the food in Steiner businesses is impressive. If you enjoy wholesome well-prepared food, you cannot fail to enjoy it. The food is often local, fresh and cooked as little as possible to retain flavour. Add to this the evident passion of the people preparing the food, and the attention paid to presentation, and there is much to enjoy.
However there is a huge leap from this to saying that food has a “spiritual quality”
The idea of a living quality is explained thus;
“The human being is dependent on the plant world for his nourishment, even if he eats plants once removed in the form of meat. His food therefore has a living quality.” p102
Yes, plants are a life-form, but just as we do not (in this country) eat living animals, nor do we eat living plants, and although I go along with the idea that food should be carefully prepared, to suggest a spiritual quality because plants live is a step too far.
Much of the chapter is devoted to the case for wholesome food, which few would argue with, although the author tries to make out this is a trait of spiritual science alone.
There are also quotes from “Dr Steiner”( remember he was not a medical doctor);
Roy Wilkinson says “no justification for these statements is made here. They are given in acceptance of Dr Steiner as an authority.” P104
“Mother’s milk has an awakening influence on the spirit of the child” and “tea dissipates thoughts” and coffee “disposes children to become pedantic”
In “Habits of the anthroposophists” I mentioned Gregoire Perra’s assertion that anthroposophists say potato starch makes you materialistic, and here in the book Steiner is quoted;
“If we observe the embryo of parents who have consumed too many potatoes, we see a more than normal growth of the head and the incarnating soul-spiritual has more difficulty in uniting with it than if the parents had obtained their nourishment from rye and wheat. These are more related to spiritual forces than the potato, which grows in the darkness”. p105
Yes, well, justification would be difficult here.
Biodynamic growing makes an appearance in this chapter, since Steiner claimed that plants no longer contain the “forces” people need to “build a bridge from thinking to will and action”; biodynamics is supposed to be the method of producing food with the right forces.
I have praised Steiner food, but as I said once before, the biodynamic element has nothing to do with the quality; equally good food can be produced with conventionally grown produce.
Steinerians would of course argue “yes, but what about the forces…?”
So how does all this relate to education?
Steiner schools make much of their outdoor play and lessons, with gardening and farming a feature for certain age groups . The author says “In class 3 …in story form the farm is characterised as a living organism. In classes 6,7 and 8 children do actual gardening and thus have a direct experience of the divine ordination ‘Thy shalt earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow’.” p106
I am sorry children are being taught these factually inaccurate ideas.
Many schools in our area include lessons on gardening in the curriculum, and in California there is a particularly wonderful project called the Edible Schoolyard where children learn how to grow and prepare food for use in their school – especially valuable if this does not happen in the home. None of these projects teach children about “forces” or spiritual content of food or confuse them with pseudoscience.
The chapter points out that diagrams and pictures should be avoided when teaching nutrition to children since they tend to give a “purely mechanical concept”. It says this is not in line with a spiritual understanding, where “a description of the interplay of forces, left to the child’s imagination” is more acceptable.
One last point to mention is that in Steiner schools it is considered appropriate to say Grace – “…to remember our debt to the agency who made production possible.” Which particular deity are we thanking? Well, Roy doesn’t say. Perhaps it is the same Sun God to whom a prayer is said at the beginning of each school day.
The food is an aspect of Steiner I was reluctant to criticise, but when then the subject is examined in detail as in this chapter, what becomes clear is that it is as shrouded in woo as any other.
The priority in Steiner schools, as ever, is to ensure first and foremost, that children are indoctrinated with spiritual science, at the expense of a rational, scientific approach to the subject.