Food crisis during pandemic ignites Karen’s passion for educating young people
The pandemic was rough on everyone, but for Karen Dorrat from Rosyth, it presented an opportunity which fueled her passion for food education. During the Covid crisis, Karen’s role with a community food charity changed and she became involved in emergency food provision. This experience had a real impact on her. It encouraged her to alter her career direction so she could help create positive change within Scotland’s food system. Karen applied to study the PGDE Secondary (Home Economics) at Queen Margaret University. In July this year, she graduated with her postgraduate degree and will soon begin her probationary year as a home economics teacher at Levenmouth Academy, Buckhaven. It was the University’s first in-person graduation ceremony to take place at the Usher Hall since 2019, and Karen shared the stage with the TV broadcaster, entrepreneur and cook, Dame Prue Leith DBE, who is Chancellor of Queen Margaret University.
Having spent many years as a volunteer campaigning and advocating on important food issues, Karen has always believed the key to improving the food system lies in education. She explained: “It’s about more than simply teaching someone to cook – it's everything from food literacy and learning how to enjoy our food, to understanding the links between our food and our health, and how our food choices affect the environment.”
Discussing the importance of home economics as a subject, Karen said:
"Food is at the heart of the higher education curriculum but is actually a fantastic tool for educating in all manner of subjects. I would like to see all teachers using it in their classes. However, what is so exciting about home economics is how it delivers every day, essential life skills, whilst also addressing worldwide issues - from the politics of what is on our plate, to how we help people and the planet thrive. As the challenges of sustainable living become more pressing, the subject is more relevant than ever, and I love that we can play a part in sharing that in schools"
Karen believes that home economics has an essential part to play in the lives of young people today. “They will learn the fundamental skills of producing nourishing food for themselves and their families, no matter their financial situation. But more than that, they will learn to be creative, develop literacy and budgeting skills, and become more independent. There are many misconceptions of what home economics is, but the curriculum is actually very flexible and innovative, and learners can choose to follow food technology, fashion and textiles, childcare, or even bakery or barista routes”, explained Karen.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Karen, who is a mother to two daughters, now lives in Rosyth. She initially had a degree in Applied Food Science from Queen Margaret University. After a period as a sensory scientist and some part time roles in further education while she had her children, Karen took on a role as project manager in a community food charity - an environmental project involved in growing and sharing local food and providing food education. Having to quickly adapt to a new role in emergency food provision during lockdown brought the stark reality of Scotland inequalities into sharp focus. It also made her question the lack of understanding surrounding food and the need for improved food education across the wider community.
Discussing young people’s food choices, Karen said: “By taking home economics at school young people can learn about the importance of their food choices, for example, how it will impact their physical and mental health, the environment around them and the local economy. They’ll grasp the wider societal issues such as food poverty, food waste, fairtrade, animal welfare, the impact of poor diet on health-related diseases and even their role as a consumer. The subject of home economics is a great vehicle for learning the skills of everyday living in modern society, as well as learning cooking skills that can help keep young people and their families fit and well.”
Queen Margaret University has a strong focus on outdoor learning and connecting students and pupils with the natural world, which is so important for the future of children’s mental health and wellbeing. QMU is creating an Outdoor Learning Hub, which will be located in the grounds of the campus. The Hub will help develop the student and teachers outdoor learning skills, as well as upskilling the wider teaching profession in Scotland. Again, I believe home economics is the perfect subject in which to teach outdoor learning - helping people gain knowledge about growing their own food and understanding the ecosystem; valuing resources; and understanding the mental health benefits derived from being active in the great outdoors and connecting with nature. QMU’s Outdoor Learning Hub will be a resource for teachers and pupils across Scotland, so I am hoping to make use of that with my classes in the future.”
It was a very challenging year - there were lots of struggles along the way, as well as being on a very steep learning curve, which makes Karen particularly proud of her graduation achievement. “QMU is a very caring environment”, she explained, “and there is a culture of being aware of the importance of wellbeing, which then helps you to focus on your studies.”
Karen celebrated her graduation success with her family at an impressive ceremony in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in July. She was overjoyed to make it onto the stage to be capped by Dame Prue Leith, as just four weeks before graduation she had a full hip replacement. She is now enjoying a well-earned rest after surgery before preparing for another full on year as a home economics teacher at Levenmouth Academy.
Notes to Editor
Karen’s food volunteering roles
Karen is a Good Food Nation Ambassador with the Scottish Food Coalition campaigning for the recently introduced Good Food Nation Bill. She also volunteers on the healthy eating and food poverty campaigns with Nourish Scotland.
For further information about the PGDE Secondary (Home Economics) at Queen Margaret University visit: Home Economics