Monday, May 23, 2011

We Haven't Gone Far Enough

With an upcoming cafeteria tasting at a Northeast Philadelphia school, I was and still am excited to challenge young people to step up and continue the effort of fighting for their health. This fight doesn't end at the end of the school year, nor does it end with a graduation from any 4 year college to head start program. No, this fight is an everyday struggle to do the hard work of preparing healthy food because it's not just right but an opportunity to be creative and have fun. And before anyone tells me young people (or anyone for that matter) don't like to do hard work, if I've learned anything during this time of cooking clubs and attempted youth leadership development, it's that their is a real hunger amongst youth for opportunities to come together and feed not just their bodies but their minds and creative facilities. These young people need the opportunity to lead their communities to a place of stability and health. The question of: how ought we lead our communities? must be posed to these young leaders. Then, when they know their decisions will make a difference, the leadership development will launch.

From this kind of work in youth organizing around food and nutrition, that gritty question of "how" translates to real tactics they feel comfortable using. And never lost in the evolving movement toward action (because even doing nothing is an action of sorts, especially when you know the facts of the circumstance) the theme of entitlement comes in: what kinds of foods are these young people entitled to have.

One way or the other young people and their communities will have to take a stand on what children deserve.

Invite the "Other"
There are many sides to this food system that serve our children everyday. Other players with time and energy invested are the kitchen managers and staff working the assembly line end day in and day out. And what I would like to see are many more bridges being built to establish connections between young people and the staff tasked with serving them. Therefore, those of us in the 'alternative food system' need to invite the kitchen managers to the table to talk with the students. Perhaps after those traditional food system attendants introduce themselves and talk about why they work to feed growing children everyday we will see common ground and new and powerful alliances. Maybe then we, in the alternative, will be invited to look behind the scenes of the established kitchen.

The basic truth is that young people need more information about the system guiding their lives without they're knowing as we speak. The best way to do that is to work our way up the established food system chain and introduce young people to the adults responsible for making the decisions that affect their lives everyday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cafeteria Tasting Proposal

Proposal: Opportunity to conduct a cafeteria tasting with the 5th grade cooking club on June 6th during the 2nd of the four lunch periods. The preparation time lasts 30-35 minutes including: set up, preparing food (no heat), and clean up.

Logistics: 5th grade class will come down to lunch room at the beginning of the first lunch period to set up the preparation area (we will require only one table for preparing the tasting). Shortly after setting up the area, the students involved in the cooking club will prepare a nutritious dish capable of being served to the population of students in the cafeteria (dish will require no heat).

Once the dish is finished, the students will proceed to portion them into small servings. Once the second lunch period begins with the 1st graders taking their seats, the cooking club participants will serve each student in the cafeteria a small portion of the healthy dish to try. I will then instruct all of the students to return to their classes.

This kind of event will serve to expose students to a new healthy food, model healthy eating, put the cooking club participants into a position of leadership, and give those same students an opportunity to practice their cooking skills.

I've already asked for permission from the kitchen manager and was given the green light to confer with you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Worthwhile Future

When I consider future work options I conclude that my current area might be just where I need to be. Nutrition has a future of more and more importance to Public Health leaders, Employers, and citizens, as the American diet of processed food and the American lifestyle of sedentary living both come to be embraced around the world. Thus, nutrition will be relevant as a curriculum for a long time. Now, what I must plan is my role in that growing world of Nutrition Education. Thusfar, I have been putting a great deal of emphasis on leadership and getting as many students as possible into those position thereby "empowering" them. Unfortunately, the great interest of those potential students and my desire to empower as many students as possible has led to an exposure to a breadth of cooking techniques and nutrition information, but not a depth of skill, focus, and motivation.

With that said, for next year I must make certain of four things I think are integral to the development of these young nutrition leaders: (1) I limit the leadership positions (in whatever capacity I create) so that I can balance the group's intimacy with the information and their opportunities to work with the food. (2) I, myself, attain as much cooking skill, through trainings and my own experimentation, as possible. Obviously the more I know, the more I can share with the students. (3) I must make certain these programs in leadership culminate in a performance-based test like a parent workshop "catered" by the students involved in the cooking club. (4) I must contextualize the lessons within a framework of leadership (we all know why we should be leaders in this field, but how can we apply the lessons we learn to help others?) and creativity/fun. This can manifest as cafeteria tastings with original recipes designed/chosen by the students.

There exists an opportunity to challenge young people to take their health back for themselves, but the challenge must be palatable. I believe this attempt to empower is the best choice we have.

My work empowers me too. When I'm working with young people I feel the greatest challenge is to give them the chance to think critically and act critically. That same opportunity was given to me and it changed my life. Passing that on makes the entire experience worth the work.