Sunday, January 29, 2012

Power to the People thru Cooking

Originally I had included cooking in the Advocacy Institute's curriculum because it would provide a break from whatever intense critical thinking processes being engaged in, but now I see it as an opportunity for cultural communication. At a recent One Young World conference Jamie Oliver, the youth advocate, spoke of cooking and culture in this way:
"Think of your culture; think of your home; think of your family; think of however you sit down to eat; now think of the meal that represents your country".
Substitute home for country and you have a great link between food and community. Our challenge is to facilitate the mobilization of the food we eat, the community we belong to, and the future we hope to build. It's these connections made between young people and them educating one another to the ins and outs of their culture. Therefore, we must see cooking as more of a peer to peer educational moment or building the capacity of the group as they investigate culture amongst themselves.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Young Chefs Speak Out thru Media

My most recent project is to buttress youth wellness cultures through the creation and maintenance of a kid's healthy food cookbook (trying to input as much youth-created content into the book). This source of documentation (for me) and inspiration (for the youth) can include recipes coupled with action photos showing kids making those same dishes, student chef profiles, games ("match the recipe"), nutrition information, and youth illustrations promoting their own healthy lifestyles. Adding an element of community leadership by outfitting the kids with cameras and the power to document/interview will create a powerful record of youth leaders pushing for healthy futures.

I can see it now, a publication combining the power of youth in action: cooking and thinking.

Critics, and scholars, and leaders, oh my! The power to tell their own story will give these young people to 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Sequences of Growth

Recently I was advised by a friend to document in chronological order the work of the young people I work with in my cooking clubs. I see now how this kind of recording of skill building, critical thinking, and team building can prove to be useful not just for my own presentations, but to debrief with the young people. As I show them past periods of work and ask them to talk amongst themselves about what they were doing, what they were learning and how it relates to their lives. These opportunities for reflection are critical to keeping past lessons relevant to the present.

I must also work to be creative with the documentation I have with these young people. Perhaps, creating some kind of advertisement for future cooking clubs, or using action pictures to personalize certificates of achievement for the participants. I will continue to brainstorm and create the most memorable documentation that will simultaneously promote critical thinking and organized communities.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Commitment to Champion

Subtle implication about community organizing has not been working to spur these young people to meaningful commitments to their health. So, I'll need to try a new approach to garner these commitments; these conversations on hope. I believe the following activity will do a lot in the way of generating some willingness to discuss their understanding of our health problems.

Human Sculpture / Map the Perfect / Reeducate your Neighborhood

1. Explain to young people we will be investigating what it means to be healthy, and what healthy does? Pose question: What does a healthy community do? What does a healthy family do? What does a healthy community do in the morning? When does a healthy community exercise? What does a healthy community eat? Where does a healthy community get it's food from?

2. Call up six volunteers (designed for groups of kids not used to one another because typically they aren't comfortable enough around each other) and divide the six into two groups of three. One group will be the "sculptors" and the other will be the "sculptees".

3. Explain to young people that we will be sculpting the first group into what we think a healthy family does versus what an unhealthy family does. (This is purely to scratch the surface of what these young people believe is practiced by different populations of people.) An example of a healthy family scene might be: family picking fresh fruit at the market, family cooking together, family teaching young recipes, etc. An example of an unhealthy family scene might be: eating cheesesteaks for every meal throughout the day, on a warm sunny day staying inside all day, etc.

4. Give "sculptors" 5 minutes to plan and sculpt "sculptees".

5. While volunteers are planning and sculpting, talk to others about the importance of setting healthy goals and following through: has anyone ever made any healthy plans?

6. Tell volunteers to stop after 5 minutes.

7.Ask "sculptors" to explain what they sculpted and why.

8. Ask sculptors to sculpt unhealthy families.

9. Congratulate volunteers.

10. Ask youth what their perfect healthy neighborhood would look like? How would you sculpt a perfect healthy neighborhood? (Draw map of perfect neighborhood)

11. If you were responsible for educating your neighborhood to the healthy food they have available, what would you tell them? If you were responsible for leading your neighborhood, what programs would you create?

***12. Provide food from local corner store market.

Ask young people to put together the typical breakfast

This activity is designed to spur dialogue between young people around the need for community organization and mobilization.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ready for the Food Maze; Ready to Replace the Food Monsters

It is a privilege to work with a group of young people focused and consistent in their attitude toward education and community. That is to say, they are skeptical that any information I provide will help their circumstance (whatever it is), but they trust me and like me enough to give me a chance. It is this opportunity, this thin chance to impress upon them the need to fight for a healthier future motivates me to create an appealing activity. And this activity (really every activity) needs to be engaging enough to inspire the conversation they need to have...

The last time I worked with these youth I had some success at directing their attention at the public health issues of diet-related death and their community's lack of healthy food options. An appropriate follow up question to the visualizing of a community lacking good food is a conversation about healthy social determinants and protecting vulnerable populations from disease. Much like how the socio-ecological model shows, we interact with our food: as individuals, members of a family, members of a community, and often as followers of community institutions. Thus, we have our individual education, the support of our family, the organization of our communities, and the strength of our institutions; within these influences we should find protection. Do we? Are we properly educated and motivated as individuals? Do our families support our pursuit of health? Are our communities organized to protect the young and give them a healthy future? Do our institutions put their strength behind us when we think big about our health? Good questions that need answers. These are some of the questions I want young people to be asking themselves and their peers as they walk out of the meeting and are looking for answers.

My agenda for my next session is to dialogue around protection. The protection past generations of Americans had (producing current statistics of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.) and the protection the current generation has. Are our forms of protection working? An activity that should help to demonstrate this phenomena is the human statue. By investigating their language around health and asking them to "pose" like those same ideas we can begin to manipulate the subject matter.

The issue that will probably arise this coming session as it did during the last session is the apparent embarassment/shyness of the kids preventing any dialogue. What served to relieve this silence turned out to be more than just fun, but facilitating their actually literally touching. With the "untie the knot" activity they had to form a circle, extend arms across circle, take someone else's hand, and finally untie the knot they just created.  This touching and laughing served to eliminate the shyness.

For sure, the activity I will implement this week will need to be as much fun and engaging as any before. I'll need to illustrate clearly the connection between the "Food Store Maze" and the real challenges these young people are facing as they try to avoid bad food, bad people, and the myriad other bad influences. Now, the activity will look pretty tame as they form up into partners and try to guide one another through the maze. The surprising and controversial aspect will be that some volunteers will be designated as food monsters who will be positioned throughout the maze and as participants attempt to walk across the room to the "health area" the food monsters will try to reach out and grab (gently) those walking blindfolded across. The food monsters, upon grabbing a walker, will spin them around obviously confusing their direction, and let them continue their journey. The only hope these blindfolded walkers will have is their sole protector: their brain. [Another volunteer will be acting as their brain trying to talk them through the maze.] At first "the brain" will be talking "the body" through the maze using only the words hot or cold. After they accomplish this they will be able to talk their partner through the maze using any words they would like to use. The finish line will be on the other side of the room, known as the "health area".

With this activity they will see the necessity for guidance in this food world. Without the proper education, guidance, and skills they have little chance of avoiding or replacing these "food monsters".

Replacing the Food Monsters is an entry onto itself as it is the ultimate goal of any advocate.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Broken Bondage - Retying the Knot

Sunday, January 1st, saw me implement a premature version of my youth advocacy pitch to a small group of young people. This early practice allowed me to see real-time reactions to my activity and dialogues intended to impress upon young people the need to advocate. I began by instructing the young people to gather into a circle and arrange themselves into a "knot" (Cross arms and take the hand of the people on either side of you). I told them their objective was to "untie the knot" without talking during the first round.

[What I didn't realize was I had incorrectly instructed them to form their knot. Instead of crossing their arms they should have reached across the circle to another young person and taken their hand. Both hands should have been extended across the circle.]

The young people accomplished the goal in less than five seconds for the most part because I constructed the knot wrong. Nevertheless, the activity gave the young people a chance to get more intimate with one another then they normally would have (holding hands) and gave me a metaphor to work with and connect in their minds. The team-building and relevance of the activity to the public health subject matter at hand were crucial to find some appeal/motivation for these young people to engage in the conversation.

After they untied themselves, I told them their community/neighborhood acts a lot like this either in a positive or negative fashion. The "knot" can either be protective or suffocating, and our job is to figure out whether their community is serving their needs or not. Then reporting the tendency of public health concerns for young people of their generation, they became more interested as the connections between those health risks (diabetes, heart disease, diet-related cancer) and their built environment were made. With such attention on the interconnection, we mapped the community's food sites, their proximity to the church we were sitting in, and finally graded each site (I prompted them with my core health questions: 1. More fresh food than junk food? AND 2. More healthy drinks than unhealthy drinks). The grades ranged from Cs to Fs and they gave fast food establishments no sympathy. I explained how appropriate their harsh analysis was because there are harsh realities and consequences for the communities eating and drinking these hazardous foods.

Where do I go from here? Next time I'll ask for those who would like to commit themselves to changing their area for the better.

What I am working to do is free their minds from the forced self-destructive resistance they will personally manifest in order to combat the hostile environment they are growing up in. If I can expose them to a positive form of resistance and channel the energy into team-building and constructive community organizing, then they will have a chance to feel the freedom of participatory democracy.