Deborah Lewison-Grant & Carolyn Cohen, FoodFightWed 28 Aug 2013
Story by Deborah Lewison-Grant & Carolyn Cohen
As long time public educators we watched our students come to school everyday with their bags of chips and cans of soda. We experienced first hand the terrible impact that this nutritionally bankrupt diet had not only on their health, but also on their ability to focus and succeed in school.
Almost all of our students spoke of serious cases of obesity, diabetes and other diet related diseases in their families. Through our students’ experience, a story emerged of a society that is overfed yet undernourished, one in which individuals struggle with a food and health crisis but lack the awareness and knowledge necessary to make healthier choices.
We believe that education is a critical element in combating America's health crisis and that schools should be at the forefront of a campaign to transform our nation’s eating habits and lead us towards a more healthful and sustainable future.
As part of this mission we have designed a unique food literacy curriculum for teachers, students, school staff and parents that moves beyond traditional nutrition education by addressing concepts of food politics, critical consumership, and how media and advertising shape buying and eating habits. This cutting edge curriculum is taught in FoodFight’s Teacher Wellness Program© as well as FoodFight in the Classroom©.
We launched FoodFight in the Classroom© in 2010 to inspire students to challenge and change embedded behaviors and beliefs about food and its role in their lives. After successful implementation in over 50 New York City schools, we recognized that the ability to effect lasting change in the culture of food and health in schools would be limited without the buy-in of staff whose attitudes and behavior shape school culture and influence students’ decisions. School personnel can be powerful agents of change in promoting a healthy lifestyle; at the same time, they can unwittingly become a hindrance to change when they are not educated about food and its role in their lives. To increase our impact, in 2012 we initiated the Teacher Wellness Program© to work intensively with teachers and school staff to improve their own food literacy before training them to deliver FoodFight in the Classroom© curriculum to students.
Among many topics covered, participants in FoodFight’s programs learn basic nutrition facts and concepts (i.e., reading labels and ingredient lists; portion vs. serving size; alternatives to fast food); how to decode misleading advertising claims; where our food comes from; and, how to navigate the supermarket. Teachers and school staff receive a healthy eating resource guide to help them incorporate what they learn into their daily lives and serve as better role models for students. FoodFight also provides a menu of additional services, which includes conducting parent wellness workshops, and facilitating community supported agriculture, composting and recycling programs, and alternative lunch menus.
FoodFight views schools as a hub of activity where teachers, students, school staff and parents can engage on how to adopt healthier eating and buying habits and collaborate to create a healthier community. Our unique model of first educating and gaining the buy-in of teachers and school staff who make key decisions and shape school culture, then targeting students and parents, positions schools to make lasting changes in their culture of food and health and that of their communities.
“FoodFight has changed the way I look at food and I am now on a crusade to change my eating habits and those of my family and students. Thank you FoodFight for giving me a new view of the world of food.” – Teacher, Edward R. Murrow High School
One of the schools where FoodFight successfully delivered the Teacher Wellness Program© and later returned to implement a workshop for students on Food Revolution Day 2013 was El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Brooklyn. Students learned why it’s important to “eat a rainbow” and have a nutritious breakfast, and then tried their hand at making a green smoothie and simple chickpea salad to put this new knowledge into practice.
To date, FoodFight has reached over 2,500 teachers, students and school staff throughout New York City schools who are disproportionally burdened by preventable diet-related disease and face the greatest obstacles to adopting healthier lifestyles. Through a partnership with the Whole Kids Foundation, FoodFight expanded the Teacher Wellness Program© nationally in 2013 to Austin, TX; Houston, TX; and, Boulder, CO and we are excited to continue moving the FoodFight forward by reaching additional cities in the new school year.
FoodFight’s mission is to revolutionize the way we eat and think about food. Using schools as a platform, FoodFight arms teachers, students, staff and parents with the knowledge they need to make healthier choices and serve as role models and agents of change in their families and communities.
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