FoodFight: Revolutionizing Better Food EducationMon 03 Oct 2011
Story by Deb Grant
As former high school teachers and food activists, Deb Grant and Carolyn Cohen started FoodFight to use high schools as a platform to arm teachers and students with the knowledge and tools they need to take ownership over their eating and food buying behavior. Their mission is to revolutionize the way educators and their students think about food and its impact on their lives.
For a variety of reasons teachers’ and students’ voices have been largely absent from conversations about food system reform. This is particularly true in our nation’s high schools. Many of the programs in place to address the obesity epidemic are geared toward elementary school children and often revolve around offering improved cafeteria food. High school students, on the whole, do not typically choose to eat in the cafeteria, but instead elect to purchase their food out of school, increasing the likelihood that they will eat fast or processed food.
Seeking to capitalize on the transformative power of education, FoodFight has designed an innovative educational program, addressing the full spectrum of social, political and economic forces that shape our food system and control our food environment. Our unique teacher training program not only prepares educators to review and model effective methods for curriculum delivery, but simultaneously lays the groundwork for teachers to take ownership over their own eating and buying habits and to model positive behavior for their students and school community.
Not an elective or after-school program, the flexible, but highly rigorous 45-module curriculum, is designed to be embedded into the regular academic calendar and is divided into two parts.
Part One, which focuses on media literacy and critical consumership, aims to deconstruct students’ existing notions of food and consumer culture. It builds students knowledge of: mechanisms of advertising and branding, establishes parallels between media diet and our food diet, examines the health, environmental and economic consequences of producing and consuming nutritionally bankrupt food, and explores the role of government subsidies and the farm bill in shaping the food environment. Part One is geared to create a sense of urgency and encourage students’ engagement to make both personal and systemic changes in Part Two.
Armed with an understanding that unhealthy patterns of eating are not simply the result of their “bad behavior” or lack of “self-control,” students are ready to engage in Part Two of the program, which shifts the focus back to the individual.
Part Two: With an emphasis on behavioral nutrition and advocacy, Part Two aims to empower students to construct a new approach to navigating the food system and to take ownership over their eating and buying behaviors. Specifically, it builds students’ capacity to: understand basic nutrition facts and concepts, read label and ingredients lists, identify and access healthful alternatives to fast food and prepare healthy, affordable meals.
Halfway through the second half of the curriculum, students develop mindful wellness plans through which they identify and then commit to small but meaningful personal changes. They set goals, identify buddies to help them monitor and support their progress and reflect and journal about the impacts of the changes.
During the last 5 weeks of the semester, students work together on social action projects in small groups in which they plan and implement changes to improve the food environment in their communities.
FoodFight’s program is based on the premise that real and lasting change takes time.
Psychological, attitudinal and cultural change is not easy to measure and not always easy to encapsulate in tidy public relations sound bites, but research has shown that meaningful behavioral shifts won’t happen without it.
Our high school youth - on the brink of a new phase of civic engagement as voters, consumers, college students and advocates for themselves and their communities – are uniquely positioned to understand the power they wield through the choices they make and the actions they take around the consumption of food. If we can’t immediately guarantee them access to clean, healthful affordable food, the very least we can do is to prepare them to engage in our country’s critical battle for nutritional justice.
About the author: Deb Grant lives in New York City with her husband and two children, she is co-founder of FoodFight.
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