My Town-Wide Real Food ChallengeThu 21 Jun 2012
Story by Francesca Costa
My name is Francesca Costa and I’m a fourteen-year-old Girl Scout Senior from Northern New Jersey. I am working toward my Girl Scout Gold Award, which is kind of a big deal.
Exploring The Effects Our Food Choices Have
The first step in earning my Gold is to complete a project that will make an impact on others. Because my family and I have always been interested in the environment and preparing home-cooked meals, I chose to follow a Girl Scout guide book called “Sow What.” This book explores the effects that our food choices have on our health and the health of the environment.
“Sow What” explains that we all leave a food print behind every time we eat. A food print is like a carbon footprint, measuring the impact that you leave on the planet. For example, when we order a hamburger out, the beef is from the western states; the wheat for the bun is from the Midwest; the tomatoes and lettuce may come from Florida or even Mexico. The energy expended to process and ship all of these hamburger components add up to a lot when you think about it. A lunch made up of locally produced food would take way less energy to get to your plate.
During this project I have learned that highly processed, packaged foods that contain a long list of chemicals are just as bad for the health of our environment as they are for the health of our bodies. Foods like these are created in labs and factories and have never seen sunshine, where our food should begin. Seems like a waste to use all that carbon-emitting energy on food that provides little or no nutritional value to us anyway.
I also learned about monoculture in America. This is when large farms grow only high cash crops like soy and corn. The problem with producing only one kind of crop is that this depletes the soil of its natural nutrients and ability to fight disease and insect infestation. Here come more chemicals!
Challenging My Town To Eat Real
In an effort to raise awareness of the foods we depend on, I chose June 13th, 2012 to be The First Annual Town-Wide Real Food Challenge. My goal: To get everyone in my town to eat REAL, LOCALLY GROWN, HOME-PREPARED or MINIMALLY PROCESSED PACKAGED FOOD for one day. I challenged everyone to ask themselves: Where did this food come from? How much energy did it take to get to my plate? Is this food healthy for me? Is it healthy for the environment? Can I make more of an effort to eat like this every day?
How did a fourteen-year-old Girl Scout get her entire town to take the Challenge?
I started by doing my own research and then asked for the support of local schools, environmental and Scout organizations, administrators and the media. I explored some of the many seasonal farmers markets in my area. (You may be surprised that New Jersey is the Garden State and produces delicious fruit and veggies, especially tomatoes and blueberries!) I interviewed some helpful produce workers and store managers and had the opportunity to speak with fruit and vegetable expert “Produce Pete,” who appears on WNBC’s “Weekend Today in New York.” He passionately explained to me “…if people don’t buy from local farmers in New Jersey, these farms will all go away forever!” I prepared home-made soup for my town’s nature center fundraiser and helped them host a Hudson River Sustainable Living Festival booth on edible New Jersey wild plants.
I then visited primary school principals who agreed to allow me to send flyers home to every child to promote the Food Challenge. I ran my own promotional booth at our local school fair and advertised by using posters, flyers, phone calls and local print and social media.
I intend to keep this Challenge growing year after year. I hope to have some of our awesome senior citizens give “cooking from scratch” lessons to children for next year’s Challenge. This is something that parents may not get a chance to do with their kids anymore and that older folks are very happy to do! I’d like to get other kids involved in challenging their towns, too!
It’s just the beginning of my journey to the Gold Award. But, you don’t have to be an environmentalist, a chef, a health advocate or even a Girl Scout to make positive changes in the way food affects your health and environment and you don’t have to wait to be challenged; everyone can make a difference today!
About the author: Francesca Costa is a fourteen-year-old Girl Scout Senior from Northern New Jersey who has joined the Food Revolution and taken on the challenge of getting her whole town to eat real food.
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