Sweet, sticky peach juice runs down chins of happy children. Small hands draw pictures of their favorite fruits and vegetables and then are raised high with questions on how to ripen peaches and plums in a bag. "Do you have to use special paper or is Dollar Tree paper ok?" one girl asked.
This is the heart of Amber Stott's new non-profit, the California Food Literacy Center. A self-proclaimed child on the inside she teaches kids about smart food choices in an after-school program at Capitol Heights Academy in Oak Park.
Healthy food is becoming more available to low-income families but there's a gap in educating them on how to use it. Stott wants to fix the problem. "There's a burning in my belly to do something more," she said. "I wanted to spread love and have them be inspired by food like I am."
So many of society's issues intersect in food, Stott says, hunger, health and the environment. "Every bite of food we take we are voting. We're voting for health. We're voting for community. We're voting for the planet." Tackling these issues are as simple as introducing a child to a peach.
During the after-school program, children from kindergarden to fifth grade are exposed to a different piece of produce each week. They learn carefully crafted lessons about food and nutrition. Returning students from last year's pilot program recalled lessons like "trans-fat is worse than fat" and organic versus conventional foods.
"They're like little sponges," Stott beamed. "It's awesome!" The younger the child is the easier it is to effect their attitude about food, she has noticed.
Stott coined the concept of food literacy, which she defines as "understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, the environment, and our community." She worked with Assemblymember Roger Dickinson to have September officially named "Food Literacy Month." To celebrate the month she is hosting a Food Literacy Fair on Sept. 22 at the Oak Park Farmers Market, holding a food literacy sandwich contest and more. For now the program resides at one school and is conducted by unpaid volunteers like herself but her vision is to create a program that goes state-wide. "We need an army of people to deliver food literacy," she said.
For more information visit www.californiafoodliteracy.org
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