“I even ask people over to share”

Hello!  My name is Heidi and I’m the first non-school based Apple Corps member to post to our blog.  Rather than being placed in schools or with a separate community organization, I work directly with two programs in the Hunger Action Center at Solid Ground (the department that sponsors Apple Corps).  This means I’ve had the opportunity to broaden my understanding of diverse approaches to food security–youth and adult nutrition education, the emergency food system, urban agriculture, and more–by observing and being involved in the work of many Hunger Action Center programs.

One of the programs I work with, Partners in Caring, provides a weekly grocery delivery to about 80 homebound adults in public housing.  The grocery delivery program was recently profiled in Solid Ground’s Groundviews publication for March 2011.  My specific role with Partners in Caring is to organize nutrition and wellness activities for residents in the three buildings we serve. Last week, I finished coordinating a healthy cooking class in one of our buildings through a partnership with Cooking Matters, a national program that offers a free 6-week cooking class to low-income people.  I co-taught the class in collaboration with three volunteers, including a professional chef and a nutrition graduate student.  I’m now preparing to coordinate the same series in each of our other buildings.

Most of the public housing residents we serve are adults who live alone, and many of them face multiple health challenges including diabetes, physical disabilities, and mental health issues.  As I’ve gotten to know these individuals, I’ve realized the process of getting people out of their apartments to engage in a social setting is just as important as the intended outcome (in this case, learning how to cook healthier meals with limited resources).  After all, loneliness and isolation can be as detrimental to health as a poor diet!  Last week, when asked to reflect on how the class had impacted their lives, one participant wrote that, “it helps a lot- I even ask people over to share [meals]…I’m more social.”  Another participant wrote that he is “thinking healthier.”  It’s hard to articulate how meaningful these comments are to me, especially given how daunting it can seem to be engaged in the work of challenging the dominant cultural messages we all receive about our relationship to food, and to each other.

As I explore anti-racist approaches to public health and the food movement, I am trying to increase my accountability to the communities in which I work.  Two priorities for my next class are increasing language accessibility (by translating fliers and working with interpreters as needed), and asking for more consistent feedback from class participants about what they want to get out of the class, and what they find true or valuable about the course content.  Nutrition is an incredibly imprecise (and ideological!) science.  Like everything around us, it is laden with power dynamics, which means nutrition education often falls into the trap of placing value judgments on cultures, traditions, and lifestyles.  The nutrition curriculum I use tries to avoid some of these judgments by referring to “everyday” foods and “sometimes” foods, rather than labeling foods “good” and “bad.”  I will continue to write about the Hunger Action Center’s (and my own) evolving analysis of anti-racism and food systems in future posts.  In the meantime, we welcome any readers to join the dialogue!

Below are some photos from my cooking class (photo credits: Liz Reed Hawk).

Me (right) leading the class with our terrific volunteer chef and volunteer nutritionist.

Class participants prepare ingredients for a snack (fruit with yogurt dip) -- I was surprised at how many people were willing to jump in and start chopping!

A participant inspects a tin of olive oil during our discussion about healthy and less-healthy fats.

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