I get around is one of our regular series. Every month, Association members tell stories of where they are, what they are doing, who they have met, and why they believe or hope they are doing valuable work. This month we have Isabela Sattamini, telling us about her experience in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, working with nutrition education in schools, as well as her encounter with Marion Nestle in New York City in September 2013.
Working to inspire schoolchildren to enjoy healthy food
In my last I Get Around I wrote about wanting to study for a PhD in the field of food sociology, and specifically food policy and food culture. But I also have known that some practical professional experience would give me more maturity. So I chose to postpone my PhD. After taking this decision, I started looking for a job, and I found one.
I am working with food and nutrition education in schools in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The team of which I am a member has started in one school, to test our project, developing it, changing it, improving it, and then we will start to implement it in other schools.
We have developed a large variety of activities on food education for different ages, starting at 2 year old children until teenagers aged up to 18. Our approach has a wide range of subjects, such as cultural aspects, the social meaning of food, social and environmental issues related to food production, and critical thinking about food systems and food politics, as well as advice on healthy food habits. Our aim is to engage with students, parents, teachers and school employees. The work involves lectures, videos, scientific experiments, games, garden activities, culinary classes and cultural events. It is projected to last all year long.
We plan to show a Brazilian documentary called Way Beyond Weight, on childhood obesity. This film shows the role of propaganda. According to the producers, for the first time children have the same disease symptoms as adults: heart and breathing problems, depression and type 2 diabetes. All of them derive from obesity. Worldwide, kids are heavier than they should be and unhealthy. From Brazil to Kuwait, childhood obesity is becoming very common. Participants include Jamie Oliver, Amit Goswami, Frei Betto, Ann Cooper, William Dietz, Walmir Coutinho, among others.
Another important part of the project is the school garden. Children have shown great interest in the activity, considering some of them had not yet had the chance to experience contact with plants, gardening and soil. Research shows (Fabio Gomes) that when children plant and harvest their own food, they become more interested and curious about tasting new fresh food and therefore have better chances to maintain a healthy diet. While planting, harvesting, taking care, watering, trimming and dealing with the vegetable garden, many issues are raised, such as our connection to nature, to the source of our food, different types of crops and how organic food can benefit us.
Food culture needs examination. Why do we stop eating traditional local food and instead start to eat processed highly advertised food products? Why is local traditional food being replaced by processed food? What is the place of government and of the media in all this?
Here are some examples of the games and activities we propose to children. First, what if advertisements told the truth, what would they say? Second, recognition and critical analyses of what every country eats, what does this mean, what it represents in their culture. Third, what are Brazilian traditional foods and recipes and why it is important that they be preserved and valued, and how can this be done. Fourth, borrowing one of Michael Pollans ideas, we imagine what grandmothers consider as food and what grandchildren consider as food and the differences, taking a look at what has changed.
For teenagers, it is possible to approach more complex subjects such as the harm of processed food advertisements, food production systems, environmental impacts, responsible consumption, food policy and what really determines what we eat in our daily lives. Students engage in the discussion and bring their own opinions and doubts, contributing to enlarge the exchange experience. At this age, they already make their own choices and are not so much dependent on their parents. Furthermore, media pressure for keeping a body within the beauty standard and for women to be thinner and thinner, while at the same time consuming unhealthy food products such as canned soda, juices, candy, fast food, are a controversial aspect of our society that affects specially teenagers and that needs to be questioned.
It is a challenge to work with children under 5 years old, but so far presenting new vegetables and fruits has been productive. Culinary activities are guaranteed success. They are interested in the new experience, which many of them have never tried before, and they are curious about new foods (even though they are not always willing to taste them!). Working with them regularly will, I believe, bring great results in their acceptance of healthy food and openness to incorporate healthy values in their lives.
Me being inspired by Marion Nestle
In September I went to New York City and met Marion Nestle. It was such a nice experience. She received me in her office at New York University and we talked about research issues, connections between Brazil and United States, the work done by Brazilian public health nutritionists.
In May, World Nutrition promoted Marions six books: Food Politics (2002), Safe Food (2003), What to Eat (2007), Pet Food Politics (2008), Feed Your Pet Right (2010), Why Calories Count (2012); plus the 10th year Food Politics (2013). Geoffrey Cannon wrote about his first encounter with Marion, his impressions and how he got enchanted by her. I agree! As he said, Marion is extremely attractive, professionally and personally. Michael Pollan also writes about her in this World Nutrition piece, letting us know about his admiration of her work. He ranked Marion as the second most powerful foodie in the US (after Michelle Obama) in Forbes. He emphasised how she has been responsible for putting together the links between food and politics, which before her was rarely seen as connected. After her, food and politics have became inseparable.
In September, Marion published her latest book called Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics. In this book, she works with The Cartoonist Group syndicate and presents around 250 amazing cartoons on issues such as dietary advice, all the way to genetic engineering and to childhood obesity. Through the cartoons and her commentaries, she summarizes a great number of todays most relevant issues in food politics. The book highlights the importance of not only voting with your forks, but also voting with actual votes, in order to make healthy choices available for everybody.
Marion and I talked about the differences between Brazilian and US health policies and food environments. While the US is worried about the consumption of healthy industrialized food, considering the frequent lack of fresh food (compared to other countries), Brazil still has much fresh vegetables and fruits to offer, what we need to guarantee is its wide access, and this can
only be achieved through public policies.
I feel deeply encouraged to continue on this fascinating field that is public health nutrition. Theres much to be done in the whole world, not only in Brazil. I want and need to learn from other people and countries experience and share my own. Being part of the World Public Health Nutrition Association helps me with this task.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and should not be taken to be those of the Association.
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