Author: Lisa Marie Patzer
For Thanksgiving, I made my annual trek back to Colorado to visit family and friends. This is one of my favorite holidays because my brother-in-law, a bona fide “foodie,” makes the Thanksgiving meal a true event. This year, he made hand braised bananas, mushroom stuffed onions, organic turkey, two different kinds of homemade cranberries, pecan, walnut and apple pie; the list of food goes on and on.
And he is very particular about the ingredients, making sure everything is fresh, locally grown and when possible, organic. My two nieces and nephew are developing not only a refined palette for well-prepared food; they are learning the importance of food selection and preparation. Maggie, my 13-year-old niece, illustrated her awareness of food politics when she labeled the recent legislation passed by congress making pizza a vegetable “doublespeak.”
This family education about food is somewhat atypical, especially in neighborhoods where access to affordable, locally grown, organic food is limited. Three representatives from the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI), a program of University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, recently spoke about the issue of Food Justice on The Green Hour, a radio program about health and environment.
Kristin Schwab, Youth Development Director, Matthew Johnson (19), Youth leader and alumnus, and Tiara Parker (16), Nutrition Educator, spoke about the Youth Development Program at UNI. Matthew, now an alumnus of the Youth Development Program, first joined UNI as part of a gardening crew. The gardening crew learns how to grow fruits and vegetables, harvest what they grow and teach others about urban gardening. Tiara, currently a member of the cooking crew at University High School, interns as a nutrition educator, teaching healthy habits and inspiring people to get excited about cooking. Tiara explained the Think AHEAD model. The acronym reminds people to choose foods which are affordable, healthy, easy, accessible, and delicious.
Based in West Philadelphia at W.L. Sayre and University City High Schools, the UNI Youth Development program provides paid internships to approximately 60 high school students during the school year and 100 students during the summer. UNI empowers teen interns to explore and identify solutions to the problem of urban American health disparities via their placement in either peer nutrition education or urban agriculture work sites.
By teaching healthy cooking classes, tending school gardens, and operating local farmer’s markets, UNI interns enrich their local neighborhoods, increase access to healthy food, and improve community and school health while building their leadership capacity and developing academic and job-related skills.
Additionally, interns involved in UNI’s Youth Development program play a lead role in advancing youth-led solutions to improving community food systems through participation in multiple regional and national networks and conferences.
In July of 2011, Matthew attended “Rooted in Community,” a 4 day conference of young people from various organizations. Ty Holmberg, Bartram’s community Farm and Food Resource Center Director for UNI, helped organize the event. He was quoted as describing the event as, “it’s a summit of youth from around the nation that have come to fight for food justice and have come as a network of young people to really change their food systems. Not just in their community but nationally.” One of the outcomes of the conference was the Youth Food Bill of Rights.
As I prepare for my next holiday meal, I am going to use the UNI Think AHEAD Model to inspire my food choices.