Seattle to the World: Food $ense


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Nutrition is a Basic Right

The story:
Imagine children choosing apples over tater tots and carrot sticks over French fries – not because they were told to do so, but because they’ve learned to confidently make their own smart, healthy food choices. A program of Washington State University King County Extension called Food $ense has been working since 1991 to provide nutrition education to people with limited incomes. This federally funded program offers interactive classes in gardening and cooking for adults, and classroom learning opportunities for elementary school children.

Staff working on a Food $ense project called Cultivating Health and Nutrition through Gardening Education teach nutrition lessons in elementary schools throughout King County, but the program's influence extends even beyond its own staff's reach. The CHANGE staff gives teachers the support and resources they need to continue to incorporate nutrition education into their lesson plans even after the CHANGE sessions are done. This allows healthy learning to continue, and it also allows teachers to customize their instruction to suit their students' realities.

“We are teaching children in particular to make healthier food choices in the future as well as right now,” said Martha Aitken, a program coordinator for Food $ense. “What we teach them now are skills that they can take with them through school and into adulthood.”

Food%20Sense%202.jpgThis knowledge is essential for adults, too. As gas prices rise and money becomes tighter, more people than before are finding themselves in the food bank line, said Maggie Anderson, an educator for the King County Food and Fitness Initiative. The Food $ense staff helps people become familiar with foods they otherwise might pass up, and gives them information and recipe ideas to encourage them to plan healthier meals.

"Having someone there who can help people become more familiar with foods also helps the food bank become a less intimidating place," Anderson said.

Even so, healthy eating isn’t always a personal choice, Aitken said. In many low-income neighborhoods, parks, sidewalks and even grocery stores carrying healthy foods are few and far between. She recognizes that for people without access to healthy food in the first place, knowledge is only half the battle. Fortunately, solutions for improving access is already in the works. See stories of organizations and legislation in the Seattle area working to provide healthy, fresh food here and here.

Why it’s Worldchanging
Though practicing healthy living habits seems easy in theory, the playing field is not at all equal. Rates of chronic diet-related illness like obesity and diabetes are higher in low-income areas, where many sidewalks are unsafe to play on and the nearest grocer is often a convenience store. The Food $ense program speaks to the belief that nutrition is a basic right, and that providing all community members with access to healthy food is a social justice issue. While part of the solution is to make healthy food is available at food banks and in stores in all neighborhoods, it’s also important that all people have the information they need to make smart choices in the face of overwhelming advertising to the contrary. This kind of practical education will help protect the health of adults who face budgets, decisions and family pressures, and it will be invaluable to giving kids a brighter, healthier future.

Photos courtesy of Food $ense

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This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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