The Methods to our Veggie Eating Madness

The greatest myth about healthy eating:It's not easy to get kids to eat their vegetables.

If you think it IS hard, you probably haven't spent a half hour with RootDown LA.  We used to say it takes us just one hour to do what nutrition educators have been attempting for decades - to get kids to eat their veggies.  We proved this week, when we were crunched for time at Morningside High, that the truth is it really takes just a half an hour to get up to 40 kids to eat new veggies.  Break that down per capita and we're talking about a minute and a half to convince a kid that a veggie she formerly despised, isn't really so nasty after all.

Fortunately, this getting kids to eat their veggies part is easy.  Because what's not easy, is ensuring that all kids are in environments where they have access to such foods on a daily basis, so they can get in the habit of eating the foods that can keep them mentally and physically sound.

The irony is, great tasting healthy food is preferred by the majority of the people with whom we come in contact.  We've asked thousands of youth, "What is your favorite food memory?"  We suggest it could be a meal from a road trip, or something they love to eat on special occasions.  We leave it wide open.  Only ONCE, in a thousand short essays on favorite foods, has fast food ever showed up.  Hot Cheetos never make the cut.  Our essayists admit they eat such processed foods weekly, if not daily.  We ask them WHY then, if they are eating these things so often, they don't make it in to their favorite food memory essays.  The kids end up telling US, what we don't then have to try to convince THEM of, "Aw man, Hot Cheetos, potato chips?  That's not really food.  That's like junk food.  It's just filler 'cuz it's cheap."

SO we pose, wouldn't they rather be eating the foods they so passionately and eloquently write about, "...my uncle's shrimp ceviche, the delectable sweet potato pie my granny makes, the chicken mole I ate on a hot summer night in Mexico..." ?

RootDown LA was founded with the goal to help build demand for healthy food.  This, because when we conferred with other organizations making excellent supply-side efforts to improve food environments, we understood that supply-side efforts often went unmet by a lack of overt demand for healthy food.

Now more and more, as we do our work to build demand for healthy food, we find that there is an undercurrent of preference for such food already out there, that simply needs to be tapped and translated into demand.  See in our other posts - school staff are starting to look forward to the healthy food we cook on Thursdays and sample on Fridays.  The conversations about healthy food at Jefferson High are increasing.  People ask what's cooking today.  They share with us, how much they like our veggie heavy recipes and start telling us they have an orange tree in their back yard if we want oranges, or there's a recipe they'd like to share.

Just this week as we were picking up trash in the yard of the Ralph Bunch house (it may become our new home base, in the meantime we are going to act like it already is and become stewards of the property) we introduced ourselves to a neighbor and let her know we're hoping to use the house and yard for growing food and running veggie-focused cooking lessons.  She asked us to sign her up. Then she told us her grandson is taking culinary classes at a high school in the valley, and that she grew up on a farm in Arkansas, but she'd lost her interest in growing food once she moved to South LA.  We told her, "We'll teach you techniques for making veggies taste better and you can show us how to raise chickens."

We're working with, and taking lessons from, a lot of other like-minded individuals and organizations so we can better understand what it takes to build healthier food communities.  We'll continue to refine our methods.  At this point, we'd say it takes:

A minute and a half to introduce people to, or in most cases simply remind them of, the great taste of well prepared fresh food.  And then it takes a bit more time to delve into the rich resources and inherent food preferences of the community and start storytelling to connect all the dots.  We all want to eat great tasting food.  We all want to be healthy.  We need to connect all the capacities. Some of us can grow food.  Some of us can cook.  Some can teach others to grow and cook food.  Some of us will want to make added-value food products from our local produce.  Some will choose to sell more local produce in their corner markets.  Together we can create change and probably sooner than you'd guess.  The more we have reminders of, and access to affordable great tasting healthy food, and the more we have the opportunity to get back in the habit of growing, cooking and eating healthy food in our daily environments, the better chance we have of improving our health outcomes NOW.