Amber Stott has a passion for food health, and decided that she wanted to educate people on the importance of making healthy food choices. So far, she has taken her passion from a food blog she started to her own after school program, and she still striving for more.
Stott is the founder of the California Food Literacy Center, an after school program that teaches kids the importance of food health and sustaining the environment by making healthy food choices. The program is held every Wednesday afternoon at the Aspire Capitol Heights Academy in Oak Park.
After creating her food blog, Awake at the Whisk, in 2008 and receiving positive feedback about the blog from its readers, Stott came up with the idea of creating the Food Literacy program by bringing her passion from the food blog into the community, starting with children.
“It’s much easier to teach a kid a new habit than to break an old habit that an adult has,” Stott said. “Why not start with the lowest hanging fruit where we can have the most, and the biggest impact?”
During one particular session at the program, Stott asks the children if they remember what fiber does to their bodies and why it’s good for them.
“It sweeps away the bad!” they all shouted in unison.
When the children recall what they learned in previous weeks, the staff notices and is quick to take note of the kids’ quick recollection.
“Honestly, I think it surprised me with how much the students from the week prior when she (Amber) started asking them questions about ‘what do you remember learning from last week,’ I would say at least 50 percent of the kids or even 75 percent remembered,” said educator Shelly Guerin. “I think it was really surprising as to how they remembered that ‘fiber is good’ and that ‘vitamins are good.’”
Guerin, who recently started volunteering at Food Literacy, said that she appreciated how enjoyable Stott made it for the children to learn about food health.
“I thought that Amber did a good job balancing fun and interesting things with what was important to learn,” she said. “She made it fun and interesting to understand where the kids can learn that ‘fiber sweeps away a lot of our clogged-up arteries and the bad stuff in our stomachs’; it was good.”
Another reason Stott created Food Literacy was because of the alarming rate of childhood obesity in America. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 12.5 million children and adolescents (ages 2-19) are obese, which is nearly triple the amount of obese children and adolescents since 1980.
“We want to catch these kids and teach them healthy eating habits before they develop all these horrible diseases kids have nowadays, like diabetes, hypertension; diseases that used to be reserved for adults that now kids have because of obesity,” Stott said.
Kristen Shiloh, an after school educator at Capitol Heights, said that she sees firsthand the positive impact Food Literacy has on the children there. She also has a son, Demone Johnson, who also attends the class she teaches.
“Everything that Demone takes in here, he does take home, he likes to cook, he loves to eat,” she said. “Food Literacy is one of the programs that he really likes here and enjoys it a lot.”
During one of the programs, Johnson, who is a fourth-grader, created a painting of his favorite fruits, which he admits he enjoys more than most vegetables.
“I like the fruits better than vegetables because, um, the fruits actually kind of taste delicious,” he said. “Except for one thing, the celery, the celery’s good.”
Emily Beecroft, the after school program director at Aspire Capitol Heights Academy, said that the reception of Food Literacy has gone well during its time of operation, and she sees the effect the program has on the children.
“The kids take home recipes, they know more about food and eating now than they ever had before,” she said. “They talk to me about snacks, they talk to me about what are the nutrients that I feed them in their snacks and the food that they’re making.
“They bring home recipes and they talk to their families about food, so that’s really important, opening up the conversation about food.”
The impact of Food Literacy has been taking effect not only at Capitol Heights, but in the surrounding community as well.
“We partner with a lot of great organizations like the Oak Park Farmer’s Market. They’re within walking distance (from here) and they take EBT,” Stott said.
Stott also hopes that her movement toward food education can influence other farmers markets.
“Oak Park Farmers’ Market is about to be year-round, but why just in Oak Park? Can that model spread? I got a lot of work to be done, it’s not a simple solution, the dream is much bigger.
“At the end of the day, no one is going to shop at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market if they don’t have food education and they’re not food literate, that is why it’s so critical for us to be working together and why the piece that we play is so critical.”
Stott also hopes to gain more staff for Food Literacy, and once she does, she hopes to expand her program to other schools someday.
The goal that Stott strives to reach with Food Literacy is for the material she teaches to have a long-term effect on the children, but she also hopes that food education will not just be the work of her program.
“Oh God, that would be a dream to see these kids in 10 years, what is their diet like, not only are they still eating fruits and vegetables, that they love fruits and vegetables so they remember some of the recipes that they made and are they making those with their families.
“I hope that it’s not just going to be the work of California Food Literacy Center, I think it’s going to be the work of all these other entities collaborating with us and building not only an educated community that are food literate and able to make these choices, but also a community that supports and sustains all of these kinds of food choices.”
Stott feels that food education is a necessity and should be taught to everyone in a simple manner.
“This information should be simpler, it should be more practical and it should be in the hands of everyone. It’s food justice to be able to teach food literacy to everyone, and to start with kids, in my opinion.”
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