On my first day assisting with the children’s programming sponsored by Lettuce Link, vegetables came up again. Every summer, the Seattle Community Farm and Marra Farm host educational childen’s programs. Groups of kids spend around an hour and a half learning about who grows their food, how it gets to their plate, and what should be on it. One of the goals of the program is to introduce youth to nutrition habits that will allow them to live healthier and longer lives. How do you do that? Snacks, of course. Fried rice, green egg omelets, and a salad with homemade ranch dressing- good food with good vegetables. On the first day of class, I was helping the students with coloring in MyPlate, which are nutritional guidelines put forth by the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama. MyPlate illustrates the five building blocks of a healthy diet. Vegetables are the largest group on the illustration, larger than grains and much larger than fruits, dairy, and protein. Half of your plate at every meal should be fruits and vegetables. That was news to me. I should eat more vegetables.
A couple days later and it was harvest day at the farm. The lack of vegetables in my life became apparent again. The first thing that our Farm Coordinator, Scott, does with volunteers at the farm is make them guess things. Of course, my first day on the farm was no exception. We wandered through the beds that were either just beginning to grow or h and he would ask me what vegetable or herb was growing there. Occasionally, I would get hints like “this one is a root vegetable”, or “this one is the trendiest vegetable”, or “you eat this in salsa”. And sometimes, I could identify the thin feathery leaves of a carrot poking out from the ground or the spiky branch that is characteristic of a zucchini plant. Most times, I would make a more or less random guess and hope that I wasn’t embarrassing myself. Admittedly, I had never seen, tasted, or heard of rainbow chard in my life. I need to learn more about where my food comes from. And I need to eat more vegetables.
Of course, diet isn’t all there is to it. There’s the importance of physical activity and genetic factors. But as of now, we are all stuck with the genes that we have and must act accordingly and “Let’s Move” can’t fix everything, despite its best intentions. The fact of the matter is that exercise is not enough to keep kids healthy if they are filling their bodies with sugar and chemicals from the name brand box of granola bars, or yogurt, or chips claiming to be “low fat” and “only 100 calories.” After watching this film and a few others as well as listening and learning from the solid ground staff, I’m not sure what makes me the most angry. It could be that our legislators have justified pizza as a vegetable or soda company executives arguing that a coke is a part of a balanced diet. It might be the fact that people are blatantly denying that the American food system is not responsible or linked to the rise of obesity and chronic health conditions in children. Or maybe it’s that the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables is completely unrealistic to obtain on a minimum wage salary without sacrifices. The food system in this country is a mess. And we need to do something about it. This is a public health issue. This is an economical issue. This a political issue.
The Solid Ground giving gardens in south Seattle serve people who have a hard time buying fresh produce and in doing so, address food justice at the grassroots level. The classes at the farms awaken kids to the possibility that vegetables can be delicious and offers a first hand look at the planting, watering, pollinating, harvesting, and washing that contributes to each bite you take. This type of education has the potential to be impactful and transformative and in my opinion, we need more of it. There are a lot of problems in the world that our generation and our children’s generation are up against. To face them, we need all the strength we can get. And it starts with what we put into our bodies. I am so grateful to be working for Solid Ground this summer. Also, I’ve started eating more vegetables.