29 Mar 2012
Food for Thought is dedicated to thinking critically about the foods we eat and how that factors into healthy living as well as speaking with experts and food industry friends to contribute to the conversation. We asked Amber Stott, co-founder of California Literacy Center to share more about the work they are doing teaching nutrition with kids in schools and with their parents.
I grew up on 2.5 acres in rural Illinois surrounded by fruit trees, grape vines, and a vegetable garden the size of a California backyard swimming pool. My mom and grandma cooked everything from scratch. There wasn’t a single boxed cake mix or sugar-covered cereal to be found in our house.
The way I was raised, “real food” wasn’t a movement. It’s just how we lived. A story like this often belongs to an older generation—not someone in their 30s like me.
I can’t give you a singular moment that tipped the scales to living a life impassioned by food literacy. These were lots of little moments:
- The man at the grocery store who says he used to love spinach, but doesn’t buy it anymore because there’s sand in it. He doesn’t know the quick fix to soak the leaves in a bowl of water until the sand sinks to the bottom. Why should he know this? No one ever taught him.
- The woman who tells me she doesn’t shop at the farmers’ market because she can’t find a complete meal there. She doesn’t know that our California farmers sell everything from meat to rice. No one ever taught her.
What bothered me most about these encounters (and others like them) was that these fine folks were missing out on some of the greatest joys in life! They never knew the aromatic bursting of a fruit blossom in their yard in spring, or the suctioned “pop” of a fresh jar of tomatoes canned from their own garden. The flavors, the color and happiness of this food literate life!
Combine this with the facts: only 14% of Americans eat five servings of fruit and veggies daily. In California, 38% of children are overweight. Meanwhile, the entire global food chain may account for a third of what’s heating our planet.
I decided to change things—to combine my 11 years of nonprofit management experience with my personal life as a food writer and blogger. Working with many dedicated volunteers, I founded California Food Literacy Center in 2011. There’s an overwhelming abundance of food information out there, and it’s hard to know who to trust.
Through our food literacy work, we try to reinforce the positive choices people are already making—like eating healthy peanut butter or beans. We try to make this fun. And we try to make the world a healthier place in the meantime—both for people and for the planet.
Our volunteer-driven agency runs on passion. Every week we visit a low-income school and teach 100 K-5th graders about food literacy and watch as eyes light up when we hand them a slice of apple or a cabbage salad to taste. We eat, live, and breathe this life—with wide smiles.
Feeling motivated? Want to help? California Food Literacy Center isn’t the only organization doing worthy work to inspire folks to eat food that’s good for them and good for the planet. There might be someone in your city doing great food literacy work.
Here are my tips for getting involved:
Research nonprofit agencies that fit your passion. What do they already do? How can your skills add value?
Be prepared with ideas. What can you offer the nonprofit?
Bring your own people power to the effort. Will your idea create extra work for the nonprofit? They’re all short-staffed.
Can you implement your idea on your own—or with the help of your own friends?
Offer long-term help. It takes resources for nonprofits to train you. Willingness to stick around is often well rewarded.
Be patient & do anything. How you approach a task shows the nonprofit your skills. Over time, they’ll probably give you more responsibility.
Amber K. Stott, Founder of California Food Literacy Center, grows her own groceries in Sacramento, California. She blogs about living la vida locavore at Awake at the Whisk, a lifestyle guide about food that’s good for you and good for the planet. She also writes for Edible Sacramento magazine. She’s a steering committee member of the Sacramento Region Food System Collaborative, a coalition of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders working to inform and influence policy initiatives relevant to the regional food system in the 6-county Capital Region, a project facilitated by Valley Vision and funded by The California Endowment.