The Cost of Nutrition

Recently, we had the opportunity to pilot/teach a class using part of Peace Love Plates’ curriculum at a Food Pantry that served a low-income, immigrant community in LA, near the outskirts of Korea-town.  We called the class “The Cost of Nutrition” to emphasize the importance of eating healthy and nutritious food, de-bunk myths that healthy eating is necessarily expensive and how poor nutrition could have physical/emotional/financial effects on the entire family.

This Food Pantry is a service through the LA regional food bank and Hope-Net that partners with community centers (mostly churches or affiliated organizations in the LA area) to give away bags of groceries for those in need. These organizations exist to provide supplemental food to people in Los Angeles who have low or fixed incomes, are homeless (or live in section 8 housing) and/or face food insecurities on a day-to-day basis.  These Food Pantries are, literally, everywhere – which is awesome! And they seem to have a steadily increasing number of patrons every week.

The class was intended to provide a framework for guiding people to think differently about food. A secondary expected outcome to teaching this class was for us to learn more and obtain ideas on how to shape/hone our program to make it short, sweet, palatable (pun intended) and succinct.

As we were going through the curriculum, it seemed that people genuinely wanted to know how nutrition affects their health. Some were surprised that food mattered so much! And it seemed to hit home when we talked about the big picture aspect of nutrition: that it’s also about empowering entire families and teaching future generations how to make healthier choices (the pictures of the multi-cultural babies on the powerpoint might’ve helped). A large percentage of the class already had health issues like high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure and had an idea from being repeatedly told by health care providers what foods to avoid. But we tried to steer them away from the “not” and teach them the “why.”  In our experience with doing health education, what sticks for people is when they have a foundational, yet simplified, understanding of what their disease process is, how it affects other aspects of their health and why certain foods/medications affect it a certain way. In this case, we chose to simplify aspects of good nutrition by highlighting good foods (and why they’ re good) in what Peace Love Plates perceives are the framework for good nutrition: carbohydrates (including fruits), vegetables,  good fats, and protein.

Showing the people that cheap doesn't mean expensive. How much do you think this meal cost?

Showing people a tasty and healthy fried rice dish that is inexpensive.

 

The fulcrum of the curriculum was a section that compared inexpensive, healthy meals versus unhealthy meals.  We used an analogy using two sealed boxes–one box was filled with fruit and the other, filled to the brim with cotton balls.  This analogy was used to demonstrate the impact of healthy, nutritious eating has on the body versus food that have little nutritional impact. We had people from the audience hold the boxes, that were sealed at first, to tell us what was different about them.

I can demonstrate this analogy with my eyes closed... "What's different about these boxes?"

“What’s different about these boxes?”

 

 

 

They were in unanimous agreement that the most noticeable difference was that one was significantly heavier than the other.  Then we asked them to open the boxes.  The moment they saw the fruit in one box and the cotton balls in the other, it seemed to drive the point home.  They laughed and talked excitedly with one another, saying that they should probably eat less Taco Bell (no offense, TB).  Some asked if they could have the fruit.

 

 

 

Overall, we felt that the class went well because it was highly interactive. The audience was engaged from the very beginning and asked great questions.  However, our big take away from this was how a hands-on aspect of a nutrition program is really key to making lasting changes in the way people eat.  It was apparent that the audience wanted to know how to cook the healthy food that they had just learned about, mostly because they would ask how to cook specific foods that we touched on.  For example, we had a 10 minute discussion on how they can cook or season sweet potatoes and what kinds of foods could be paired with it.

What’s really great is that we’ve been asked by the leadership at this particular Food Pantry to do these classes–a class laying a foundation for healthy nutrition and following up with a cooking class– on a larger scale, working more closely with the Food Pantry program. They are currently piloting their own program that will provide more quality fruits and vegetables to their patrons.  We are beyond excited, and grateful, for the opportunity to work with them more closely and see how we can combine our efforts.

We’ll keep you posted!

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