Hii at the Urban Leaders Academy: Food, Health, and Environment

Over the next two months, the Human Impacts Institute will be partnering with Girls for Gender Equity to provide an after school program in food and environmental systems.

Join the Community Conversation: How do our food choices affect our bodies, our communities, and our environment?

Over a third of adult Americans are obese. Agriculture is responsible for thirty percent of the global Greenhouse Gas emissions. American farmers and agricultural companies produce approximately 4000 calories per person per day, more than twice the amount of calories we need to live.

Take a minute and internalize these statements. Does anything stand out to you? Can you see any connections? Don’t worry, if the light bulbs aren’t going off, you’re not alone. We have more nutritional choices now than ever before, but simultaneously, we are more disconnected from our food than any other time in history. This disconnect has deep and clear roots in the evolution of our political and economic system, and is worsened by governmental policies, which affect the food that ends up in your grocery and ultimately on your plate.

In March of 2011, as a part of our Experiential Education programs, the Human Impacts Institute (Hii) began a seven-part series of food, health, and environment workshops–Healthy Bodies, Healthy Communities–with the Urban Leaders Academy of Girls for Gender Equity. Through a series of in class workshops and fieldtrips around New York City to such locales as the neighborhood supermarket, the farmer’s market, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and urban farms, our students will explore where our food comes from, its impact on our bodies, communities, and the environment, and the power we have as consumers and citizens to begin advocating for change.

This first lesson began with some simple questions: what does food mean to us? What are our favorite foods? Why? We choose the foods we eat for a reason, so what are the factors influencing our decision? By acknowledging the importance food has beyond that simple act of sustenance, the students were able to begin viewing food in a more holistic light. Following this introduction, the students engaged in a critical thinking exercise: The Life Journey of a Lay’s Potato Chip. Every food or food product we consume has a life cycle. All ingredients came from a living organism at one point. In the example of our potato chip, lets start simply: what are the ingredients? Where were they grown? Who grew them? How were they grown? Did they process the potatoes at the farm? How many stages are between our stomachs and the soil from which our potato was grown? How did we transport the product. This is the tip of the iceberg and an important step in understanding how our food system contributes to environmental degradation and climate change.

Ultimately, participating students, aged 11-13, were asked questions intended to facilitate critical thinking and understanding about the origins of the food they ate, as well as, the relationships our food has with our health and their community.

Now, here is a challenge for you: At your next meal, try outlining the journey your food took to get to you!

By Emily Gilbert, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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