Hii at Urban Leaders Academy 2: A Focus on Healthy Food Choices

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.


Almost all of us at some point have looked, at least in curiosity, at the ingredients list on the back of our favorite food. And what do we find? Acesulfame-K, Benzoate Preservatives (BHT, BHA), Monosodium Glutamte-a names which are often times unpronounceable, unrecognizable and which definitely leave us with no clue as to their origin or purpose. Many of us see such ingredients and assume that they are somehow bad for us, but unsure of exactly how, we just shrug it off and continue eating that same product. But what if we were actually aware of some of the potential harms? This question formed the basis of the most recent workshop in the Human Impacts Insititute’s continuing series on food and environmental systems with students from Girls for Gender Equity at the Urban Leaders Academy.

The session began with an introduction to the meaning of processed foods, giving students an idea of just how much our foods are altered from their original state before ending up on our plates. Students were then asked to analyze an example shopping list in order to make educated guesses as to which foods they thought were healthy choices and which were not based on their understanding of processing. This helped them start to think critically about their food choices, while revealing some of the common misconceptions that they and the public at large tend to have. Finally, students were given a list of common harmful ingredients and the afflictions they can potentially cause, and were asked to search the labels of popular foods in order to see just what effect continuous ingestion of these products could have on them. With asthma, rashes, hyperactivity, and increased risks of diabetes and cancer among the possible outcomes, students began to see just what these unrecognizable ingredients were capable of putting them at risk for.

In addition to learning about the health of foods in the classroom, students were also taken to a local supermarket in order put their knowledge of unhealthy ingredients to the test. Armed with their list, students were asked choose a healthy snack for their next class which contained none of the substances which they knew to be harmful, helping them gain practical experience in healthy shopping. Students also stopped by a local green market to interview some of the farmers selling there, in order to learn how buying directly from growers could help them better understand the origin of the foods they eat. Thus, students were given the opportunity to learn about how to choose healthy foods for themselves, to learn about alternatives to just shopping at the supermarket, and to take some of the first most important steps to being health minded consumers.

by Arianne Donar, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Education Intern

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