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Food for Thought



Amber Stott is a total foodie.

Although the Californian has spent over a decade in the nonprofit world, she also loves a good meal. Stott even has her own blog, Awake at the Whisk, where she shares healthy food recipes and news from the food world.

Through her foodie connections, Stott developed a friendship with Ann Rolke, a chef by trade who has prepared meals in restaurants across the country, worked in test kitchens and writes her own weekly food column for the Sacramento News & Review.

The duo found that they had a lot in common, including a concern about how little people actually know about where food comes from and what exactly to do with it. People just weren’t food literate — so they decided to create an organization dedicated to fixing that.

In July 2011, Rolke and Stott founded the California Food Literacy Center, a Sacramento-based organization with a mission of educating the public in order to create a healthier and sustainable food system. Just a few weeks ago, the center launched its first pilot education program at a local low-income charter school, educating kids from kindergarten through fifth grade about good food choices.

Titled “Your Peanut Butter Sandwich Can Save the World,” the curriculum seeks to encourage the kids to be healthy by showing them the great stuff they can eat, not just what they should avoid.

“We wanted to create something that can be fun, practical and affordable, and we wanted to start from a place where we can say to people, ‘Hey, you’re already doing something right,’” Stott explains. “When you start taking things away from people, people tend to push back. We want to make our own choices. If you can re-enforce the positive choices they’re already making, you’re going to get a lot farther.”

The pilot program is entering its third week. Stott says thus far they’ve found that while kids know a little bit about vegetables — they understand a carrot is a healthy food, for example — they have some problems with nutrition concepts. For example, when instructors show them a handful of types of food and asked them to pick out the protein, many chose lettuce.

Stott and her team are optimistic they’ll make an impact, however. During one session, the instructors brought in different kinds of vegetables to show the children, explaining the nutritional benefits.

“At the end we made a salad using some of the things we had shown them, and it was awesome,” Stott says. “They were gobbling the salad up, and we actually had to turn children down when they asked for seconds because we ran out!”

When the three-month pilot project wraps up, literacy center staff and volunteers plan to refine the curriculum and share it with other school districts, nonprofits or anybody else who might want to use it. One library system in Illinois already has expressed interest in using the curriculum as part of its summer reading program, Stott says.

And the center hopes to collaborate with other Sacramento groups and organizations to help address food literacy. For example, the center is developing a partnership with a local nonprofit that helps residents grow gardens in their yard. residents don’t always know how to use the food they’ve grown in their own kitchens. That’s where the center can help, Stott says.

“People just don’t know which end of a vegetable to cut sometimes, which is the edible end and which isn’t,” she says.

Click here to connect with Amber Stott.