Do you remember running home from your first-grade class and asking your mom for a persimmon? How about dreaming of eggplant?
I grew up in Meadowview. Went to John Sloat for elementary school and John Still for junior high. And I can honestly say on the walk home, I never dreamt of eating persimmons or eggplants. I didn’t even know what they were.
The only after-school snacks I wanted were Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch Doritos, Hot Cheetos, and Kool-Aid. And talk about eating veggies: I’m forcing myself to eat my broccoli and have at least one salad a day.
Well, Food Literacy Center has been on a mission for more than five years to teach underserved low-income elementary age children in Sacramento the joy, nutrition and value of fruits and vegetables. The mission is called “Food Adventures.” It’s run through after-school programs. Starting in 2011 with one school, Food Literacy Center now serves eight, with 100 to 800 kids. Last year alone, Food Literacy Center, with its five staff members and army of volunteers, served over 20,000 kids.
Food Literacy teachers, volunteers and kids spend a few hours tasting, cooking, planning recipes, measuring and learning how to read nutrition labels. They learn the difference between a fruit and vegetable, about emulsions (which I didn’t know refers to the combination of liquids), parts of a plant, and joyful learning about the health and nutritional value of fruits and vegetables.
When you have a child in second grade running home to ask Mom for a persimmon, rather than candy or processed food, you have something special. And that’s just what Melissa Granville said during our coffee date as she reiterated the goal of Food Literacy Center: “To get [kids] happy about healthy food…giving them the vocabulary to talk about foods.”
Granville has served, and I mean served, with Food Literacy Center for several years. Most recently she became Community Relations and Fund Development Officer.
“Sacramento is the home of the Farm-to-Fork movement,” she says. “It is a major player in the agricultural world. We grow the majority of the United States’ food in this region and we ship it out.”
The Food Bank has to throw out these “glorious fruits and vegetables” as Melissa calls them, because people don’t know what to do with them. She says, “So, the fact that we have hunger and obesity and a host of other illnesses is beyond me.” And I share Melissa’s sentiments.
And how is this effort powered? Through donations and grants. Melissa has taken the torch of one of Food Literacy Center’s biggest fundraiser, the Food Film Festival. Starting in 2015, the Food Literacy Center took over the Food Film Festival, bringing together the “lack of education about food” in Sacramento and the ample supply of “rich food films” and making it fun.
The Food Film Festival runs April 7-16 this year. Each day will bring a new food topic to explore and enjoy. One day is dedicated to the creation of Sake, including a film called The Birth of Sake, focusing on a small clan in Japan that has a 2,000 year tradition of making sake. Who knew?
There’s also a day that kids will scream over: Family Movie & Dinner Night, showing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. Not only that, but Kid Chef’s, Food Literacy Ambassadors (children who are part of the Food Literacy Center’s after-school program), get to cook with executive chefs around Sacramento. This event should not be missed!
“Food isn’t elitist and it shouldn’t be that way,” Granville says. “So we bring these things into the classroom, because we want kids to see that you have access to this and you can afford it and you can eat it. You have possibilities.”
Melissa’s words describe the power of options. Food Literacy Center not only brings health but potential and freedom from the unknown. If kids are able to overcome their fear of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, they can face anything life throws at them.
Food Literacy Center is touching real lives. Granville’s eyes brimmed with tears as she recounted a story of one Kid Chef, Pear, about 10 years old, whose mother voiced her joy and gratitude for Food Literacy Center. She said, “Not only is Pear interested in new fruits and vegetables, but she’s getting me interested in new fruits and vegetables.”
Granville reports, “This family is exactly why we do what we do, because Pear now wants to be a chef.”
And why did Melissa invest her life in food justice? Granville explains, “I see that it’s working, by teaching kids it affects their entire life. When you sit down and have a meal with someone, you learn about more than just the food itself. You learn about another person, culture, family. Food is a connector. I’ve falling into this, but I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve had a lot of mentors that have helped guide me here. Hunger is an issue, but that’s not the bigger issue. Food is such a negative thing to people. Negative body perception. Makes people miserable. And it shouldn’t be that way. Food should make people joyous and should be shared with people.”
So come enjoy food with Melissa, Pear, and I at this year’s Food Film Festival. Check out FoodLiteracyCenter.org for the Food Film Festival in April. And don’t forget to celebrate in September, which is Food Literacy Month.