- Melina Paris
By Melina Paris, Staff Writer
The Long Beach School District feeds nearly 60,000 children daily. Earlier this summer, community members and parents came together to discuss healthy food and food waste at the Transforming School Food panel discussion at Fremont Elementary School in Long Beach.
The event happened toward the end of the larger, weeklong food summit held at community restaurants and farms by Long Beach Fresh, founded by Tony Damico and Ryan Smolar to increase the production, distribution and consumption of healthy, local foods in Long Beach.
Nine panelists from both large and small organizations spoke on issues regarding healthy food access and healthy food education.
Elizabeth Batalao, one of the panlists, is an administrative dietician with the Long Beach Unified School District. She discussed the restrictions and guidelines her department has to follow as they deal with food waste and provide foods students like and want to eat. The department’s nutrition literacy programs, such as Harvest of the Month, utilize hands-on education that have been well received by Long Beach Unified students. Each month students explore a different fruit or vegetable, using a book and their senses. They also have a fresh fruit and vegetable program which provides healthy snacks while introducing students to new fruits and vegetables.
Lesha Siller with Los Angeles Food Policy Council spoke about the Good Food Purchasing Program. The program provides standards and support to empower major institutions to procure local, sustainable, fair and humanely produced foods. Their goal is to use the buying power of these major institutions (like a school district) to affect how food is purchased and consumed.
The remainder of panelists came from their own startups that connect and educate Long Beach youth through a variety of outlets.
Chef Kyle Johnson of MarketL0Vr spoke about his nonprofit which brings the knowledge and practicality of plant-based living to Long Beach and Compton neighborhoods. Johnson mentors youth at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where he facilitates Ask A Chef pop up cooking demonstrations.
Johnson shared a story where he took a group of 20 Polytechnic High students to Big Bear. He grouped them together by culture and asked them to share with each other what they each loved most about their cultural backgrounds. Overwhelmingly, they most loved and wanted to share their respective culture’s foods. This emphasized that food is what brings people together.
Other panelists included Ground Education, run by Holland Brown and Karen Taylor along with interns from California State University Long Beach. They plant school gardens and use garden-based curriculum to teach students how to think of food from the perspective of health and the environment. They taught 500 classes in the 2018 school year.
Suzanne Mapes, the panel discussion facilitator, discussed the Feed My Soul project, an endeavor she founded to help children notice how their bodies feel related to the foods they eat. Mapes uses kindness and yoga workshops, and breathing techniques. One of her goals is to get yoga into schools.
Veronica Legarreta of Food Finders, discussed her organization’s role in redistributed excess food to places that can use it. Food Finders picks up food from 87 different schools in Long Beach daily or weekly and delivers 380 bags of food per week to families. All of the Food Finders donations stay in the community.
Chef Paul and Dana Buchanan of Primal Alchemy Catering Company wrapped up the panel discussion. Chef Paul and Dana were the first to establish organic gardens in the Long Beach Unified School District and are the founders of Days of Taste, a two-day class for fourth graders on healthy foods.
Students learn a new food vocabulary such as: “sustainable,” “natural” and “organic.” They also learn to identify foods, their differences and how to read food labels. Their lessons then comes full circle at the dining table where they are taught dining etiquette and the art of the table.
The consensus at the conclusion of the panel discussion was that there’s still more work to be done on healthy food access and food waste. The good news is that the number of partnerships between institutions in the community and the food industry are growing and communities are increasingly growing empowered to take control of the food their children eat. With the help of small startups like the ones mentioned children seek out healthy foods and more importantly, know how to find them.