Food: It’s Not Just What’s for Dinner

November 16, 2012

Green house
During an immersion trip to Immokalee, Fla. to learn about issues surrounding farmworkers, students visit a greenhouse. (Photo by Airam Dato-On ’13)

Over the next six weeks, the nation will probably think about food more than any other time in the entire year. But for many at Rollins, the topic of food has evolved into something more than a conversation about what’s for dinner.

A Social and Human Rights Issue

Over the Labor Day weekend, Lucas Hernandez ’13, Raquel Ells ’14, and professor Patricia Tomé accompanied 15 first-year students to Deerfield Beach, Fla., for an in-depth look at the accessibility of healthy food in underserved communities. The immersion partnered with The Need to Feed, a South Florida organization that grows its own organic food and distributes it solely through local food pantries. (Watch a video about this trip.)

“Over the course of the weekend, we participated in a large-scale food distribution event at a local church where we helped distribute fresh produce to underserved families,” said Hernandez, an international relations major. Hernandez and the immersion participants watched with jaws dropped as the line for food bags wrapped around the entire building.

“One fundamental aspect of the trip was the exposure to the food inequalities; recognizing that fresh, organic, and healthy produce is a luxury for many impoverished people was very hard for me considering my passion for organic farming,” said Courtney Banker ’16. “This hints at a much larger social issue that results in health epidemics such as obesity and diabetes. It is when people not only equate hunger with fast food, but also only have the resources to eat unbalanced diets dependent on processed foods that this divorce between nutrition and food becomes a blatant problem.”

In the area that Need to Feed serves, Broward County, it’s estimated that 35 percent of families with children are facing hunger. Students realized that while food banks are important, they’re not always filled with the healthiest foods. “In our food system, the unhealthiest foods are the fastest and cheapest to produce,” Hernandez said. “Access to healthy food has become a luxury rather than a right. This experience really opened our eyes.”

(Photo by Airam Dato-On ’13)

Liz Guardado ’16 was similarly affected by the food-related immersion she attended over fall break. Along with 11 other students and three facilitators, Guardado visited Immokalee, FL where the group explored the multifaceted issues surrounding farmworkers, workers’ rights, rural poverty, and modern-day slavery.

“In Immokalee, we learned about the treatment of farmworkers, specifically those in the tomato fields,” said Guardado, a political science major. “The facts were so surprising, that I have most memorized. Farmworkers are paid 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes that they pick, which has not changed since the 1970s, requiring them to pick more than two tons of tomatoes in a short 10-hour period in order to make minimum wage. The laws regarding agricultural workers limit the rights that these workers have, and limit their ability to try to make changes in those areas.”

As a result, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers developed the Fair Food program. Signed by 11 major corporations including Sodexo, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, and Whole Foods, the program mandates payment of one extra penny per pound of tomatoes. “This extra penny results in workers being paid about 82 cents for every 32 pound bucket, and addresses other issues such as fair treatment, breaks, and harassment.”

A few weeks ago, Guardado and a few other students from the Immokalee immersion joined a protest at the Publix on Colonial Drive, Orlando. This weekend, students will participate in another protest, this time organized by Amnesty International.

“I think this trip really opened everyone’s eyes to an issue that’s happening in our own backyard,” said masters in urban planning student Sarah Elbadri, who co-facilitated the trip. “We eat food every day with no idea where it’s coming from, who’s harvesting it, or how they’re being treated. That’s changed for these students and now they’re acting on that knowledge.”

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Garbage cans full of food collected during the 2012 Helping Hands Across America campaign are loaded into a Second Harvest Food Bank truck. (Photo by Scott Cook)

30,858 Pounds of Food for Second Harvest Food Bank

In partnership with Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and Winter Park Village, Rollins and Sodexo collected 30,858 pounds of food for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Exceeding its goal by more than 5,000 pounds, the 2012 Helping Hands Across America campaign supports Second Harvest’s efforts to distribute more than 36 million pounds of groceries annually.

“Last year we collected 21,747 pounds of food,” said Sodexo’s Jayme Bartlett. “This increase in collection shows that we’ve been successful in our aim to increase awareness about poverty and hunger in our local community.”

Healthy Eating Habits for Preschoolers

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Veronica Willis '13 teaches healthy eating and exercise habits to preschoolers at First Baptist Church in Winter Park, FL. (Photo by Scott Cook)

By the time American kids reach age five, 20 percent of them are overweight or obese. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, that percentage will continue to increase with age, with 35.9 percent of adults considered to be obese.

When professor Rachel Newcomb received word that Nemours was looking for program volunteers, she immediately saw synchronicity with her course in applied anthropology, a service-learning course with a CE (Community Engagement) designation.

“This fall, we’re studying the cultural reasons for obesity,” Newcomb said. “A lot of it stems from the fact that we that we live in an environment where it’s become impossible not to gain weight. Having my students meet with the preschoolers and school directors gives them the chance to conduct fieldwork and gain first-hand experience on the topic.”

Each of Newcomb’s seven students has been assigned a school, which they will visit five or six times over the course of the semester. After completing the program training, they began teaching healthy habits messages to students, and sharing resources with school administrators and parents. Along the way, students have been reporting back to Jessica Mills, the program and policy analyst for Nemours’ Florida prevention initiative, about the effectiveness of the program and sharing their insights in Newcomb’s class.

“They are going to the sites and finding out how teacher and directors are using the materials, determining if they need additional support, also working at the director level to determine what wellness policies they have in place, how they are engaging families, and communicating those policies to families,” Mills said.

All in all, the program will touch more than 600 students in the area; Rollins students are working with approximately 140 of those.

Results from the 2011 study have already been positive. “75 percent of children are in a childcare setting at least some portion of the day—that’s 12 million nationally,” Mills said. “We know that if we can make policy and behavior changes at preschool level, we can start making a change. This is one of the places where prevention needs to start.”

By Kristen Manieri

Office of Marketing & Communications
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