Friday, August 12, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week seven: eating mindfully

We spent a lot of time this past week talking about mindfulness and personal responsibility. Our health curriculum was focused on avoiding mindless eating, and the food justice curriculum covered the marketing of unhealthy food to children and the sometimes-misleading marketing of functional foods.

Mindless eating is something that many Americans practice all the time. It occurs whenever we find ourselves eating without realizing why we’re eating or if we’re really even hungry. While enjoying Chef Christy’s three bean salad, we passed out a handout to our participants with ten tips to avoid mindless eating, including classic strategies like “never eat directly from a bag/box/carton” and “trick yourself by using smaller plates and glasses.” There are also ways you can take advantage of mindless eating habits to increase consumption of healthy foods. For example, leaving a serving bowl on the table usually increases consumption. Our leaving this healthy protein-packed salad on the table prompted many of us to go for seconds, which hopefully displaced some less healthy calories we’d have eaten later in the day.

(Photo: three bean salad with oil, vinegar and fresh herbs)

Jumoke from People’s Grocery talked to us about being mindful in response to marketing messages from big food companies. We shared some of the guidelines published by the Center of Science in the Public Interest for responsible food marketing to children. These include packaging food in reasonable portion sizes, reformulating products to improve nutritional quality, and not advertising unhealthy foods during kids’ television shows. Jumoke asked what everyone thought about recent Bay Area legislation banning the inclusion of toys in children’s fast food meals. Overall our participants agreed that it’s better to not teach kLinkids to associate toys and rewards with unhealthy foods. We also discussed the misleading messaging around functional foods, i.e., foods that claim to have specific health benefits like chocolate milk that boosts immunity or yogurt that improves digestion. The message we conveyed is to not rely on advertising and claims in big letters on the front of packages but to instead use the tools we’ve taught in the class to read the labels and choose unprocessed whole foods whenever possible.

Christy wrapped up the discussion portion of the class by reiterating something she’s said each week. “We are all adults,” she reminded us, “and it’s no one’s responsibility but our own to be conscious of what we’re eating. We can blame big companies for their marketing but we don’t have to be victims. In the end we’re all ultimately responsible for our choices.”

In the kitchen this week, we worked together to prepare Brown Rice Curried Turkey Meatloaf, which combines many of the nutrition principles we’ve stressed over the course of the class: lean proteins (ground turkey), whole grains (brown rice), fresh seasonal produce (shredded zucchini, onions, and celery), and alternative ways of seasoning instead of adding tons of salt (ginger, garlic, and curry). Everyone was able to sample a meatloaf that Christy had prepared in advance and the consensus was very positive.

(Photo: Destiny and Eunique chop celery while mom Victoria H. oversees)

Next week we’ll have our last session of this eight week pilot. Instead of the standard curriculum and group recipe, we are having a potluck. Everyone will bring in something they’ve cooked from our collection of meal and snack recipes and we’ll invite former Get Cooking! participants to join us and celebrate. It was Christy’s 50th birthday last week so I’ll also be experimenting with some birthday cookies (whole grain and free of refined-sugar, of course). It should be a fun celebration!

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