Thinking about food

Maisie Eliashof and Mikalee Mauricio present their skit at Camp Food Fight in Montara. Jamie Soja / Review

Last week, Camp Food Fight students were grilled by panelists at Double J Ranch in Montara about their best ideas to increase access to healthy food.

Prior to their presentations, the fourth- through eighth-graders learned an alarming fact: About 23.5 million Americans live in a “food desert” where they can’t readily get fresh food. That means more than 7 percent of the population lives more than a mile from a grocery store in most communities, or more than 10 miles from one in rural environments.

After a week of gardening, cooking and learning about the business of sustainable food, they had taken a close look at the issue in a session called “Food Desert or Dessert.”

“They’re going to start seeing the problems in the world,” Healthy Planet US Program Coordinator Ali Marrocco said. “We’re giving them the tools to start doing things and be change-makers.”

One group of campers, Team Squad, proposed the “Turnip Truck.” It would be a mobile grocery store that would travel from place to place so people wouldn’t have to go so far for food.

Team Ya Know tackled food access by suggesting improving education and convenience.

Members suggested creating a holistic food destination that included a garden, a mini grocery store, a restaurant with an open kitchen in which people could learn what different dishes are supposed to taste like and how to prepare them, as well as a “play place” for children to hang out at while their parents shopped for food. They also wanted to entice consumers with familiar flavors.

“Our food looks and tastes like junk food, so people want to eat it,” they said.

Camp leaders, known to the campers by the names “Quinoa,” “Chickpea,” “Chili,” “Chocolate” and “Lavender,” helped them through start-up-style brainstorming to prepare for this moment.

“We’ve been taking them through the design process to find an innovative solution to these problems,” counselor Francesca Moore said.

“If you only think of things you see every day, nothing’s going to change,” counselor Alasia Allah explained.

“They’re still creative and imaginative, so this is a good (age) to ask them these questions,” counselor Andy Huang said. “All the solutions they come up with on their own.”

As campers pitched their solutions by acting out informative skits, the Mendiola family from Daly City leaned in to hear what their two daughters had been learning.

“Jessica, she’s really into food. She’s the one who found the camp and the other one came along too,” dad Wilmer Mendiola said. “They really like that they’re learning. They’ve been telling us, ‘We are in a food desert.’ It’s very impressive they have been able to capture that message.”

Other campers were eager to bring healthy food messages home.

“… I wanted to teach my family to be healthy. I don’t want them to get sick,” 10-year-old Vianey Cabrera said.

Cabrera was one of several students encouraged by their teacher to make the journey from Sacramento every day, driving over as early as 4 a.m. Classmate Emily Garcia was also excited about the trip for the prospect of making friends and learning.

“I mostly stay at home during the summer. I mostly do nothing, so this camp has made me encouraged to come back next summer,” Garcia said. “I like meeting new people and having fun and experiencing new things.”

Until then, the campers made mementos to remind them of the things they’d accomplished during this year’s Camp Food Fight. They added beads to their nametags that represented their activities: a black bead for riding horses, a lavender one for trying different foods, for example.

Marrocco said she hopes the campers carry these experiences with them.

“Being here I get to get the campers to … take action on the things that will one day inspire them,” Marrocco said.

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