Hungry for change
Local food blogger Amber Stott started the nonprofit California Food Literacy Center out of a desire to change the way people eat by educating Sacramento-area youth about healthy and sustainable food. Stott, who writes about food and life on her blog, Awake at the Whisk, talked to SN&R about healthy eating, making food literacy fun and how a peanut-butter sandwich just might save the world.
How did you first become interested in food?
The pivotal [reason] was my uncle, who was an environmental vegetarian. I thought it was so interesting that someone could make a bold statement by demonstrating his or her political ideas through their food choices. When I worked at Freedom from Hunger, I traveled to very underdeveloped parts of the world, like Peru and India, where people were eating on less than a dollar a day. After seeing up close and personal how food choices affected people, I started [my] blog, Awake at the Whisk. It was my avenue to show people how easy it was to make an impact through smart food choices.
What is your history working in nonprofits?
After [college], I went to a little start-up, [a Sacramento] nonprofit called Capital Unity Council. I soon left and went to WEAVE … [and worked] as the special-events and public-relations coordinator. I eventually became the community-development and community-relations manager. I then went and worked at Freedom from Hunger and Women’s Empowerment before going back to WEAVE.
How did you wind up starting the California Food Literacy Center?
The blog didn’t seem like enough. I wanted something tangible that I could take into the community. … As a food writer, I was covering what other food-focused nonprofits were doing, but there seemed to be a gap between food, attitude, knowledge and behavior. There wasn’t anyone addressing programs connecting these. We have people feeding others or teaching students, but no one was addressing the gap of connecting kids to careers, food sources and so on.
What was your first project with the CFLC?
A lot of projects started simultaneously. I had a burning in my belly. I started talking to donors, experts and other nonprofits; everybody jumped onboard to help. The level of community support shocked me. We soon piloted at Capitol Heights Academy, a low-income charter school that focuses on [kindergarten] through fifth grade. Our curriculum is called “Your Peanut Butter Sandwich Can Save the World.”
Why a peanut-butter sandwich ?
A lot of info out there is telling you how to change and how to eat. I wanted food literacy to be fun, practical, approachable and affordable. I wanted to apply social-service methodology and thinking to food and how we eat. In social services, we affirm people for the positive choices they make—no one wants to be told to change their diet and how to eat. We tell people, “You’re eating a PB&J? Good for you!” Then, we take that peanut-butter sandwich and discuss ways to make it better—talk about swapping out jelly for apple slices, talk about fiber and nutrition, and eating locally.
How do you eat your peanut-butter sandwich?
With whatever nut butter I can find at the farmers market, whatever local jams and fruits I can find, and with my own home-baked bread or farmers market bread. Oh, and I like it open-faced.
Define food literacy.
We define food literacy as understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, environment and community.
Can you discuss the CFLC’s future plans?
Now that we have this peanut-butter curriculum, a lot of other nonprofits have expressed a desire to use it. We’re trying to fill a few gaps in the system—a need for access, a need to have properly trained teachers, and a means for evaluation. … Our goal for the next year is to get these tools into the hands of other nonprofits. We plan to do this through the teacher-training program we created called Food Genius, where we train community members to be teachers, so they can go into schools and teach children our curriculum.
September is food-literacy-awareness month?
We plan to use it as a tool to spread awareness in the state about food-literacy education and the importance of getting it into the hands of kids. It’s important, as we have a 38 percent child-obesity rate in California. … We’re doing a peanut-butter-sandwich campaign and asking local restaurants to put peanut-butter sandwiches on their menus and asking kids to submit recipes to CFLC. At the end of September, the kids will judge the best recipe from the chefs, and the chefs will judge the best recipe from the kids.
Your typical lunch?
I don’t have a typical lunch, since I pluck a lot of food from my garden. So, today was a hard-boiled egg and tomatoes with a bit of olive oil and balsamic.