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Real Girl Leaders: Johanna Abrams


As we continue our #RealGirlLeaders blog series, we are excited to bring you an idea for change from 17 year old Johanna Abrams.  Johanna is a recent graduate of Cambridge Ringe and Latin. 


Healthy Food Education and Demonstrations for my Neighborhood

I have been interested in the problems that low income residents in Cambridge face with regard to getting proper nutrition. I have wondered what really matters when it comes to their food choices. Good nutrition affects a person's physical health, emotional health, dental health, moods, energy, mental acuity, and of course, weight. I have volunteered in my neighborhood food pantry, the Margaret Fuller House, for close to two years. I have seen people pick up food like tofu or tempeh and have no idea what it is or how to prepare it. This made me think about ways to introduce a variety of foods to people and show them how to prepare healthy food for themselves and their families.

 I began to think about people’s eating habits. How often do people actually prepare food at home? How much do they know about the importance of nutrition? How and why is one can of beans better than the next? I became interested in what makes people choose the foods they buy. What role does convenience, cost, advertising, access to supermarkets, etc. have in their choices? There is a lot of attention on food deserts and focusing on making sure people have access to fresh produce. While this is very important, a recent study showed that access to healthy food is not the most important factor in body weight. The study showed that marketing plays a more significant role in influencing food choices (PHA, 2014). The purpose of this project is to focus on face-to-face marketing and education about good nutrition and health through food demonstrations in my neighborhood.

 I understand that people need to be educated about what they eat. If you do not have experience with certain healthy foods, you probably will not know how to prepare it or have any interest in it. I have seen many times in my school kids eating chips, muffins, or sugary cereal and Red Bull for breakfast. In my neighborhood, I see people going to corner stores to buy frozen pizzas or microwave dinners. What if, they could go into these same stores, but instead of buying microwave meals or chips, they buy vegetables? What if they knew how to prepare them in a way they would enjoy? Would they do it? Perhaps not. But why is this? It is because many times we do not have the time or the know-how to prepare these items. With my proposal people will understand the importance of good nutrition and learn a variety of ways to prepare healthy food. As we have seen, marketing and access are both important factors in getting healthy food, so both are included in my proposal.

 Cambridge is starting a program called Healthy Markets, started by the Cambridge Health Alliance that is focused on getting healthy foods into corner stores. It recognizes that people shop there frequently but there is not always a healthy option. Their plan is to encourage local convenience stores to have fresh food stands with attractive displays. My plan is to take this one step further by organizing food preparation demonstrations and tasting events. I would begin by recruiting women from our community and across the city to prepare simple, inexpensive, nutritious meals using a variety of healthy, fresh foods. They prepare these recipes in 10 - 15 minutes using a variety of healthy ingredients in the stores. This will allow people to not only have the opportunity to purchase these healthy foods but also learn how to prepare it.

 At first I wasn't sure if implementing this would primarily affect women and girls, so I took a survey. I asked two questions in my survey: I asked the gender of the people in a household responsible for choosing the food and the gender responsible for preparing food. If it was both, I asked what percentage of time it was done by a female. According to the survey of 98 high school students, the majority said that women choose and prepare the food in a household. (Ninety percent said that female choose and prepare the food more than 50% of the time.)  Based on the survey, this project would initially affect women although it would positively affect their families and friends as well. By implementing this plan, women will begin to add healthier food for their entire family. The bias of this survey is that I surveyed students in my school.

 johana_a_3.jpgMy solution is to have weekly demonstrations which could possibly be held at the convenience stores, at the Cambridge Health Alliance lobby (in Area 4), in the lobby of the apartment buildings, and sometimes on the sidewalk. This will act also as a marketing tactic; showing people how fast and easy it is to prepare these delicious and nutritious dishes will also encourage these same people to purchase the products so they can make it themselves and for their families. As I have said, marketing is key and I will be marketing both healthy foods and cooking skills within these demonstrations. But is that enough? In order for people to make changes in their food and diets, they need to understand why nutrition is important. Education is important and will include a campaign with posters and flyers along with index cards with the recipes so they can take this material home to their families. People will hear how eating a good breakfast is important for good focus and good grades and it improves moods and makes emotions easier to handle.

 By implementing my plan, I hope to create a healthier neighborhood, possibly reduce the obesity rate, and build community by bringing people from our diverse community together on a weekly basis during the summer months.

 So what needs to be done? The first step is introducing people to new foods. With Healthy Markets, this is already on its way to being implemented. We are lucky to have farmers markets every day during the summer in Cambridge. Once we get a following of people, we will take tours of farmer’s markets, introduce new vegetables, and bring them back to cook. The ultimate goal of this project is to educate all people, beginning with women and girls, on the importance of good nutrition and how it affects every part of their lives. For this, we will create posters and flyers advertising the demonstrations, informing people about the new food options in these stores, and explaining important nutrition facts with attractive, informative flyers.

 Demonstrations and samples would include main dishes from various ethnic backgrounds, stir-fried vegetables, fruit smoothies, raw vegetables and dips. There are many good recipes on the Champions for Change website which have great recipes for fast, healthy breakfast foods like potato and egg scramble or peachy oatmeal. People who come to the demonstration will have recipe cards with the recipes from that day. 

 To connect people from across the city, we will recruit people from all over Cambridge to volunteer recipes and perform demonstrations. I looked at the cost of buying all the equipment to get started but it would be too much for this budget. So people volunteering would have to bring the pots, knives, and utensils they will need. It is also possible to borrow supplies from the culinary department at CRLS since they don’t need it during the summer. Still we will buy some basic supplies and include cost for printing posters, brochures and recipe cards. Besides basic cooking supplies, the budget includes a folding table for the demonstrations. If the project is so successful that we exceed our food budget, I would ask Whole Foods for food donations.

 If this project is selected, I would do more research, talk to people and businesses to find the best way to make it a success. I would like to have a chance to pursue this since I think it could have a very positive impact in my neighborhood and throughout the city.



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