PYP 141: Antonia Demas on Overhauling Food Education

antonia-demasAntonia Demas, PhD, is founder and director of the Food Studies Institute, an organization that creates and promotes nutrition-based curricula for elementary schools.

From the Food Studies Institute website: “Her curriculum, Food Is Elementary, has been used successfully in more than 3,000 schools in 33 states. She consults throughout the U.S. and abroad and trains and certifies teachers as food educators. Dr. Demas is a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and at the University of Illinois Medical School.”

Dr Demas was an early student of T. Colin Campbell at Cornell, and upon discovering his research, immediately began working to translate it from the Ivory Tower into the Real World.

In our conversation, we covered:

  • the importance of food literacy: seeds and gardening, cooking and nutrition
  • teaching kids about caring for the earth
  • the benefits of sensory-based education
  • being inspired by her Italian grandparents' garden and kitchen (“food as an art form”)
  • becoming vegetarian in the early 1960s, without cultural support
  • “kids eat what they cook” – the lesson from volunteering at a head start
  • avoiding the “forbidden fruit” problem in raising her children, and the primacy of autonomy
  • her early research into the superiority of the plant-based diet
  • teaching math through cooking
  • teaching without coercing or turning food into a religion (trusting people to think for themselves)
  • the surprisingly non-boring history of the school lunch program
  • the USDA school lunch program shift from commodity foods to processed foods
  • deconstructing Jamie Oliver's attempts to shame school districts into improving school foods
  • the military's problem with unfit recruits
  • the USDA's conflict of interest
  • helping food service workers do the right thing
  • “it's sensible for kids to reject food they've never seen before” – evolutionary strategy
  • positive sensory exposure and ownership – the keys to changing children's diets
  • healthy school lunches at 8 cents per entree
  • working with schools with high rates of poverty
  • changing our subsidy policy
  • the problem with short-term grants and leaving school districts in the lurch
  • “a food literacy educator in every school”
  • emphasizing cost-effectiveness and research when trying to convince school administrators to participate
  • reduced absenteeism through food education
  • how to teach proper hand-washing
  • the “trickle-up” effect
  • getting children to predict their favorite foods (from “ice cream, pizza, and hot dogs” to “garlic, kumquats, and mustard greens”!)
  • the “no yuck” rule and the importance of peer influence
  • food education vs bullying and disrespect
  • how you can help the healthy food movement progress
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.

Links

The Food Studies Institute

The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham

The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Thomas M. Campbell, MD

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