Thinking back on my childhood, I would say eating is one of my favorite pastimes. Since then, I have learned to love food in a different light. The summation of my childhood experience in regards to my health and overall relationship with food was realized on March 26th, 2012. I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 275.6 pounds. That was the last time I ever saw that number. This was 5 years ago, and since then I have lost 100 pounds. During this weight loss journey, I have thought heavily about why and how I got to be that big. After taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, I became more cognizant of the influences affecting my health. My most salient experience in terms of these influences was my home environment, where I believe our relationship with food starts.
What stands out the most in my memory of growing up in my household was the sheer availability of sweet and salty food in conjunction with the freedom to make my own food choices so young. There was a mini convenience store in the palms of my innocent, 10-year-old hands. A common occurrence in my household was when my grandma who worked at the local Giant (east-coast corporate grocery store, comparable to Safeway or Fry’s) would come home with ten to twenty 12-packs of Coca-Cola because they were ‘on sale’ and ‘they were my dad’s favorite.’ Because of this, a can of soda, in my eyes, was equivalent to a cup of water purely due to availability. It took me awhile to get out of that mindset.
A key concept that I have become more attuned to in my journey of health is socialization. As a child, I was very quiet and tended to keep to myself at home in my free time – playing video games, watching television, browsing the internet. Because of this, my parents always enforced family dinner due to it being our time as a family to catch up, spend time with and learn more about each other. As a single child for much of my life, the dinner table was more like an interview table. Being young, rebellious, and full of angst, I strayed away from the 20 questions, so family dinners started becoming less frequent. The task of feeding myself was now in my own hands.
Having since then moved away from home, across the country from the outskirts of Washington, D.C., I looked towards ASU to start putting my passion for healthy and real food into action. With a major in Health Promotion and Health Education, I knew this was a good place to start but that I needed to expand my reaches and dive deeper into the underground foodie scene. Lo and behold in my search, I stumbled across a club on campus called Real Food ASU, which was literally underground (in the basement of a building on campus). With this club, I not only found good food, but good people. This club welcomed me with open arms and vegan cinnabuns – I was sold.
Having finally found what I was looking for, my knowledge of and involvement in food began to increase rapidly. From then on, I really started to get to know food in Phoenix. I started tabling at the campus farmers market every other week with Real Food. Here, I began to meet some of the local producers and realized how much of an impact farmers markets can have on communities, especially on a school campus. Students were able to grab a quick, healthy, locally sourced snack in between classes (and sometimes even a free back massage!). After a couple of semesters with Real Food, I knew I had to get more involved with the community. I wanted everyone all around the valley to have access to the same delicious food that I had been eating from these markets all this time.
After having finished a class project where we partnered with Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), I ended up receiving an internship with their Farmers Market Nutrition Program. I traveled to markets all around the valley helping WIC participants purchase fresh fruit and veggies using their farmers market vouchers. During this experience I became more familiar with the ins and outs of nutrition assistance programs like WIC and SNAP and their relationship with farmers markets and the local food movement. My time spent at these farmers markets taught me a few things about the local food movement for those participating in these programs. Although farmers markets have been deemed an oasis for fresh and local food, they were not holding up to this notion. Yes, participants would leave the market with bags of fruits and veggies, but would be leaving to walk back home 2 miles in the summer heat of Arizona. Additionally, the people in these rural communities going to their local farmers market could not solely depend on the one market for all their food needs. It is unrealistic to depend on so few farmers markets for year-round food security, as they are usually only open for a short amount of time seasonally, weekly, and hourly. When I realized this I knew this was where I wanted to focus my efforts as I continued onward on my journey of food and health.
Time went on as I finished my classes at ASU and started looking for my official internship to complete my degree. In my search of different food oriented internships, I found two that complimented my passion for the local food movement and connecting more to the rural communities of Arizona. The first internship I accepted was a position with the New Roots program at the International Rescue Committee. This program was developed to help refugee farmers throughout the Phoenix area grow food in community and urban gardens. Currently, my role with New Roots is to assist refugee farmers at various urban gardens around Phoenix and help with pop-up stands that sell produce grown by these farmers. The second internship that I accepted was with Local First Arizona. Working with Local First had always been a dream of mine ever since I started learning more about the local food movement. My role with Local First is to help develop Good Food Finder. To do this I will network within the local food community and learn more about food options and access throughout Arizona.
Having now found a new home in Arizona, I’m ready to bring more people to the table to start the conversation of how food can empower communities and help grow the local food movement. If you need me you can find me getting my vegetables on at Desert Roots Kitchen with an Orange Coriander Raw Turnip and Carrot Salad, stuffing my face with a Big Wac and a Cookies-n-Cream Tsoynami from Green, or enjoying a warm cup of coffee, on an even hotter day at Lux Central.