Improving Health for Communities in Need

I recently came across the organization NextCourse in my travels on the web. As they say, San Francisco is indeed at the forefront of improvement and ever since Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyards project in 1995, I have been very excited with what is going on down there. Next Course includes a project for teaching women in prisons and half-way houses basic skills in identifying good food, helping them shop at local farmers markets, as well as training them in the variety of ways to prepare foods.

I was born in Berkeley so I confess to getting a bit of patriotic-type pride going when I think about Alice Waters. She is my original chef hero and if it hadn’t been for her ideals and the things she has created to help and improve the situation of the people around her, first locally and then onto the National and International scale, I would have had a lot less faith in humanity and our ability to get past this stupid economy and world we have greedily created to the happy existence for everybody that many of us are currently creating, (or at least thinking about creating).

Although I was born near San Francisco, I haven’t lived much of my life there. My eldest sister has been living on the streets since the early 90s. When I was doing my Culinary School internship at Aqua in the financial district, I was able to spend some time with her, while she was in and out of lock-ups and XXX theatres in the Mission getting her crack fixes (she was actually getting more money a month from welfare than I was when I was working 12+ hour days-Aqua sucks!). In many ways she is the reason I am so interested in how food effects the body, mind and emotions. I have always thought a program with food and gardening involved would be the most helpful for her because she was always such a great cook when we were growing up. She taught me how to read a recipe and make cookies. The last I heard she was off the streets in some kind of a half-way house, but her situation changes frequently….

Anyway all that to say, that once again San Francisco is creating wonderful projects to help each other. The following information I have pulled from the website NextCourse which has a few different projects for different groups.

San Francisco seems to be at the forefront of improvement when it comes to food. Organic, local and sustainable have become the mantras of foodies and restaurateurs alike, but how much of that is actually trickling down into the greater community? Although seasonal produce and free-range meats are on 70% of restaurant menus, problems with the general food system still plague a good portion of the city. Many neighborhoods still have more liquor stores than grocery stores. Children drink twice as much soda as milk, contributing greatly to the youth obesity epidemic. Cheap, processed foods have become much cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables, resulting in a generation where many can’t cook or even understand how food gets on their table.

How do we bridge the gap?

Nextcourse recognizes the importance of improving the health of individuals and communities that need it most. By implementing innovative and collaborative educational programs, we hope to inspire people to purchase, cook and eat healthier, locally produced foods. We believe we’ve achieved ultimate program success when the communities in which we work are fully engaged in support of developing their neighborhoods and lifestyles to incorporate fresh, healthy foods.

Projects:
Soul Food
Born in October of 2008, Soul Food has been providing cooking classes in the San Francisco women’s jail. This program inspires and motivates women to become healthy individuals, and it also seeks to create a new paradigm within women’s restorative and rehabilitation programs that integrates health and well-being. Women are eager to participate in monthly market walks to local healthy grocers and farmers’ markets to learn where to find, and shop for affordable healthy foods.

5 Keys Culinary Arts
5 Keys is a training on Treasure Island that helps men and women in residential substance abuse treatment programs rebuild their lives by obtaining high school diplomas and vocational culinary arts training. Students are trained in the fundamental concepts of how food moves from farm to plate and the community, environmental and health impacts of the current standards of processed, preservative-heavy, and fast foods.

Eat UR Veggies
Mission High School. The Eat UR Veggies main activities focus on providing 9th and 10th grade students with the information and skills they need to consume nutritious and delicious food as an alternative to readily available convenience and processed foods.

Our key strategy is to engage students as partners who can be healthy food advocates and leaders within the school community. Students in the Culinary Leadership Team complete a sustainable food training course and then they plan and facilitate our food education classes and all special school and community projects. Since our program began in fall of 2006, 253 students have completed the food education classes.

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