REAL FOOD FIRST
By Lou Fancher
Students in Cindy Gershen’s sustainable hospitality class are learning math, science, engineering and nutrition, feeding both their young minds and growing bodies. In a fast food culture with teenagers as the target demographic, it’s remarkable to watch the change in dietary habits –– but not to Gershen whose decades of experience inform her philosophies about food. “When I get them in class, I give them 15 minutes of education, then get them up to cook. Then they eat. Education alone is no good. Food alone is no good. Give them both, they feel better and learn. It’s working.” Instead of downing a muffin, which soars then plunges sugar levels, kids snack on root veggies, zucchini and cherry tomatoes in her classroom. “All of my students eat salads,” says Gershen.
Food for the hospitality class’ recipes is donated by local organizations like White Pony Express or grown in one of the school’s outdoor gardens. Students are also growing food on surreal hydroponic food towers that produce edible results within three weeks. The indoor technology allows students to participate in the miracle of growth by planting seeds in soil and using only air and water to produce delicate lettuce and micro-greens in the classroom. “They see science and technology turn into lettuce they love.”
Gershen’s next frontier is a 24-week course she’s bringing to fourth grade students in Bay Area elementary schools. A Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) grant from Kaiser Permanente and a potential two-year study grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to measure the program’s impact will help make it happen.
As owner of Sunrise Bistro and founder of the Wellness City Challenge, an initiative dedicated to preventing childhood obesity and introducing youth and seniors to good nutrition, Gershen isn’t opposed to fast food, she’s just a proponent for real food. “And once you explain how making things from scratch benefits the environment–kids want to make it themselves. The conversations we have about food go right into economics, science, society and good health.”