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Healthy Food, Quality Education, Add Policy and Stir: The Tisch Food Center’s Recipe for Change

 

“Access to good food must be combined with education about good food,” says Pamela Koch, Executive Director of TC’s TC’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy. “If you are only putting food in front of kids and not actually getting them excited about eating it, students may not eat as much of that good food as we would like. The investment our country is making to ensure good food is accessible and affordable will have maximum impact if combined with quality nutrition education.”  

 

To that end, the Center, established in 2012 within TC’s Program in Nutrition through a generous gift from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, works to increase demand for healthful foods and combat the over-abundance of unhealthful foods. The ultimate goal: to create a more socially just and ecologically sustainable food system. Recently the Center has made increasing awareness of its activities a top priority as well – and there is plenty to talk about.

On the policy front, the Tisch Food Center has allied with other local and national organizations to ensure that Congress gets a unified message each time it reauthorizes the nation’s legislation governing children’s nutrition, which happens every five years. When the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved the nation’s latest Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill last month, it included several nutrition education recommendations by the Center, which was a key part of the leadership team for the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization (NYC4CNR). Among its other provisions, the current bill would fund a comprehensive study of the overall state of federal nutrition programs – something that hasn’t been done since 1977.

 

The Tisch Food Center continues to issue policy briefs on other topics, such as federal nutrition education programs, and to speak out to the general public. In a widely read New York Times opinion piece last November, Koch and NYU business professor Hans Taparia asserted that consumers are turning their backs on highly processed foods. The authors called for food companies “to make bold changes in their core product offerings,” which would ultimately require them to overhaul the system that supplies their raw materials.

“If you are only putting food in front of kids and not actually getting them excited about eating it, students may not each as much of that good food as we would like. The investment our country is making to ensure good food is accessible and affordable will have maximum impact if combined with quality nutrition education.”
— Pamela Koch

And in early March, the Tisch Food Center hosted, for the third straight year, the annual Just Food Conference, which brings together more than 800 community organizers, members of community-supported agriculture groups, local food advocates, urban and rural farmers, and entrepreneurs for a full day of workshops and discussions focused on building a more equitable food movement.

Meanwhile, as organizations such as Edible Schoolyard NYC, Wellness in the Schools, and FoodCorps implement nutrition programs at the school level, the Tisch Food Center is measuring the success of efforts such as nutrition education, school gardens, improved school meals and a wellness-minded school culture in improving children’s eating habits – data that can be used to shape better programs. This work dovetails with the Center’s own curriculum development efforts. It has produced classroom materials such as the Linking Food and the Environment curriculum series, and a curriculum tied to National Food Day, both co-written by Koch and Isobel Contento, TC’s Mary Swartz Rose Professor of Nutrition & Education; and a 300-page curriculum guide to accompany a documentary based on Michael Pollan’s best-selling book In Defense of Food, which aired in December on PBS. The latter engages students ages 10-14 in everything from learning about Big Food’s marketing strategies to creating performance poetry about their food environments. The Center’s staff and students worked with existing after-school programs to identify strategies to make Pollan’s central message – Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants – meaningful for the middle school set. Lessons start with helping students to distinguish food from “phud ” (the label the project gives to “highly processed products”) and progress to portion control and a consideration of plant-based foods.  Doctoral student Hiershenee Bhana is evaluating the curriculum’s impact.

 
 

“‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,’ sounds simple, but it actually is a complex message,” says Claire Uno, the Tisch Food Center’s Assistant Executive Director. “What does ‘food’ even mean to most kids? We try to help kids think about what their food environment looks like. They start to open their eyes and ask, ‘I live in this neighborhood, but I can’t really get fresh food – why am I surrounded by Cheetos? I know a lot of people who have diabetes – why is that?’ We help them start to make these connections.”

Support a student through TC’s Nutritional Ecology Scholarship >>

The Tisch Food Center also serves an important venue for work by TC students.  A key component of that effort is the the Nutritional Ecology Scholarship, which honors Professor Joan Dye Gussow (Ed.D. ’75), whose groundbreaking work in nutrition has shaped the history and politics of food in the United States. The scholarship fund assists master’s or doctoral students with a demonstrated interest in studying the links between food, nutrition and ecology.

The current Nutritional Ecology Scholar, Art Gillman, is a career-changing father of two young children whose initial interest was in combatting the nation’s obesity epidemic. Prompted by courses with Koch and Gussow, Gillman is now focusing on preventing hunger.

"We try to help kids think about what their food environment looks like. They start to open their eyes and ask, ‘I live in this neighborhood, but I can’t really get fresh food – why am I surrounded by Cheetos?"
— Claire Uno
 

Another student, Tisch Scholar Ali Hard, who works on the NYC4CNR effort, is researching nutrition education policy for her master’s thesis at TC. The Center also wrote extensively about the link between a healthy diet and ecological sustainability during the lead-up to the recent released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and will continue to do so going forward.

“All the projects we’re doing build on each other,” says Uno. “We’re doing a much better job of getting the word out, and that in turn will help us achieve our goal of getting more great nutrition education for kids.” – Ellen Livingston

Published Monday, Mar 14, 2016

Art Gillman
Art Gillman, Nutritional Ecology Scholar
Ali Hard
Ali Hard, current Tisch Scholar
Hiershenee Bhana
Doctoral student Hiershenee Bhana
Pam Koch
Tisch Food Center Executive Director Pamela Koch
Claire Uno
Tisch Food Center Assistant Executive Director Claire Uno
Isobel Contento
Isobel Contento, Mary Swartz Rose Professor of Nutrition Education and Tisch Food Center Faculty Director

 

“Access to good food must be combined with education about good food,” says Pamela Koch, Executive Director of TC’s TC’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy. “If you are only putting food in front of kids and not actually getting them excited about eating it, students may not eat as much of that good food as we would like. The investment our country is making to ensure good food is accessible and affordable will have maximum impact if combined with quality nutrition education.”  

 

To that end, the Center, established in 2012 within TC’s Program in Nutrition through a generous gift from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, works to increase demand for healthful foods and combat the over-abundance of unhealthful foods. The ultimate goal: to create a more socially just and ecologically sustainable food system. Recently the Center has made increasing awareness of its activities a top priority as well – and there is plenty to talk about.

On the policy front, the Tisch Food Center has allied with other local and national organizations to ensure that Congress gets a unified message each time it reauthorizes the nation’s legislation governing children’s nutrition, which happens every five years. When the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved the nation’s latest Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill last month, it included several nutrition education recommendations by the Center, which was a key part of the leadership team for the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization (NYC4CNR). Among its other provisions, the current bill would fund a comprehensive study of the overall state of federal nutrition programs – something that hasn’t been done since 1977.

 

The Tisch Food Center continues to issue policy briefs on other topics, such as federal nutrition education programs, and to speak out to the general public. In a widely read New York Times opinion piece last November, Koch and NYU business professor Hans Taparia asserted that consumers are turning their backs on highly processed foods. The authors called for food companies “to make bold changes in their core product offerings,” which would ultimately require them to overhaul the system that supplies their raw materials.

“If you are only putting food in front of kids and not actually getting them excited about eating it, students may not each as much of that good food as we would like. The investment our country is making to ensure good food is accessible and affordable will have maximum impact if combined with quality nutrition education.”
— Pamela Koch

And in early March, the Tisch Food Center hosted, for the third straight year, the annual Just Food Conference, which brings together more than 800 community organizers, members of community-supported agriculture groups, local food advocates, urban and rural farmers, and entrepreneurs for a full day of workshops and discussions focused on building a more equitable food movement.

Meanwhile, as organizations such as Edible Schoolyard NYC, Wellness in the Schools, and FoodCorps implement nutrition programs at the school level, the Tisch Food Center is measuring the success of efforts such as nutrition education, school gardens, improved school meals and a wellness-minded school culture in improving children’s eating habits – data that can be used to shape better programs. This work dovetails with the Center’s own curriculum development efforts. It has produced classroom materials such as the Linking Food and the Environment curriculum series, and a curriculum tied to National Food Day, both co-written by Koch and Isobel Contento, TC’s Mary Swartz Rose Professor of Nutrition & Education; and a 300-page curriculum guide to accompany a documentary based on Michael Pollan’s best-selling book In Defense of Food, which aired in December on PBS. The latter engages students ages 10-14 in everything from learning about Big Food’s marketing strategies to creating performance poetry about their food environments. The Center’s staff and students worked with existing after-school programs to identify strategies to make Pollan’s central message – Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants – meaningful for the middle school set. Lessons start with helping students to distinguish food from “phud ” (the label the project gives to “highly processed products”) and progress to portion control and a consideration of plant-based foods.  Doctoral student Hiershenee Bhana is evaluating the curriculum’s impact.

 
 

“‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,’ sounds simple, but it actually is a complex message,” says Claire Uno, the Tisch Food Center’s Assistant Executive Director. “What does ‘food’ even mean to most kids? We try to help kids think about what their food environment looks like. They start to open their eyes and ask, ‘I live in this neighborhood, but I can’t really get fresh food – why am I surrounded by Cheetos? I know a lot of people who have diabetes – why is that?’ We help them start to make these connections.”

Support a student through TC’s Nutritional Ecology Scholarship >>

The Tisch Food Center also serves an important venue for work by TC students.  A key component of that effort is the the Nutritional Ecology Scholarship, which honors Professor Joan Dye Gussow (Ed.D. ’75), whose groundbreaking work in nutrition has shaped the history and politics of food in the United States. The scholarship fund assists master’s or doctoral students with a demonstrated interest in studying the links between food, nutrition and ecology.

The current Nutritional Ecology Scholar, Art Gillman, is a career-changing father of two young children whose initial interest was in combatting the nation’s obesity epidemic. Prompted by courses with Koch and Gussow, Gillman is now focusing on preventing hunger.

"We try to help kids think about what their food environment looks like. They start to open their eyes and ask, ‘I live in this neighborhood, but I can’t really get fresh food – why am I surrounded by Cheetos?"
— Claire Uno
 

Another student, Tisch Scholar Ali Hard, who works on the NYC4CNR effort, is researching nutrition education policy for her master’s thesis at TC. The Center also wrote extensively about the link between a healthy diet and ecological sustainability during the lead-up to the recent released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and will continue to do so going forward.

“All the projects we’re doing build on each other,” says Uno. “We’re doing a much better job of getting the word out, and that in turn will help us achieve our goal of getting more great nutrition education for kids.” – Ellen Livingston

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