Roots for Peace’s “3rd Space” is an interactive 2 month program for youth ages 15-18 to explore issues that impact their communities’ health and wellness. Youth that participate will match what they learn in workshops that focus on issues of inequality with practices of gardening, creative writing, art, cooking and trips to other community organizations throughout the city- all to culminate in a community asset project. This program takes place at the Roots for Peace office in downtown LA on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 4 to 6.
In the past month, the youth learned about the history of agriculture in our country (the United States), what is inside processed foods and how it affects our bodies, how food advertising influences what we eat, and the limited food “choices” in black, brown, and low income neighborhoods.
To get a better feel about what the students are taking away from this program so far, I interviewed two students. The first student I interviewed 15 year old Andrea Garcia who attends Santee Education Complex. She lives in south LA near USC got involved in this program through her older sister. When she was in middle school she spent three years learning about environmental studies and that really interested her. Her sister knew this and so immediately thought her for 3rd Space. The second student I interviewed was 16 year old, Justin Oceguera who in lives in Boyle Heights and attends Roosevelt High School. Originally Justin thought that this program was a paid job and that is what got Justin interested. Even though its not a paid position, Justin shared that this has been an eye-opening and positive experience that is interesting, fun, and enjoyable.
Lets now review what we’ve covered in 3rd Space…
Week 1: Peoples’ History of the US and our Food System – February 4, 2016
On this day, the students learned about things such as genocide & stealing of native/indigenous lands, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, labor exploitation, discrimination, and the rise of the US farm industry. Topics like this are very sensitive and yet so important to be aware of and understand.
I asked the youth what their thoughts are about the injustices of this country:
“I remember reading the posters about slave and trade and how we were all surprised about the history of where the food comes from and who brings it to us. Usually you think about it and you think that farmers actually go out and get their products but it’s crazy because they have people do it for them and that’s people’s lives, just set up to pick vegetables. Knowing that people come out and risks there lives everyday just to get food was just really surprising.” – Andrea
“We can’t just blame and point fingers at other people. We have to take responsibility and stop complaining and do something about it.” – Justin
Week 2: Processed Foods and Health – February 10, 2016
During the session, the youth learned what is actually in processed foods, the diseases that are caused by the harsh chemicals that are in many common food items, and the diet-related health issues in predominantly black and brown communities.
Some of the chemicals that the youth learned about during this session are Sodium Benzoate, Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), and Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow.
Sodium Benzoate is a common food preservative that prevents the growth of mold and yeasts. It deprives our mitochondria of oxygen and has been linked to hyperactivity in children. Some of the common items it is found in are juices, pickles, pre-made salad dressings, and condiments.
BVO is a food additive that keeps citrus flavoring from separating in sodas and sports drinks. It contains bromine which is the element found in flame retardants that has been linked to nerve issues and this is why it is banned in the European Union, Japan, and Australia. Although it is still legal in the US many large franchises such as Fanta, Mountain Dew, and Gatorade have announced that they would remove BVO from their products.
The artificial colors blue 1&2, green 3, red 3, and yellow 6 have been linked to thyroid, adrenal, bladder, kidney, and brain cancers. These are found in colorful candy, cereal, chocolate bars, Kraft dinner, juices, and sports drinks.
“I remember learning that there is this chemical in milk that can cause cancer and it’s crazy because I drink milk everyday. What I would change is I would start paying more attention to what ingredients is inside the food that I eat.” – Andrea
Week 3: Media Does Not Have My Mind – February 11, 2016
On this day, youth got into different teams and hopped on the metro to Westlake/MacArthur Park. There, they took pictures of food &/or drink advertisements throughout the neighborhood that stood out to them (could’ve been at bus stops, on buses, benches, billboards). As they walked, partners discussed:
- What the messages they are sending in the advertisement are?
- What information corporations are not sharing in the advertisement?
- How these messages influence our food choices?
Through this neighborhood walk, we were surprised at the amount of coffee and on-the-counter drugs that were being sold around MacArthur Park. Although there was some natural remedy medicines, the majority was not that. Most of the corporate food advertisements were also not supporting healthy eating habits.
“Everywhere you go there are food advertisements and most of those advertisements are bad – not healthy or good choices.” Everyday I walk past these signs and don’t notice it and it’s crazy how they say these things just like “Redbull gives you wings” but what you really don’t know is that you really will get wings when you die from drinking so much.” – Justin
After the activity, they had the opportunity to connect and reflect on what they saw and how its relatable to their own family stories of health and disease.
Lastly, they rewrote the advertisements in a way they thought would accurately describe the product being sold. For example, instead of “2 Monsters for $3,” they changed it to “100 sugar cubes for $3” to represent how much sugar is in just one drink.
What recommendations and/or actions do you suggest in hopes of seeing advertisements that speak the truth in the future?
“We need to confront these places and ask why they make their advertisements like this to make them see that what they are doing is false advertising.” – Andrea
“I suggest that we tell 100% the truth. If you know there is something in that food that with effect someone SAY IT. Don’t just say “oh, it has a good taste.” You have to make sure that people know what they are putting into their bodies.” – Justin
In conclusion (for now), Roots For Peace’s 3rd Space program is a space for youth to connect with each other, to learn about peoples’ histories in the United States, and build connections between food justice to other social justices. Youth also critically analyze the various forms of oppressions that make it difficult to be “healthy,” and have opportunity to discover and share culturally-relevant practices that can support the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of youth and all participants in 3rd space.
Written by Alexandra Downey