Detroit's Food Economy

Why Nutrition Matters to Detroit’s Food Economy

by: Laura Weber-Davis

February 5, 2013

cooking_matters
Teens preparing meals at a Cooking Matters class in Detroit. Photo Credit: Matt Elliott, WDET

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"It's a lot easier to grow up eating healthfully than to change as an adult and give up all the things you love."

- Vani Sohikian, nutritionist


About 20 percent of high school students in Detroit are obese, according to a 2011 survey from the Centers for Disease Control. Nutritionists say healthy, nutrient-rich diets play a key role in curbing obesity and other major health concerns… but an estimated 30 percent or more of people in Detroit lack access to healthy foods on a consistent basis. The Detroit Food Policy Council reports that, while kids do get some health and nutrition education in school, more needs to be done.

WDET's Laura Weber-Davis joins a "Cooking Matters" class for teens at Gleaners Community Food Bank. The kids say they have learned a lot about healthy food and meal preparation that they hope to take into adulthood.

Guests:
Chef Joe Nader, Executive Chef, Levy Restaurants at Ford Field
Vani Sohikian, Nutritionist

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Transcript
Some food-systems advocates in Detroit say healthy eating habits must begin with kids. They say teaching kids to purchase and prepare nutritious foods could help spur demand for healthier options throughout the city.

WDET’s Laura Weber-Davis continues our series on Detroit’s food economy… with this look at the importance of good nutrition.

According to a 2011 survey from the Centers for Disease Control, about twenty percent of high school students in Detroit are obese. Nutritionists say healthy, nutrient-rich diets play a key role in curbing obesity and other major health concerns… But an estimated 30 percent or more of people in Detroit lack access to healthy foods on a consistent basis. And the Detroit Food Policy Council reports that while kids do get some health and nutrition education in school, more needs to be done.

And so… in a conventional kitchen at Gleaners Community Food Bank… two groups of teenagers prepare to do nutritious-food battle. At table one – a team by the name of Hood Cooks. [IRON CHEF Theme music]

CMT – HC menu “We’re making fruit salad and a chicken wrap.”

At table two – Team Just Phresh.

CMT – JP menu “We’re going to make a steak with oven roasted potatoes, a salad and a parfait.”

The teams have two hours to prepare the meals. They’ll be judged on team work, nutrition, cooking and preparation skills, and taste. Gleaners the “Cooking Matters” classes for free. The program depends on volunteer chefs, nutritionists and instructors. The teens in this group have already learned over several weeks about knife safety, sanitary food preparation, and what makes a balanced diet. At the first table, 14-year-old Darian Ward meticulously chops strawberries, mango, kiwi and cantaloupe for the fruit salad.

CMT – Darian “I’ve learned a lot by just starting with the basics; from just using a chef’s knife to timing our food and making it taste good.”

Though the kids don’t all agree on whether whole grain bread, sweet potatoes and skim milk taste better than the less-healthy options… they have all recently discovered healthy foods they love to eat. For 16-year-old Kahlil Calwise it’s…

CMT – Kahlil “Quesadillas. Vegetables in quesadillas. I didn’t used to like vegetables before this program, but now I love vegetables on everything because they go with almost everything.”

Chef Joe – The body “A lot of the kids I saw were like ‘Oh I don’t like that.’ I’m like ‘Well have you tried it before?’

That’s Joe Nader, Executive Chef of Levy Restaurants at Ford Field… and he’s the volunteer instructing chef for this cooking class. He says most kids just think they don’t like certain foods… especially vegetables.

“I’m like ‘Try it.’… and then they go ‘Oh my God this is really good!’ The body knows. The body knows if something’s good.”

Fifteen-year-old Elijah Shade quietly sautés sliced mushrooms over a conventional stovetop. He says he has begun checking some nutrition labels when he buys food.

CMT – Elijah 2 “All the transfat and sodium that’s in certain products that say they’re healthy, but they’re really not.”

But he admits that doesn’t always sway his decision on what he eats.

CMT – Elijah 1 “It’s still kind of hard to this day… but I just try.”

Chef Joe – take time “I mean let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not going to just be this massive transformation. But then if they eat that and then pass it onto their next generation, on some level, then it’s just starting that process.”

The Detroit Food Policy Council reports two-thirds of all Detroiters are overweight or obese… which can contribute to some of the leading causes of death in the city; heart disease, cancer, stroke and type-2 diabetes. Lack of access to nutritious foods among kids has also been linked to dental problems, poor performance in school, and mental health issues.

Vani Sohikian is a nutritionist who volunteers for “Cooking Matters”. She says it can be difficult to get teens to grasp the larger health implications of poor food choices.

CMT – Vani 2 “It’s hard because it’s not as relevant; you can’t relate it to diseases and kind of scare them and give them that real-world effect.”

Sohikian says with teens she tries to relate good nutrition with feeling physically and mentally strong. She says the earlier kids learn healthy eating habits, the better.

CMT – Vani 1 “It’s a lot easier to grow up eating healthfully than to change as an adult, and give up all the things you love.”

Chef Joe Nader says thinks some of the kids in the class are considering how they can apply what they learned about food to adult life.

Chef Joe – career “I think three or four of the kids told me they would like to pursue this as a career, so that’s the next level – now we got them now. Not only can they help themselves, but maybe they can make a career out of this too.”

The kids finish preparing their menus, and the panel of judges makes their decision. Team Just Phresh squeaks out a victory over Team Hood Cooks… but all of the kids graduate from the class and seem proud of the food they made. [NAT SOUND]

I’m Laura Weber-Davis. WDET News.