Food for Thought: Eagle Rock Class Takes a Look at Our Eating Habits

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Today’s post is the third in a series that explores new class offerings for Eagle Rock School’s 82nd trimester, and this time around, we’re sitting in on You Are What You Eat, a class that asks students to research the foods they eat and investigate ways that food influences more than just our physical bodies.

Instructors for this class are Sara Benge, our science instructional specialist, and myself — Mitaali Taskar, a 2020/2021 Public Allies Fellows. If you didn’t get a chance to read Eagle Rock Welcomes 7 Public Allies Fellows to Our Community for 2020/2021, I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, so I naturally have questions, including:

  • Why do we need food?
  • What foods do we need?
  • What food is healthy?
  • What does “healthy” mean?
  • And, if food is such a necessity, why is there such inequity in the our country’s food system?

The final question posed above is in response to Eagle Rock’s effort to incorporate historically responsive literacy in our greater push towards embodying anti-racist, social justice teachings, while at the same time going virtual in response to COVID-19. As you may be aware, we have restructured some of our 10-week in-person classes into a five-week virtual course, and in this case, we’re discussing food justice and the many related perceptions surrounding health.

That being said, you can’t talk about food justice and health in the United States without first learning the basics of food. So, for the first few weeks of this class, students have been learning about macronutrients and micronutrients, and how these nutrients are presented to us through our culture, our families, and of course, media in the form of advertising.

Students were asked to take, for example, the connection between fats and carbs and discussions about healthy diets. What we hear about them from our friends and on television and newer forms of media affects our food choices. That’s where a deconstruction of the food pyramid might be helpful for students.

For that, the class is taking a look at federal food guides in the U.S., from World War II onwards, concluding with today’s USDA (United States Department of Agriculture ) guidance, known as MyPlate. Over the decades, that guide has gone from seven major food groups to four, then five. And at one point in the progression, alcohol was categorized with fats and sweets.

As for fats, they were originally demonized in the “modern American diet”’ first cultivated in the ’50s and ’60s. This begs many questions, including Does the food guide actually represent all major macronutrients and micronutrients? What is it missing? Is it actually useful?

These led to bigger questions. Who benefits from the food pyramid? Certainly, the average American.But who is the average American? Who influences the food guides? Does the USDA consider food availability to all segments of the population? What about the cultural influences? Are we taking into account indigenous voices? What about communities of color?

These questions are being thoroughly discussed and answered in this topical class. And they definitely provide food for thought.

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About the Author: Mitaali Taskar is a 2020/2021 Public Allies Fellow at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo. Originally from New Jersey, Mitaali earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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