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The power of listening: Working for positive change in SNAP-Ed communities

Change takes time. There are frequently obstacles. But when it occurs, it can be satisfying.

This year, over 1,000 participant quotes from adults in the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program chart a course for change. In the food eaten, beverages consumed, or daily exercises undertaken, participants describe a desire to take a new approach, or be more conscious of the little daily decisions that can make all the difference in health.

In 2015, UC CalFresh programs were delivered in 891 sites. The majority of sites were education-oriented, with 78 percent being either public schools, preschools, adult education, or Head Start programs. 

A UC CalFresh educator teaches young mothers strategies for preparing nutritious meals.

“This class changed eating habits for my family and friends." - Eating Smart Being Active class, Fresno County

“This class was very informative and it gave me tips and ideas on how to stay healthy, how to be active with our children and also great recipes! I enjoyed the class and will use their tips and ideas when thinking about my diet.” - Eating Smart Being Active class, Fresno County

Special events reinforce school nutrition lessons.

Many quotes express thanks for a program that offers evidence-based curricula to help improve food resource management – budgeting for healthy food while on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - formerly food stamps) or offer recipes that are tasty on a limited budget. Some quotes reflect on what was learned, and how to continue making decisions that “stay the course” in healthy food selection and preparation. And then, there are those that thank dedicated educators, such as this one:

“My first time here at the nutrition class was April 21. All of the information taught by Julie was important and I learned about eating better, making simple quick healthy meals. My granddaughter walked into the class for the last 10 minutes. She tasted some of the meal and she said, 'Yum -- very good. Grandma can we take some home.' I told her we had the recipe and she asked to go buy the ingredients and make some at home because it was very good and she wanted to eat more. She helped me buy ingredients and helped me prepare the meal. She ate 2 bowls …She wants to try other healthy meals. Thank you for providing this nutrition program to share with us!” - Plan Shop Save and Cook class, Kings County

Occasionally, there are inspirational stories that touch our hearts and make us re-dedicate ourselves each day to our work:

“My son is a kindergartener. He is also autistic with many sensory issues! He only eats certain things (like chips, pop tarts, canned soup and raviolis). The UC CalFresh educator, Mrs. Carter, came in to do a nutrition taste test with the students today and, to my surprise, my son ate edamame willingly. He said it was awesome! For me, this is a big milestone! It could be the start of trying new foods! I love this program… It's great for all kids!” - Healthy Happy Me class, Placer County

Moving from individual education to policy, systems and environmental change agents

In the past few years, UC CalFresh has increasingly worked on developing programs that have policy, systems and environmental change approaches. However, the stories told by participants illustrate the importance of building our programs from a foundation of direct education.

In this effort, UC CalFresh uses a “school as the hub” model in communities. Schools are seen as pivotal arenas for nutrition education that can also influence broader policy, systems, and environmental change. Through classroom nutrition education with students, and after-school programs for their families, schools generate the potential to reach different age groups in the community effectively.

School gardens foster community learning.

A school is a powerful environment for learning, growth and community engagement - from school gardens to work with food service directors creating nutritious meals and enhancing the cafeteria environment, to playground activities with stenciling and murals reflecting healthy choices. Opportunities abound to generate change in perspectives on food choices, physical activity, and healthy living.

Assisting communities to build capacity for sustainable change

As we work with communities to build capacity in the areas described above, over time, a transition has the opportunity to take effect whereby local leaders - principals, teachers, parents, grandparents and students - motivated by the desire to embrace long-lasting healthy changes in their family and community - act as role models and change agents. This fundamental shift moves institutional initiative and strategies into “community-based systems change.” And the seeds of this change began with a lesson, a child, a parent, an educator … a simple quote.

 

Stencil Road at Oakdale Heights Elementary in Butte County.

 

This story en español.

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 10:52 AM

Expanding pomegranate production

John Chater remembers the day vividly. He was about two years old. His grandfather gave him a dark, purplish pomegranate. Happily, he opened it and starting eating.

He quickly realized his mistake. He was wearing his new light brown suede shoes. The pomegranate juice quickly found the shoes, leaving a permanent scar.

“That was my first experience, that I remember, with pomegranates, and it involved getting in trouble,” Chater said. “Because it was so delicious, I didn't realize it would stain.”

More than 30 years later, Chater is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, with a focus on pomegranate research and a 2016 University of California Global Food Initiative student fellow. He is building on the work of his grandfather, S. John Chater, who was a maintenance worker at hospital but developed a cult following among rare fruit growers in California for developing new varieties of pomegranates.

Doctoral student John Chater is following the footsteps of his grandfather in developing new pomegranate varieties.

The younger Chater, working with varieties selected from the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Winters, including several developed by his grandfather (who died in 2002), is working to better understand the commercial potential of these varieties.

Currently, 90 to 95 percent of pomegranates are one variety: Wonderful, Chater said. (In addition, California grows more than 95 percent of pomegranates in the United States, he said.)

Working under Don Merhaut, UC Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental and floriculture crops at UC Riverside, Chater has set up pomegranate variety trials in Riverside and Camarillo.

Pomegranate arils come in a rainbow of colors.

They have planted 12 pomegranate varieties, 15 trees per variety, to evaluate their establishment, precocity (flowering and fruiting), usefulness to growers and desirability to consumers.

Of the 12 varieties, 10 are edible (Parfianka, Desertnyi, Wonderful, Ambrosia, Eversweet, Haku Botan, Green Globe, Golden Globe, Phoenicia and Lofani) and two are ornamental (Ki Zakuro and Nochi Shibori). The ornamental varieties, whose flowers look like carnations, could be of interest to the floriculture industry, Chater said.

The researchers want consumers to be able to go to supermarket, and, like apples and citrus, be able to buy different varieties of pomegranates that vary in sweetness, seed hardness and color. (The varieties Chater is studying range in color from green to yellow to pink to orange to red to nearly purple.)

Different varieties of pomegranates vary in sweetness, seed hardness and color.

Chater set up the trials in Riverside and Camarillo to evaluate the difference between the cooler coastal climate and the warmer inland climate.

The prevailing thought is that more acidic varieties do better in inland conditions because the high summer temperatures reduce the acidity before the fruit is picked in the fall.

For example, a variety such as Wonderful, which is high in acidity, is grown commercially in the Central Valley. But, Eversweet, which has a lower acidity, does well on the coast.

Related to color, some researchers believe that pomegranates color up because of cool night time temperatures. Therefore, trees planted on the coast tend to color up faster.

All that said, it is believed no one has done a comprehensive study, such as the experimentally-designed one Chater has set up, in the United States. It will allow him to study the interplay of variables including size, color, sweetness, acidity, antioxidant activities and seed hardness in different climate conditions.

This story en español.

View a video featuring John Chater and his pomegranate research below:

Posted on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 at 8:42 AM

Partnering for a safe and strong summer

School is back in session and students across the nation are busy in the classroom and cafeteria learning and eating. But what happens to students in the summer months when school is out? Research suggests a summer learning achievement gap occurs between children from low income communities and their higher income peers when school is out. Even more, summer has been called “the hungriest time of the year” for low-income children who rely on school meals to get enough food during the school year. 

Nutrition Educators lead physical activity games at summer food sites

In response to the summer hunger problem, the USDA created the Summer Food Service Program to give schools, agencies, non-profits, etc., the funding to be able to offer free meals to children 18 years and younger at approved low-income sites. Still, as of summer 2015, the summer meal program remained underutilized when compared to the number of low-income children accessing school meals during the regular school year.

 

Physical activity is fun!

 

To offer excellent programming and increase participation in the summer food program, partnering agencies in Santa Maria worked to provide physical activity, nutrition education and other summer enrichment programming at local city parks in conjunction with the Summer Food Service Program. The Safe and Strong All Summer Long program was coordinated through the Santa Maria City Recreation and Parks to provide free, drop-in recreation opportunities from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. in parks throughout the city all summer. Meals were brought to the parks and served for one hour by the local food bank and Community Action Commission staff and volunteers.

 

Nutrition lesson and Rethink Your Drink with families

SNAP-Ed funded agencies have been encouraged to partner with Summer Food Service Programs, though the logistics of working with different agencies and providing education programs in non-traditional settings isn't always easy or clear. During summer 2016, UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators in Santa Barbara County partnered with the Safe and Strong All Summer Long food program to provide staff training and support for family enrichment and physical activities. UC CalFresh staff kicked off the partnership by leading a one-day CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Physical Activity training for over 20 Recreation & Parks staff. CATCH focuses on inclusive physical education that keeps youth engaged and active. After the training and throughout the summer, UC staff participated weekly at two park summer meal sites encouraging youth and their families to get physically active, drink water and eat healthy. UC staff continued to provide guidance and training on-site to Recreation & Parks staff on how to engage a variety of youth of all ages in fun physical activities.

 

CATCH training with Recreation & Parks staff

Several other partner agencies also provided engaging programming to parents while the youth were eating their lunches. The local hospital and County Public Health Department conducted food demonstrations and distributed healthy recipe food samples to parents at sites throughout the city.

In a focus group conducted in June 2016 with parents from the local school district, parents commented that they would like more information and ideas about how and where to do physical activities as a family. Participants commented that they appreciated that their children were learning how to be physically active at school, but it would be helpful to have information on how to involve the whole family: parents, siblings and all of the family so they could get exercise and enjoy their time together.

By providing free drop-in programming at local parks, in conjunction with free meals for youth, the Safe and Strong All Summer Long partnership was able to provide access to safe spaces for families to come together during the summer to be physically active and reduce food insecurity.

UC CalFresh Nutrition Educator Miguel Dia, commented that the best part of the summer partnership was “engaging the youth in a variety of different games and seeing all the different age groups participating. By the end of the summer, the older youth were actually teaching the younger youth how to do the CATCH activities.”

Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 11:13 AM

The well-rounded pumpkin: A versatile vegetable

UC Master Food Preservers volunteers can instruct on safe preservation techniques for pumpkin flesh. (Photo: Pixabay)
From seed to table or as seeds on the table, there are many edible forms of this staple fall decoration. While some ease their teeth into the lightly cooked tender green shoots of the plant, the majority of people know the pumpkin in its spherical orange form, with a few teeth missing. But what is the life of a pumpkin outside of an embellishment to autumn and Halloween décor?

In addition to those grown for use as jack-o-lanterns, varieties such as Sugar Pie and Fairytale work well in the kitchen. 

The seeds                                                                                  

Seeds become crunchy snacks when dried and roasted. For both techniques, thoroughly remove the stringy bits of flesh that cling to the outer layer of the seed. Dry at 115⁰-120⁰F for 1 to 2 hours in a home dehydrator or in a warm oven for 3 to 4 hours; alternatively, seeds can be dried in the sun. Rotate seeds regularly to promote even drying and avoid scorching. Dried seeds can then be roasted in a 250⁰F oven with a light spritz of oil and salt for 10 to 15 minutes.

The flesh

Wash the exterior of the pumpkin and remove the seeds and accompanying fibrous strands. The flesh can be skinned and cubed into 1-inch pieces as a starting point. Some home preservation options include:

  • Pressure canning – in CUBES only. Do not mash or puree. Put that food processor away; keep botulism at bay.

Note that contents can be mashed when removing the jar from the pantry for use in such foods as pumpkin butter, ice cream, and pie all year round.

  • Drying –
    • in 1/8-inch thick pieces for a chewy snack.
    • make a leather: cook and puree flesh with honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This is an appropriate and safe use of that food processor.

  • Freeze – cook, mash, cool and freeze for future use.
The seeds can be dried, roasted, or even saved to plant next year. (Photo: Unsplash)

Want to learn more about the details of these processes? Take a UC Master Food Preserver class or ask a UC Master Food Preserver volunteer. Many programs are accepting applicants for upcoming trainings.  The UC Master Food Preserver Program is open to individuals looking to increase community knowledge in home food preservation methods. Applicants for the UC Master Food Preserver Program must be willing to share knowledge and skills learned from the certification training through local community outreach. Prior food preservation knowledge is not a requirement; willingness to teach others is.

Come full circle by saving seeds for next year's garden. Keep seeds and preserved pumpkin products in a cool, dry place until ready to use. Plant seeds in June for an October harvest and go easy on the water – pumpkins make the list of water wise vegetables, according to the UC Master Gardener Program of Marin County. The Pumpkin Production in California publication notes, “Excessive irrigation aggravates root and stem rot problems and increases humidity in the lower canopy, which contributes to foliage and fruit disease.”

If time cannot be carved out for pumpkin preserving this year, the UC Davis Arboretum offers a Carve ‘n Compost workshop later this month. With all these options, be sure to enjoy this October's harvest in one of its many forms.

This story en español. 

Pumpkins come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and are used to decorate or consume. (Photo: Katelyn Ogburn)
Posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 8:23 PM

Merits of the proposed soda tax

Patricia Crawford, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, is senior director of research at the UC Nutrition Policy Institute.
In November, voters in Oakland, Albany and San Francisco will have an opportunity to make a real difference in the health and well-being of local residents. In all three communities, modest “soda tax” measures are on the ballot. These measures would place a small tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Two years ago, Berkeley voters approved the first soda tax in the country. Folks in Berkeley pay a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks including sports drinks, energy drinks, bottled sweet tea and coffee drinks. Tax revenues from the first year totaled approximately $1.4 million dollars.

I serve as a member of the Berkeley Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts Commission appointed by the City Council. This group is tasked with advising City Council on measures the Council can take to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley.

So far, the City Council has allocated a total of $2 million toward reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and their harmful health impacts. At the recommendation of the experts panel, Berkeley has funded health and wellness activities in Berkeley schools through Berkeley Unified School District's cooking and gardening programming, and a variety of strategies by community agencies to educate residents and increase healthy beverage environments in the city.

Those of us working in the area of nutrition science know that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is the most effective way to reduce rates of obesity, diabetes and related health conditions. The greatest source of sugar in the diets of children is sugar-sweetened beverages.

We also now know that the Berkeley tax to date has been a spectacular success. A study published in August by UC Berkeley scientists shows a 21 percent drop in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in Berkeley's low-income neighborhoods. In comparison, low-income neighborhoods saw a 4 percent increase in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption over the same periodin San Francisco, where a soda tax was defeated in 2014, and in Oakland, which also doesn't currently have a soda tax. The American Beverage Association, which has spent millions of dollars in an effort to defeat various soda tax proposals, opposes soda-tax ballot measures in our communities, and is using advertising campaigns and door-to-door canvassing that spread carefully crafted and misleading messages to voters.

The Bay Area has long been an early adopter of many important ideas, initiating movements that have spread across the country. Will Oakland, Albany and San Francisco follow Berkeley's lead to a healthier future for their communities?

Posted on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 9:53 AM

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