Nutrition education is an often-overlooked area of science. These days it seems like companies are going out of their way to mislead the public into thinking food products are a lot healthier than they really are. This is why the Beecher’s Foundation has teamed up with the community of Lakewood to pilot a food and cooking education program for all ages called the Lakewood Sound Food Uprising.

It is estimated that 30 percent of Pierce County’s adult residents are obese, and that 25 percent of county’s 10th graders are overweight or obese, according to the program’s press release. “The Beecher’s Foundation is fixing some of the biggest problems we face in our food system through direct education,” says Kelly Lake, Director of Programs at the Beecher’s Foundation. “We help people peek behind the curtain of our industrial food system so that they can begin to understand what their food dollars are paying for, and then we help them think about how our consumer power in the Puget Sound may collectively begin to shift the supply side of the equation towards more authentically healthy foods.”

Beecher Foundation Pierce County
The Beecher’s Foundation hopes to demystify the food labels and ingredient lists. Photo courtesy: The Beecher’s Foundation

This education is achieved through age-appropriate workshops and classes. For the younger children, the Lakewood Elementary School Program allows 4th and 5th graders to become “food detectives” by learning how to read food labels and ingredient lists. They’ll also learn to cook a few healthy meals along the way.

“Fourth graders are old enough to use knives in the kitchen,” assures Lake. “We always surprise teachers when we bring 16 knives into a classroom (even though they are plastic chef’s knives), but the students are always incredibly engaged and responsible.”

The Lakewood High School Program caters to 9th graders, and covers everything from the state of the food system as it stands today to showing the power of teen influence making positive changes in their community. This workshop also involves some hands-on cooking.

For adults, the Lakewood Adult Program is a four-hour workshop held Tuesday and Saturday evenings between October 2018 and February 2019. Along with food and cooking education, participants will receive a $10 gift card to the Grocery Outlet, as well as access to a discounted quality kitchen kit. Free childcare is even offered for children six and up.

Beecher Foundation
Engaging workshops teach the importance of nutrition education Photo courtesy: The Beecher’s Foundation

Have the classes helped? Those at the Beecher’s Foundation think so. “We’re encouraged by the very early data,” says Sara Morris, President of the Beecher’s Foundation. Students in our elementary workshops demonstrate a 31 percent learning gain. 56 percent of high school students report sharing what they’ve learned with family. Before the adult workshop, just 6 percent of attendees strongly agreed that individual food decisions can make a difference in shaping the food supply in our region; after the class, 73 percent strongly agree. These numbers are telling us we’re moving in the right direction and creating lasting change in families.”

The success of the pilot will largely drive the future of the initiative. “After the six-month pilot, we’ll work with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to review quantitative survey data and qualitative data from a series of interviews with folks who attended the workshops to identify program strengths and opportunities,” says Morris. “Our goal is to expand and/or replicate the initiative to serve more and more Pierce County residents.”

The early numbers of the pilot’s success are perhaps largely due to range of support from the community itself. “The spirit of partnership and teamwork in this community is staggering,” reflects Morris. “In a short period of time, Pierce County, the City of Lakewood, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Clover Park School District, Boys and Girls Club Lakewood, the Tacoma Rainiers, and Grocery Outlet all came together to participate in this effort. A working group of stakeholders meets regularly to drive the work forward and champion it within their own, large networks.”

Lakewood students
Healthy eating leads to a healthy lifestyle. Photo courtesy: The Beecher’s Foundation

Along with funding from the Beecher’s Foundation, the Lakewood Sound Food Uprising was made possible by Auburn VW, the Bamford Foundation, the City of Lakewood, the Dummer Foundation, MultiCare, Point Ruston LLC, the Tacoma Rainiers, and the Thread Fund.

Those at the Beecher’s Foundation believe that it is both education and the will of the community to help shape the quality of the food that comes into the region. “Our goal is to harness the power of consumer demand in our region to change the supply of food for the better,” explains Lake. “Together we can use our voice (and our dollars) to show food companies that we want less of the overly processed, heavily sugared, and additive laden foods that currently line shelves and more affordable and delicious healthy options.”

Anyone interested in attending one of the pilot workshops can sign up here online. Sign ups can also be done in person at Lakewood Boys & Girls Club, the front desk of Tyee Park Elementary, Lakeview Hope Academy, and Clover Park High School.

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