I saw a couple of great presentations from Worcester Polytechnic students at the NOFA-Mass conference- they were from WPI’s Center for Sustainable Food Systems, and their projects revolved around using practical engineering knowledge to solve social problems. It seems to me to be an excellent way to apply learned knowledge while benefiting the local community- and the students definitely didn’t disappoint! The groups had a number of different ideas, but one that especially stuck out to me was a project that focused on the whys and hows of youth eating habits.
Specifically, this group was looking at why high school students eat unhealthy food, and applied techniques borrowed from anti-smoking campaigns to help them combat this. Chief among these techniques is peer-led introspection, a process by which one member of the student group leads the others in keeping and subsequently discussion ‘food journals.’
There are two phases to the journaling process: the first week, students write down everything they eat and discuss it. The second week, the students are asked to make note of the food advertisements around them. The peer leaders again lead the students in discussion about the advertisements, this time looking at overlaps between the food journals and the advertisement journals.
This is an excellent exercise in mindful eating, for lack of a better term- why do we eat the things we eat? What influences us to make those choices? I’ve pointed out earlier that knowledge is power- the more you know, the less likely you are to fall prey to misleading advertising or unhealthy foods. By directly confronting both their eating habits and their food environments, the students are facing that interconnectedness head on. Hopefully this kind of exercise will help them become engaged, savvy eaters- this is the kind of activity that’s beneficial regardless of age.