Food Leadership for Youth

By McGregor, Kamla Ross | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall/Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Food Leadership for Youth


McGregor, Kamla Ross, Women & Environments International Magazine


A Cooking Adventure with Teen Girls at The Stop Community Food Centre

Teaching high school girls how to cook in a commercial kitchen requires patience and an ability to handle controlled chaos. During the first few weeks at the Food Leadership for Youth program, many questions and trepidations arise as teenage girls with very little cooking or food knowledge are put to work making healthy recipes.

The FLY program is one of many offered at The Stop. Food security has been said to occur when people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (World Food Summit 1996). The City of Toronto's Food and Hunger Action Committee (2000) developed a more detailed list of seven conditions that were said to lead to food security. They include the following:

(1) the availability of a variety of foods at reasonable cost;

(2) ready access to quality grocery stores, food service operations, or alternative food sources;

(3) sufficient personal income to buy adequate foods for each household member each day;

(4) the freedom to choose personally, and culturally, acceptable foods;

(5) legitimate confidence in the quality of the foods available;

(6) easy access to understandable, accurate information about food and nutrition; and

(7) the assurance of a viable and sustainable food production system.

While these conditions and the checklist seem comprehensive, they are heavily geared towards food access and do not include factors such as ensuring people have opportunities to learn skills to ensure food security.

It may be easy to assume that people agree on what good quality food tastes like or that they understand how sustainability affects their access to good food. There are different types of knowledge about food that are present in communities, but without a space to share this knowledge, it is not necessarily disseminated or validated. And, even if there is an understanding about food security issues, do people have the skills to advocate as a collective to ensure their neighbourhood is food secure?

In recognition of these factors, over a period of many years The Stop has expanded to include a drop-in eating space, a farmers' market, various community kitchens, community action, sustainable food systems education in schools and urban agriculture programs. All of this helps community members to uncover knowledge about food and to share it with each other while at the same time creating a place to forge a collective response to the political, economic, and environmental causes of food insecurity.

The FLY program, like other community kitchen program's at The Stop, started with a desire to provide a welcoming space where youth could learn about and develop agency around food issues through cooking and sharing meals. High school youth are at an age where they are learning to develop their own values and goals and defining who they are as individuals.

Developing skills that will allow them to become leaders in community issues requires practice and a certain level of confidence. Young girls, more than boys, may lack confidence, and therefore may not take part in activities. Teenage girls are three times as likely to suffer from mental illness, specifically depression, due to low self-esteem, negative body image, feelings of helplessness, and psychological distress (Girls Action Research Review, 2009). Girls sometimes exhibit a desire for control by attempting to manage their body through diet and food intake. This can be even more complicated for teenage girls of colour or new immigrants who do not feel that they fit into the White middle-class notions of femininity portrayed in mainstream media.

Through the FLY program, the staff and I wanted to provide a space where girls could have the necessary social support to develop cooking and nutrition skills while learning about food issues as a whole. …

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