The Slow Food USA Blog
Youth Cook Up a FEEST in a Food Desert

Posted on Wed, July 20, 2011 by Hnin
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Young people are cooking up their own healthy solutions in the food desert they call home. In the Delridge neighborhood of Southwest Seattle—a low-income area and food desert —youth are coming together to cook and eat better.

Every Wednesday afternoon, you’ll find a few dozen neighborhood youth kicking it in the kitchen of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. They are part of FEEST (Food Education Empowerment and Sustainability Team)—a program run by youth for youth with the support of adult mentors. With a small food budget of $40-50/week, youth design and create healthy, vegetarian meals that showcase organic food from their community garden as well as a local CSA and food bank. While the weekly dinners are youth-only, with the exception of invited adults, FEEST brings together community members of all ages for a monthly potluck. Here’s what one youth had to say about his first time at FEEST:

I have lived in Youngstown for about a year now so I was already super knowledgeable of it! Especially since one of the lead cooks lives right next door to me…We all got together and cooked amazing food that I really didn’t know you could make with just average household foods… Also it was FREE!!!..[T]hat and the fact that they really focused on the power of communities working together through games and speaking activities made…[it a] cool experience! I’m going to show up again! –Sol, age 13

Youth have a stake in the way America grows, distributes, and eats food. A USDA study commissioned by the 2008 Farm Bill estimates that 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in a food desert. This matters because growing up in a food desert is linked to obesity and diabetes.

Food and health disparities reflect other social and economic inequities. That’s why FEEST works towards healthy diets and healthy communities for youth:

It’s the ability to be yourself and feel connected to your community. A feeling of “I belong here”. Your environment is safe—not dangerous or out to get you. –Cristina Orbé, FEEST manager

Started in 2006 as part of the King County Food and Fitness Initiative, a W. K. Kellogg Foundation grantee, FEEST is now developing a “replication manual” to share with youth groups inspired by its success. Next week, FEEST youth and adult mentors will premiere their mini-manual at a Kellogg conference in Detroit.

A bright star against the gloomy backdrop of America’s food deserts, FEEST is one of many community-led food projects that invest in youth leadership. When given the space and support, youth—especially those who live in low-income areas fighting for access to good food—can really shine and create healthy solutions for their community.