Posted on Mon, August 06, 2012 by Slow Food USA
2 Comments | Categories: Slow Food Chapters in Action, Youth Food Movement,
Written by Slow Food USA’s PR & Marketing Manager, Emily Walsh
As part of a new monthly series here on the blog—“Food and Farming Spotlight”—we will be speaking with Slow Food leaders and members, and food movement personalities alike. This month, we sat down with Gabrielle (Gigi) Di Bernardo.
In a world where fast food chains spend $300 million on youth-targeted marketing per year and where for the first time since the early 1800’s, youth are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, it is hard to not feel like the next generation is powerless to defend itself. Despite the challenges though, more young people every day are taking a stand to improve food and farming.
The unbelievably articulate Birke Baehr from the East Coast immediately comes to mind and how the 11-year-old’s wise-beyond-his-years food production commentary earned him a speaking spot on a TEDx event. Or 12-year-old Mason Harvey from Oklahoma, who after being bullied for years, convinced his family to start eating well and exercising. He lost 85 pounds and is not only feeling better, but is happier at school. And most recently, there was 9-year-old Martha Payne from Western Scotland, who spurred quite the media frenzy. Shortly after she began posting pictures of the unappealing, non-nutritious lunches being served to her at school, her blog was shut down by local officials. However with the public outcry that ensued from food personalities such as Jamie Oliver, it was not long before the ban was lifted.
But how about the young people making moves in our own, Slow Food community? I would like you to meet 10-year-old Gabrielle (Gigi) Di Bernardo, who recently received a proclamation from Temecula, CA’s mayor for the food education and environmental work she is doing there. Gigi is the daughter of Leah Di Bernardo, co-leader of Slow Food Temecula and as Leah will proudly tell you, she is a bright little girl with her own big thoughts on food. But I think you will agree when you read the below transcript that her thoughts truly speak for themselves.
Name: Gabrielle (Gigi) Di Bernardo
Location: Temecula, CA
Favorite Thing About Slow Food: Probably the food. It’s really good!
What are meals like in your house?
Everyone gets in the kitchen. Me. Mom. Grandma. My aunt. There isn’t just one person in the kitchen. We eat a lot of vegetables. Vegetables that most kids haven’t even heard of. Like colored carrots and striped tomatoes. We also make a lot of traditional Italian pasta since it’s part of our culture. My favorite meal is when Mom roasts a chicken and sautés kale on the side. Giggling a bit, she continues. Mmm, that’s so good. Our food is mostly from the farmer’s market. Her Mom chimes in to exclaim, “She dictates our menu!”
How are meals in your house different from meals in your friends’ houses?
When my Mom goes to Slow Food meetings that aren’t in California, I’ll spend the night at a friend’s house. Some of my friends eat more traditional American [or processed] food than we do. Like food out of a box [or a bag]. Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. McDonald’s. You shouldn’t eat those things. It’s gross. For example, the meat. It’s made in buildings where animals are caged and force-fed GMO corn. It’s made in a lab. And why would you want to eat food made in a lab?
But we’ve been helping my friends eat healthier by starting gardens and shopping at the farmer’s market. And now that they are, they want to do it more. They’re having so much fun with healthy living. For example, my friend from pre-school, her family used to eat kind of like that. But we inspired her Mom to start a garden and their family has had one for two years now.
Gigi went on to tell me how today, the whole family works in the garden. And how one of her friend’s siblings has gotten particularly involved, including in the garden program at their shared school. He just installed a green house there. Gigi also told me how organic vegetables are different from mass produced ones. She talked about how big scale farms just keep planting, but organic ones let the soil rest in between plantings so the nutrients can grow back.
What is one thing that you think is good about food in the U.S. and what is one thing you think is bad?
The good thing is the resurgence of small farms. Local, good food.
With a helpful queue from her Mom, Gigi further explained how people are increasingly buying products from their neighbors as opposed to Walmart.
The bad thing is restaurants like McDonald’s lie to us. They say, “We have free-range chicken.” But it’s really from factory farms. It’s fake food!
Why do you think they lie?
I think to get more money.
Do you think people know when they’re being lied to [exposed to inauthentic advertising]?
No. I really don’t think they do. Like I said, they do it to get more money and that’s sad. They already make so much money a day and I don’t think lying to a couple of customers will make a difference.
I’m not sure if you know, but I was in the room at the Slow Food USA National Congress this past spring when your mom put you on the phone. What I loved most about what you said was how we adults sometimes think we know what kids want, but we don’t always. We need let kids tell us in their own words. Tell me more about this.
When I said that, I was talking mostly about my school. A lot of food there is out of a box. Burgers. Pizza. So this year, I’m going to start a petition for Good, Clean and Fair food. The fact that they’re feeding us this food…they’re going to affect the health of the next generation.
Can you give me an example outside of school?
My friend from pre-school, who I told you about before, she loves vegetables. But she didn’t used to eat them because her mom assumed she didn’t like them. But as soon as they started the garden, her mom realized the kids loved them and that might have been a shock for her. Another friend of mine. She never has any good food in her lunch.
After a quick chat with her Mom, she added, “In my opinion, she never has any good food.”
So I’ve been having my mom pack extra food in my lunch so she can try it. She hasn’t yet, but I think she will soon.
Reminded by her Mom, Gigi excitedly went on to tell me about a nutrition class they had at school, where they learned about vegetables grown from seeds native to Ohio. She described how they had an ungraded test one day and 90% of the students did not know half of the vegetables. I asked her what kinds of vegetables and she said, “Colored cauliflower, squash, radishes, potatoes.” And then unbelievably concluded for a 10-year-old, Gigi added, “I think kids, given the opportunity to try these foods, would love them. Like the colored carrots, they just didn’t know cauliflower can be colored.”
What role do you think young people like you can play in the food movement?
They can speak up to their schools and tell them we don’t want the food they’re feeding us. They can tell them they want better food. They can call their mayor or city council. They can even post videos on YouTube. Do you know how many kids watch YouTube each day?!
If there was one thing you could tell youth living in a place where it’s really hard to eat real food, what would it be?
Umm. I’d tell them about school gardens. To ask their principle to start one. Or to start one at home. You can grab a couple of pots and grow your own food. I’d tell them if they grew school gardens like we do, you’re usually allowed to take the food home. But if their school doesn’t let them take the food home in the beginning, they should ask if they can start.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you about and you want to tell me?
With one of the questions you asked…a lot of people think kids don’t want to speak. We do. We have a voice that we would like to speak with. We want to tell adults what we want for ourselves. Kids have a right to good food, no matter where they live and how rich or how poor they are. They have a right.
In a follow up call with Gigi, she and I talked about Martha Payne. She wanted me to know that shutting her blog down was an example of adults making unfair decisions for kids. Agreeing with her, I asked if she knew what freedom is speech is. She responded, “Right. I think that violated her freedom of speech for almost no reason. Why? So that parents wouldn’t know what the school was feeding their kids? They should know. It’s sad.”