Vegetarian Action

Food for Life Program Instills Healthy Eating and More in Public School Students - By Chandra Lanier

The Stadium School in Baltimore provides its students with a unique education. Not only has the staff enhanced the curriculum with non-traditional subjects, but they're also promoting a healthier lifestyle among the students and the neighboring community with a highly successful Food for Life Program.

The Stadium School, which opened as a charter public school for grades four through eight in 1994, took its first step toward the Food for Life Program with the addition of mini-courses to the traditional subjects. Ecology expert Marcus Ampadu jumped on efforts to green the Stadium School's neighborhood by founding a gardening program on an empty lot that a neighbor lent to support the school's efforts.

Then, Luke Seipp-Williams, a Stadium School staff member and a lifelong vegetarian who studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, made a personal commitment to set up a nutrition education program that coincides with Ampadu's gardening group. The program expanded the children's education from mere crop cultivation to basic nutrition concepts and cooking skills. Hence, the school's comprehensive Food for Life Program was founded in August 2005.

The students who enroll in this program learn about different vegetables, including how to grow and harvest them and how to prepare meals from their bounty. The program's gardening focus makes the curriculum entirely vegetarian. Cultivating the land and creating dishes like couscous stewed vegetables, African stew, and other cultural recipes has perked the interest of many students. Of the 13 non-traditional projects that the Stadium School offers, the Food for Life Program has become the top choice. The elective has maxed out with 70 students, a third of the school's population.

Seipp-Williams said they're also trying to "integrate healthy food as a vehicle for behavior." Ampadu said that this program "allows for interdisciplinary learning," and he has seen firsthand an improvement in his science classes. The system enables the children to learn the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle on multiple levels.

The Food for Life Program also acts as an outreach to the community for healthy eating. So far, Seipp-Williams has "been able to affect 20 percent of parents" whose children are involved in the program and has made an impact among teachers within the school.

Small projects make a large difference, and this principle is demonstrated in a model created by innovator Antonia Demas, who founded the Food for Life Program. Dr. Demas was brought to Baltimore in the hopes of extending her national program into the area. Her goal is to give all schools the option for this type of project. Her daughter, Ariel, currently heads another Food for Life Program at Hampstead Hill Academy in Baltimore with a similar agenda.

Two elements were necessary in creating this program: funding and principal readiness. Thanks to a number of contributors — including the Weinberg Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation, and the Whole Foods store at Harbor East in Baltimore — who helped to make this program possible.

For more information about adopting or promoting a Food for Life Program in your community, contact Dr. Demas' non-profit organization, the Food Studies Institute.

Chandra Lanier wrote this article during an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.