Students in Melissa Chase’s special topics class in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences learned what celebrity chefs with a conscience already know: that providing access to healthy food is only half the solution to alleviating food insecurity in communities where access to fresh, affordable, and healthy food is limited.
The other half is showing people how to safely prepare foods they purchase like fruits, vegetables, and seafood, in a safe and appealing way, which was one of the objectives of the class.
The class was offered through the Department of Food Science and Technology and provided students access to faculty expertise, food preparation techniques, and served as an educational resource for the community. It was also designed to cultivate future Master Food Volunteers and introduce students to career options within the food science and technology field and Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Master Food Volunteers are an important resource for disseminating information about food preparation, nutrition, and food safety. The volunteers operate under the umbrella of Virginia Cooperative Extension and in partnership with the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, an entity that provides a research resource for the program. In the class, students developed educational tools that promoted healthy eating habits and safe food handling tips as if they were actual volunteers.
“We certified students at the end of the class to become Master Food Volunteers who are ready to work in the community educating the public about healthy food options and safe food preparation,” said Chase, state coordinator of the Master Food Volunteer Program.
Projects in the class ran the gamut from an illustrated book about bacteria by Andi Stone, a food science and technology senior from Stafford, Va., to Chesapeake, Va., food science and technology major sophomore Chris Winslow’s “Great Healthsketball Challenge,” an interactive sports game in which players got to shoot baskets every time they answered a nutrition question correctly.
Hailey Cassell, a sophomore majoring in food science and technology from Galax, Va., created a dairy-focused project,“I can’t believe I made my own butter.” Cassell’s project reinforced the efficacy of not only preparing food, but also the significance of preparing food safely.
“The most important aspect of food science is food safety,” said Cassell. “Before I started taking food science classes I didn’t know that much about food. Now I feel I can spread the word about food safety and nutrition.”
Classmate Katy Kelly, a sophomore majoring in food science and technology from Christiansburg, Va., chose to target her project to 14 to17-year-olds, and emphasized the nutritional importance of supporting local eating habits and cultural practices relating to the consumption of food. Her project was also meant to inspire her audience to understand why incorporating local foods into a family menu is an important aspect of community building.
“My project makes people more aware of where local food exists around them,” said Kelly. “Virginia Tech has a community garden, and there are lots of farms in Floyd. I like the community aspect of educating people about local food. I also think that educating people more about food in general is going to help a lot with ensuring the health and safety of the food we eat,” she said.
Teneisha Hodge, a junior majoring in food science and technology from Richmond, Va., developed dining “flash cards” for college-aged students to quickly reference healthy eating options when using on-campus dining facilities. Her project brought home the message that it's important to include variety in your diet. Hodge’s project was born out of personal experience when she discovered she was pre-diabetic. Her condition was partly due to poor eating habits, which can be a chronic problem for college students who are constantly on the go.
“If they’re in a rush, students tend to get things to go, like pasta. Pasta is great for you today, but tomorrow, maybe eat a salad. Eating a variety of foods is one of the learning objectives of my project,” said Hodge.
Within the year, the next step for this current cohort of certified students is to fulfill 30 hours of community service and pass on the knowledge of what they learned in this special topics class.
According to Chase, the class was a success and stands a good chance of being offered again.
Written by Amy Loeffler.