On the Line: Lisa Fontanesi of Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, Part One

The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution has been parked at the Santa Ana offices of Building Healthy Communities this month, working with schools and families of central Santa Ana to fight the obesity epidemic spreading across the nation. The Food Revolution truck moves from city to city and faces the challenges of breaking down the comfortable eating habits that are slowly killing us, replacing them with knowledge and power over obesity for those who want it. This week, we meet the Program Manager of the mobile kitchen and learn more about the work they're doing while they visit Orange County.

What is the mission of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, specifically here in Santa Ana?

The Foundation, in partnership with the California Endowment, is trying to get across the message that cooking at home is easier, faster and less expensive than people might think it is, that when you cook it yourself, it's healthier.


Have you noticed differences in the communities among different California cities you've stopped in, and what adjustments do you make to your classes as a result?

Santa Ana is the most receptive community we've hit. They're taking these lessons to heart and bringing us examples of things they have in their houses or telling us stories of going home after taking classes and cleaning out their pantries. One woman realized her family was never going to read labels so she put stickers with nutrition information and serving sizes on all their cereals and yogurts and juices so they couldn't miss it. That was humongous. That happened to me last week.

Culturally, in South LA, we had a mixed community of African-Americans. We change recipes in different locations to make them culturally diverse, and when we see the groups we have, we then adjust accordingly, and we don't know until we get started.

So you have backup plans in place for whatever contingencies come up?

Exactly. With the Latino community, one of the products we run into with a lot of sodium is those little sweet Knorr bullion cubes. It's something very cultural to Santa Ana and didn't come up in our other locations. We've gone out to local markets to find low-sodium, non-MSG versions of that. We had a conversation with Northgate Market, which has been helping us to get our produce. They have a health-and-wellness initiative, so they're looking into ways to carry healthier products via what we're doing, and that's been really great.

In Long Beach, there were a lot of community gardens, so we were able to partner up with some of the farmers' markets and local community gardens to get fresh produce. In Santa Ana, we don't have that, but we do have the Northgate Market that's willing to work with us. We try to ingrain ourselves in whatever community as much as we possibly can.

Would you call Santa Ana a “food desert,” and would you elaborate what that means from your perspective?

I'm not an expert on that. It seems there's a number of markets. When I first got to Santa Ana, I drove around with the people from Latino Heath Access and asked which markets they shop at. They took me to the markets within a 3-mile radius of their hub. Since I'm an outsider, I feel I can't speak to that question because I don't know the situation of the people participating in the program. It sounds like people are willing and are going out shopping, and nobody's complaining, “I can't get groceries.” It felt like South-Central was much more of a food desert than what I'm seeing in Santa Ana.

I've noticed when driving through Santa Ana's residential neighborhoods you don't get as many supermarkets spread around as, say, Irvine. That leaves opportunity for grocery trucks set up sporadically throughout residential neighborhoods of Santa Ana to which people can walk to buy their staples. I don't know why it's that way, why there aren't more supermarkets in central Santa Ana. Are those grocery trucks something you've seen in other cities you've traveled to?

Part of the problem is transportation. In each community we go to, we drive around and find the local markets and try to let our participants know where we found nice produce. The Northgate is only about five blocks from where we are, but we also found El Superior, and we found the little tienda kinds of places, and I have seen a couple of those trucks. I'm sort of shocked that we have a big mix of participants and they're telling us they're getting a way to Sprouts or ask where there's a Trader Joe's. They're asking us where this stuff is and how do they get there. If you don't have the transportation, finding the products products we use can be difficult.

I think one of things that is great about the Latino community is they tend to eat lots of fresh vegetables. So our job to introduce more fresh produce doesn't seem to be the issue; it's getting them to cut out sodium and sugar and getting people to start to think about how much is in those sodas and how much salt is in those bullion cubes when they're seasoning things.

Let's talk about the salt and sugar content of the food we take for granted every day. You have a graphic demonstration within the truck of how much sugar is in a cup of a typical soft drink. Can you talk about that?

A 12-ounce can of soda usually has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. The formula to figure out how much sugar is in anything is 4 grams of sugar equals a teaspoon. The 12-ounce can of soda is between 38 and 42 grams of sugar, which is about 10 teaspoons. The other thing we talk about is that sugar in the soda usually isn't just regular sugar; it's high fructose corn syrup, which is the worst for us. Though sugar is sugar, there are slightly better alternatives, so we try to talk about them: raw cane sugar, honey, agave. When getting yogurt, it's a natural milk product with its own natural sugars. But when you read the label, you see if there's added sugars, and that's when you can tell if you're getting naturally occurring sugars or if there's added sugars and what types: Is it high fructose corn sugar? Cane sugar? Corn syrup? Honey? Maple syrup? We're trying to give that knowledge so people can read the labels and make a decision, like maybe getting plain yogurt and fresh fruit and how to sweeten it, if they need to sweeten it at all.

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