Roosevelt student Brizette Castellanos read an excerpt from "If I Knew Then What I Know Now." Photo by Shireen Alihaji.
Photo by Shireen Alihaji
Photo by Shireen Alihaji

Teaching local students how to live better through healthy eating was the theme Wednesday at a food justice book release celebration in Boyle Heights.

Students from Roosevelt High School gathered at Espacio 1839 to celebrate the publishing of “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” a collection of student narratives and profiles that tell the hardships of diabetes, heart disease and cancer and how it affected their families.

The book was a partnership between Roosevelt social studies teacher Jorge Lopez and 826LA, a non-profit organization working with the school to help students with their written work.

Student authors read excerpts from the book and shared their personal experiences of how good eating habits had an effect on their lives and the lives of their loved ones to the packed crowd.

Students learned how to adopt healthier habits in Lopez’s food injustice class at RHS, which is a social sciences elective that was developed three years ago by Lopez and then Principal Benjamin Gertner.

The class stressed the importance of making healthy eating choices, but also taught students how to make good choices outside the classroom.

They received instruction on what the government’s role in the food industry is and how corporations, the media and the fast food industry push unhealthy food choices on the public.

“We learned how to see the world as not just the world, but more elaborate,” said Roosevelt senior Marisela Sanchez.

Steven Cardono told the story of how he shared his ideas with his family and the difficulties involved with trying to make them change.

He said his mother rejected his suggestions, but eventually came around, stopped drinking sodas, ate better and lost approximately 40 lbs.

“The whole idea is to address cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the community since we have such high levels here,” said Lopez, who hosted the event and discussed the lack of healthy food options facing students and Boyle Heights residents.

Lopez said that empowering young people by sharing information, they could become better at making the right choices in food and other areas of their lives.

“The things I learned in the class, I couldn’t have learned anywhere else,” said senior Jade Hernandez, who added that the class not only changed what she ate, but who she is.

When Hernandez first approached her mother about changing the way the family eats, she was not receptive to her ideas.

Roosevelt student Brizette Castellanos read an excerpt from “If I Knew Then What I Know Now.” Photo by Shireen Alihaji.

“My mom was pretty annoyed. She thought I was trying to teach her a lesson,” said Hernandez.

Lopez’s students got hands-on experience working in the community by participating in activities such as planting and nurturing an on-campus vegetable garden and in off-campus programs targeting community markets.

Students were directly involved in the transformation of mini markets in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights as part of the Proyecto MercadoFresco program, which was designed to renovate community markets so that better food options could be offered to the community.

The vegetable garden on campus was designed to teach students how to plant seeds and care for the crops to learn not to depend on processed, fast food.

“It’s part of our ancestral knowledge,” said Lopez.

He also said that students who gain this knowledge can produce their own food that are free from chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.

“Unhealthy eating habits affect the entire family. What has happened here is that our community has been taken over by oversaturation of sugary drinks and fast food,” said Lopez.

He said many students do not eat breakfast, then skip lunch or eat chips and soda for lunch.

“They don’t even eat the food at our cafeteria,” said Lopez.

826LA has been tutoring Roosevelt students in the classroom for the past five years and has helped published previous student’s work.

Each student received a copy of the anthology. The book is available on the 826LA website and at Espacio 1839.

Gus Ugalde

Gus Ugalde is a print journalist and Boyle Heights native. He is a graduate of both Salesian High School and East Los Angeles College. With writing as his passion, he has had over 500 stories published...

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