It's about empowerment

Seattle's Pure Food Kids Foundation is turning local students into nutritional detectives

By Lisa Stiffler  @lisa_stiffler

Seattle’s Pure Food Kids Foundation is turning local students into nutritional detectives. That’s because navigating today’s industrial food system requires some CSI-like smarts if kids are going to outwit savvy marketers and decode mysterious food labels.

Educators with the foundation present 2½-hour workshops to fourth- and fifth-grade students aimed at helping them make smarter food choices and teaching them some basic cooking skills.

During the program, instructors reveal the strategies used to sell kids processed foods through clever advertising, celebrity endorsements and cartoons. Educators bring in packages of chips, drinks and cereals and have the students examine their claims and figure out what a product is really delivering.

The students learn what some of the cryptic ingredients are — including the scary truth about the artificial colors that have numbers in their names — to help illustrate the oddities of industrial foods.

Those colors are petroleum or coal-tar based chemicals, said Kristin Hyde, executive director for the foundation. “When you see a puddle on the ground and it has a rainbow on it from the gas, those colors are extracted from petroleum products.”

While the program tries to inform, it doesn’t endorse or reject certain products or ingredients, Hyde said. “We’re not saying, ‘Don’t eat them.’ We’re saying, ‘Isn’t that interesting.’”

More than a decade ago, Seattle food entrepreneur Kurt Beecher Dammeier founded Beecher’s Flagship Foundation (which later changed its name to Pure Food Kids Foundation) to support food education programs for kids. The organization developed and began teaching the free workshops in 2006. Last school year they instructed more than 15,000 kids in the Puget Sound area.

“We’re not trying to change what is served in school lunch, that’s a slow-moving change and it has a lot of obstacles,” Hyde said. Instead, the workshop “empowers kids in under three hours.”

The hope is that kids will look at labels in stores and their own kitchen cupboards, and share what they’ve learned with their families.

After the discussions about processed foods and labeling, the program ends with the kids cooking a pot of veggie chili from scratch.

The workshops are being taught in more than 200 schools, including two-thirds of the schools in King County and all of the public elementary schools in Edmonds and Bellevue. The program is expanding in Snohomish and Pierce counties, and also serves students in New York City.

The work is funded primarily through Dammeier’s company Sugar Mountain, whose businesses include Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and Pasta & Co.

Request a workshop at: purefoodkids.org.

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