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Alex Nataren, HOLA’s Director of Healthy Cooking, recently served on a panel during the American Studies Association‘s annual meeting. The panel, Reimagining Agriculture and Accessibility within and against L.A.’s Cityscape, highlighted a number of local initiatives that are doing innovative work in the food space. Alex’s talk focused on the Healthy Lifestyles Program Alex has been running at HOLA for the past 8 years. Since the program first began with a grant from Kraft Foods, thousands of kids and their families have benefited. Each year, Alex leads healthy cooking classes for elementary, middle school, high school and college kids and in the summer, he holds a special session for the moms. At HOLA, we adhere to a strict no “junk food” policy and the weekly cooking classes are supplemented with physical activities.

Other members of the panel included:

David Burns and Austin Young, co-founders of Fallen Fruit, a collaborative art project that began in Los Angeles with creating maps of public fruit: the fruit trees growing on or over public property. Fallen Fruit’s art works invite people to experience their city as a fruitful, generous place, inviting people to engage in sharing and collectively explore the meaning of community and collaboration through temporary communities and exhibition programs. David and Austin discussed how Fallen Fruit deals with issues of public/private space and community access.

Elizabeth Brennan, a communications executive, discussed her work with Meeting Each Need with Dignity, or MEND, and its “Grow Together Project,” which teaches self-reliance through gardening and food preservation.

Analena Hope , an activist and PhD candidate at the University of Southern California and a member of the board at Community Services Unlimited Inc., a non-profit working to equalize food access and improve community health in South LA., spoke about C.S.U.’s “Beyond Organic” model, which is designed to circumvent the expensive organic certification process and pass the savings on to the community through affordable healthy food

Natale Zappia, an Assistant Professor of History at Whittier College, focused his presentation on the environmental challenges faced by working class communities of color in the South San Gabriel Valley, which struggle to obtain access to healthy food in designated “food deserts.” Nat talked about the service learning projects he oversees, which tie Whittier College to the surrounding community.


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