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MakerSpace: Rethinking Food in Programming, Again? Yes, Again.

makerspaceThing 2 loves waffles, which is why The Mr. had a moment of brilliance: let’s buy a waffle iron. It did not realize that this small purchase – we bought ours at the local thrift store for $3.00 because we are poor – would become the inspiration for what may become one of my most popular program ideas. But let’s back up and lay some groundwork first.

Food programs tend to be incredibly popular for me. This is not surprising, teens love to eat. A lot. The library I currently work at – The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio – has an amazingly well developed and attended adult cooking club. They also have a program room with a full kitchen, including an oven and stove. I have thought about having a teen cooking club but there is one problem: I do not cook. At all. This is not an exaggeration.

I have also gone back and forth with the idea of food based programs because I am the parent to 1 of the 1 in 13 kids today who has severe food allergies. If she eats the wrong things we all suffer for days as she writhes in pain and suffers a variety of other effects that I will do you the courtesy of not describing. She won’t have an anaphylactic reaction, but it will cause her protracted health issues. And nobody likes to see their children suffer. For a while I was totally anti-food at programs for this very reason, but as she gets older I realize that I’m actually more anti-food for younger kids at programs. Teens, of course, can better understand their food issues and needs and can make better decisions in a environment with food. I would still like to see some programming that doesn’t involve food, because we live in a socially food based society and I want to remind teens that other things matter: like books and making and relationships.

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Pizza! At a recent TLT TAB and Book Discussion Meeting

Also, as part of the Maker Workshops I have recently taken with School Library Journal – and I highly recommend that you take them when you have the chance – I am reminded of several things:

1) Learning to make food is indeed a type of making.

2) Kids and Teens need adults to teach them about food, food choices and yes – how to cook. This is part of my problem, there was no one to teach me how to cook so I don’t know how and I don’t embrace it.

3) 1 in 5 kids goes to bed hungry every day. Having food at programs – especially if you have food based programs where kids and teens are learning about food while eating food – can be a good way to help address this important need in our local communities.

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As part of the LJ Lead the Change Maker Workshop that I participated in this summer, we heard from Spoons Across America. Spoons Across America’s “is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating children, teachers, and families about the benefits of healthy eating. We work to influence the eating habits of children through hands-on education that celebrates the connection to local farmers and the important tradition of sharing meals around the family table.” They presented a variety of ways that libraries could involve kids and teens in learning about food and meal preparation, depending on your library’s space and resources. You can learn more about them and the ideas that they shared at their website.

Libraries are about education, and there is a lot of education needed around the topic of foods. I discuss food a lot in parenting and those same discussions can be the foundation for some good program ideas. We talk about making healthy food choices. I have to talk with my daughter, recently turned age 7, about her food issues and how she can navigate them and make healthy food choices for her. We have talked about religious customs and food. We talk about food processing, distribution and yes, because I am me, we talk about how the food chain would break down in the event of an apocalypse so knowing how to grow your own food and recognize edibles in the wild is important. (What, doesn’t everyone talk about this with their kids?)

I think I am also self conscious about how we talk about food and use food in our programming because I have had (and probably still have) an eating disorder. And I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I have a complicated relationship with food. I want to teach teens about good eating choices but not overly emphasize food, eating, diets, or body size. Coming from my background, it can be difficult for me to know if I am doing this well or not. I don’t want to imprint my food issues on the next generation of teens, but I’m not sure that never talking about food is a good way of addressing that problem either.

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But at the end of the day, teens want and need food. Just as they need in everything else, they need good eating opportunities, education and mentors. Because yes, they learn eating habits from the people around them. I didn’t develop anorexia on my own, I developed it in a world where adults reminded me time and time again that being super thin was the ideal, that being fat was to be feared and loathed, and that anything less than perfection meant that I was a personal failure unworthy of love, respect and value. As teen librarians, we can do little things to help break these cycles and to help teens question these messages.

And to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to acknowledge that being and eating healthy is important while still learning to love myself in the body that I am currently in while working towards a healthier way of life. It’s a delicate message to balance: love yourself but always work towards being healthy. I was unhealthy when I was anorexic. And I’m unhealthy now that I am over weight. Somewhere in the middle of it all I was healthier and I felt at my best and that is what I am working towards and want to teach my teens to work towards. Not am image, but a feeling of health, and yes that comes in all different shapes and sizes. But I think the feeling is the goal, that feeling of having enough energy to engage in and enjoy the various activities that you love and to be able to engage with the people around you.

Tomorrow I will share with you one of two fun food based program ideas that I have recently found. Wednesday I will share another. And then on Thursday as part of our #MHYALit discussion we will talk about the book BELIEVARAXIC, a book about teens with eating disorders. And this too is part of our discussion of food in the life of teens. It’s an ongoing discussion. It’s a complicated discussion. At least it is for me.

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Hunger and Poverty

Food Based TPiB

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  1. […] at TLT shared her thoughts on food maker programs for teens and now I want waffles. Or ice-cream. Or waffles topped with […]

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