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Cal State East Bay associate professor offers students new outlook on healthy eating

  • June 14, 2011

One day, while walking on the Cal State East Bay campus where she teaches, Luz Calvo spotted a Latino/a student group selling crispy creme donuts to raise money.

When teased by Calvo for selling "the colonizer's food," the students pointed to a package labeled "no trans fat" and stated their donuts were healthy.

An associate professor of Ethnic Studies with interests at the intersection of food, politics and social justice, Calvo's interaction with the students inspired her to create a new course to unwrap what even the most politicized students on campus lacked - basic food knowledge.

"The course is 'Ethnic Studies' meets the Cooking Channel. Live cooking demonstrations are the highlight of each class meeting," Calvo said.

Calvo's long-time passions stemmed from her upbringing as part of a mobilized family that "boycotted grapes and talked about political issues." She became a vegetarian in 1990, yet despite her healthy lifestyle, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, a year after her move to Oakland. Facing the battle with cancer, Calvo decided to take it up a notch.

"I wanted to grow a biodiversity of foods that were grown with the best soil possible, totally organic and full of love and beauty," she said. "I wanted to harvest what I was going to eat for dinner at 5 p.m., fresh, local, seasonal, organic. I also wanted to reclaim Mexican foods that are hard to buy locally: quelites, verdolagas, huauzontles, hoja santa, Mexican oregano, quillquiña, chaya and others."

This passion for healthy food finds its way into her new course, which explores "ancestral foods of Greater Mexico" and uses this knowledge on a path to "reclaiming health and vitality," according to the syllabus. Students also will "critically analyze the Standard American Diet (SAD) to find out why so many people in our society are unhealthy and battling disease" and "consider the obstacles faced by communities of color when it comes to food security and availability."

In her work with students, Calvo's goal is to teach students about "capitalism and neo-liberalism with the hopes that they begin to see the struggle as bigger than just the cuts to the Cal State, but about the way wealth is distributed and how the wealthy are robbing them of their future."

Having found success in the battle against cancer, Calvo continues to grow her garden as a cancer-fighting source of food and shared her garden's story with the wider community during the Bay Friendly Garden Tours on May 15.

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