Growing up in Mexico, food was a very important part of my life and upbringing. Food brought family together. In el campo, bonds were formed and culture shared, y en la cocina lessons were learned and recipes passed down to younger generations. I vividly remember helping my grandmother pick fresh peppers for her famous chorizo con papas; just as I’ll never forget how she would have me bury the extract from her vegetable juicing directly in the soil.
As if growing up in a food-friendly household wasn’t enough, the streets and alleys of Mexico offered some of the most delicious yet affordable food in the world, and presented it with uniquely memorable human experiences and interactions.
It is probably for this reason that I always wanted to be a chef. I wanted to make people happy through food. I wanted to see them smile thanks to a plateful of good, fresh food cooked with time and care.
But at a young age I was dissuaded from pursuing this aspiration. I was told my GPA was too high to go to culinary school. I was told to go to business school instead and learn how to be a manager, and that I could always learn to cook later. And while I did not follow my heart, I did enjoy relative success in my (not-so-) chosen field. Yet, I yearned for more, and my desire to connect with others through food did not dissipate.
It is in this context that in 2010 I started to pay particular attention to childhood obesity rates, and specifically how communities of color were disproportionately affected by diet-related diseases. I was teaching 9th grade history in a public charter school in Washington D.C. All of my students were either African-American, Latino or West African. Most were on free or reduced lunch and many lived in poverty. As such, I witnessed first-hand how malnutrition, hunger and obesity negatively impact student performance.
During this time I was also disappointed to learn that the U.S. and Mexico were the first and second most overweight and obese of the OECD countries (Mexico has since surpassed the U.S.). Given my connection to both countries, I felt not only a responsibility but almost an obligation to do something about it. And it is for these reasons that in 2011 I co-founded The Institute for Student Health (ISH) to teach students and their families about healthy eating and an active lifestyle.
Founding the ISH has been a fun and rewarding adventure that began in San Diego and is now in Washington D.C. We cook, garden, dance, run and shoot archery with students. We’ve impacted over 500 students and their families with minimal funding and an abundance of passion. Last year we were fortunate to be granted financial support for our efforts, and while I do not receive any economic compensation from this work, it fulfills me in ways my actual paying job cannot.
But one thing I have noticed in the healthy food and fitness movement is that like many other industries and board rooms in the U.S., it lacks diversity. Specifically, there seems to be limited Latino and/or Hispanic participation. I find that mind-boggling.
Latinos are a sixth of the population and a quarter of all school-aged children. We over-index on poverty, hunger, being over-weight or obese, and use of food stamps. We also makeup a large percentage of food service workers and farm laborers. Yet when it comes to the growing healthy food movement, Latino voices seem to be missing from the discussion.
It is time for our community to join the discussion. It is time for Latinos to offer solutions and stop being the victims or vulnerable communities referenced. While I am grateful for what Chef Ann Cooper, Michael Pollan, Jaime Oliver and Alice Waters have done for this movement, it is time we get to know and look for leadership from Marcela Valladolid, Rebecca Lemos-Otero, Juan Carlos Pavlovich, Javier Plascencia and others in our community.
People of Latino decent have a long history when it comes to cultivating and preparing food. Whether it be through our Mayan, Aztec and Incan sisters and brothers and the innovative farming techniques that allowed their civilizations and culture to grow and flourish; or through the back-breaking and severely undervalued work done by our hermanas y hermanos in fields and kitchens across America today.
Food Day is meant to inspire Americans to change our diets and our food policies. Let me take this year’s celebration to encourage Latinos across America to enjoy real food with their familias today, and to push for improved food policies throughout the year. Let us make this the year we resolve to make changes in Latino diets and take action to solve the food-related problems in Latino communities at the local, state, and national level.
This year’s Food Day has a special focus on food access and justice for food and farm workers. What better time for Latino voices to become trusted food activists facilitating healthy and affordable food and improving the physical and environmental health of Latino communities.
Roberto Adrian Fierro is the Senior Associate for Government Relations at D&P Creative Strategies.
During these tough economic times when many are struggling to make ends meet, it’s good to see that more organizations are increasingly adopting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Doing good is definitely good business and should be a common practice, as serving the community as good corporate citizens translates to a better brand identity, a stronger corporate reputation, and can ultimately contribute to a better society. However, I feel strongly that in order for it to grow and become more commonly adopted across Corporate America, giving back needs to start in the home for future leaders to apply instinctively.
For many, philanthropy is a common cultural practice or is well-entrenched within their faith. But in a time when we need to take solutions into our own hands, future generations must leverage technology and social media responsibly. We have all witnessed how the digital revolution has shaped families’ spending, and how it can make or break a brand or completely change someone’s life. It’s safe to say that more individuals are, by default, taking an increasingly active role in social justice. This new culture is exactly why more corporations should take a more serious look at philanthropy and how they attach their name to the right cause.
For me, it started in the home and is very much a part of my culture and how I was raised. Being half Mexican and half Italian, I was always taught that it is better to give than receive, to be compassionate, and to always lend a hand to someone in need. I was born and raised in New York City with a strict Catholic upbringing and strong values: be thankful, hard-working and pay it forward to your family and community. Therefore, it was an easy transition for me when I joined Food Bank For New York City as Chief Marketing and Communications Officer this year after a career in Corporate America. I knew that I could bring a different perspective and the necessary tools to further engage my network during a time when more awareness is needed to solve the hunger crisis in this country.
Whether companies choose to follow a sustainability route and practice CSR by reducing their own eco-footprint, take a more outward-facing approach and give back by helping others, or pursue a combination of both, it’s important to remember that there is much more to CSR than bottom line benefits. It also deepens employees’ sense of purpose, boosts morale, increases motivation, and strengthens a feeling of connectedness—not only to one’s company, but also to the community at large. It is something I have witnessed firsthand at companies I have worked with to promote their CSR efforts, and also as a child when my family would often travel to Mexico City to visit my grandparents. I recall my grandmother serving an active leadership role in a philanthropic organization there called Las Vicentinas. As a kid I had no idea of the impact of her work. But now, given my role at Food Bank, I realize that she was helping to run a food pantry for the less fortunate in her local church and I understand why my parents have always instilled in me the concept of being thankful to give—which happens to be the name of Food Bank For New York City’s Thanksgiving & holiday season campaign (www.foodbanknyc.org/news/food-bank-kicks-off-thankful-to-give-campaign).
At Food Bank For New York City, one of the ways we work to end hunger in the city is by partnering with companies who have fully embraced CSR and have joined our mission as a way to give back to the community. When these employees volunteer with us at our warehouse and distribution Center in the Bronx or with one of the more than 1,000 charities in our citywide network, the pride and motivation they feel is immense. And it is a reminder of how the foundation of our mission is built on neighbors helping neighbors.
In the time I’ve been at Food Bank, I am continually amazed by the families who want to pitch in who come from all walks of life whether they are celebrities, government officials, or families who have come to us for assistance and want to pay it forward by joining with our corporate partners to help us serve others. This shared sense of service creates a feeling of community, of neighbors helping neighbors, that is beneficial to all of us. And for me, a proud Mom of a daughter and son, I am very focused on making a positive impact on my children and setting an example for them that they will pass on.
Companies that practice Corporate Social Responsibility set a tone that resonates both within and outside company walls. It is a worthwhile way to show employees and customers that you share their values. It also enables parents to set an example for their kids. Growing up in a Mexican and Italian family, the warm and giving traits of both my cultures instilled in me a strong sense of helping others. Over the course of my career I have worked across many industry sectors, and those childhood experiences have always shaped my view of the socially responsible companies with strong values that ultimately can impact productivity and make a difference.
That is why I am focused on engaging Corporate America, as well as the media, personalities and notables, especially in the Latino community, in Food Bank For New York City’s mission. Nationally, one in four Hispanic households is food insecure, and right here in New York City, hunger is most prevalent in the Bronx, which has the largest Latino population in the city. However, as more companies understand the wide-ranging benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility and step forward to join forces with organizations like Food Bank, we can make much-needed headway in the fight against social ills, like hunger, that plague our city and our country.
This holiday season you can give back by purchasing holiday cards to benefit Food Bank, volunteering, making a donation, or hosting a Virtual Food Drive. Find out more at www. foodbanknyc.org and be sure to follow Food Bank on Facebook (FoodBank4NYC), Twitter (@FoodBank4NYC) and Instagram (FoodBank4NYC).
Silvia Davi is Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Food Bank For New York City.