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Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Blog Series: Lessons from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Written by Carly Randolph

1. What degree/program are you pursuing at UCLA?

My name is Carly Randolph and I am currently pursuing my Masters in Public Health at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. I am in my second (and final!) year of the program. My focus is in Community Health Sciences and I am especially interested in nutrition, stress, diabetes, and chronic diseases.

2. What is the Global Food Initiative Fellowship?

The UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) was launched by President Napolitano in 2014. It asks each of the 10 UC campuses to think critically about how we can nutritiously and sustainably feed a population that is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. This issue is of direct importance to the UC community, where food insecurity among students and staff is of growing concern. The GFI Student Fellowship program provides funding to students working on research, internships, or other projects with a focus on food.

3. Can you tell us a bit about your project as a GFI Fellow?

During the summer of 2016, I worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) in the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Research and Evaluation Unit. I was able to get my feet wet in a variety of projects surrounding research, evaluation, and health education! I assisted with several projects pertaining to increasing healthy food options for consumers (employees, hospital visitors, and locals) and I researched traffic light classification systems for food, contract and solicitation processes, and tool validation techniques. During one of my projects, I created a recommendation sheet for the County to use in developing a traffic light classification system for food at County institutions and universities, where food is easily classified as healthy or unhealthy based on a red, yellow, green classification system. I also worked on gathering food environment, demographic, and geographic information on several County institutions and hospitals in order to assist the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). My favorite part of my internship was that I was able to participate in health education events at grocery stores, conduct key informant interviews with store-owners, and attend focus groups at a healthy food business conference.

4. What inspired you to get involved in this project?

My mom has struggled with diabetes ever since I can remember, and I have watched her have pick and choose specific foods to eat or not to eat as a result. Because of this personal connection to diabetes, I became especially interested in how nutrition and diet can mitigate some of the effects of diabetes. After taking a tour of LACDPH and learning about the nutrition and diabetes research performed there, I thought it would be the perfect fit for me!

5. What has been most rewarding about your experience thus far?

The most rewarding part of my experience was attending health education events at Northgate grocery stores. I was able to take children on tours of the produce section of the grocery store and play a scavenger hunt game with them. They had to go find certain fruits and vegetables and I would explain nutritional facts to them about each fruit or vegetable they found.

6. How does your work relate to the broader vision of the GFI?

My work relates to the broader vision of the GFI since it addresses food security through providing the Los Angeles community with information about healthy food and access to nutritious food. My work surrounding healthy food procurement and nutrition education serves as a method to reduce food insecurity and address nutritional needs of Los Angeles citizens.

7. How can other students get involved in this issue or topic?

Other students can get involved in this issue by either working in collaboration with the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention or performing their own research on methods to implement healthier foods into various institutions, restaurants, and cafeterias.

8. What’s one of your favorite articles, documentaries, books, or video clips about food?

One of my favorite articles about food is “Do We Waste A Lot Of Pumpkins We Could Be Eating?” I love the taste of pumpkin and thought this was fascinating since pumpkins can be used in so many different ways, rather than being wasted and thrown away.

9. Anything last thoughts you would like to share?

I learned so much during my field studies and I am excited to continue to share all that I have learned with other GFI fellows, as well as with the general public. Feel free to contact me at with any questions or ideas you may have!


Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Blog Series: School Gardens Grow Healthy Students

By Meghan O-Connell

What degree/program are you pursuing at UCLA?

I’m a second year graduate student pursuing my Master’s in Public Health. I study nutrition and food systems because I think the food we eat is integral to our health and well-being.

What is the Global Food Initiative Fellowship?

The UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) was launched by President Napolitano in 2014. It asks each of the 10 UC campuses to think critically about how we can nutritiously and sustainably feed a population that is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. This issue is of direct importance to the UC community, where food insecurity among students and staff is of growing concern. The GFI Student Fellowship program provides funding to students working on research, internships, or other projects with a focus on food.

Can you tell us a bit about your project as a Fellow?

As a GFI Fellow, I spent my summer working with Seeds to Plate, a volunteer organization based at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista, CA. Six years ago, Seeds to Plate created a gorgeous 1/3 acre garden at Mark Twain that they use as a living classroom. Their mission is to “create and maintain a school garden that is integrated into the academic environment. The garden promotes a healthy food culture, nurtures physical and mental well-being, and provides hands-on gardening and eating experiences for students, families and staff to foster mutual respect, appreciation of diversity, community spirit, and sustainability of the earth.”

Seeds to Plate has a growing body of lessons that teach core subjects (math, science, history and language arts) through exploration of the garden. This summer I helped developed their curriculum.

How do school gardens align with the GFI’s mission?

Gardening can have a meaningful impact on many aspects of a student’s well-being. A 2009 review of 11 garden-based interventions found that working in a garden helps students build self-efficacy, fosters positive mental and emotional health, and aids in the formation of healthy eating and physical activity habits.

The review determined that youth who participate in school gardens experience a connection with nature that often results in successful academic and personal outcomes by building critical knowledge, attitudes and skills. Growing their own food also increases students’ willingness to try fruits and vegetables. Plus, they get a chance to be physically active in the process.

Teaching students from a young age to grow their own food, appreciate nature, and feed themselves nutritious food can go a long way to ensuring future generations approach food self-sufficiently and sustainably.

Can you talk about your favorite lessons that you worked on with Seeds to Plate?

Every lesson has three components: a classroom presentation, a hands-on gardening activity, and a healthy snack. My favorite lesson I worked on is a 7th grade history lesson on the Columbian Exchange. The lesson begins with the students taste-testing a batch of very basic guacamole, using only the ingredients native to the Americas: avocados, tomatoes, and jalapenos. Students are asked to identify the flavors they think are missing. They are then presented with a map of the world showing the place of origin of most of the edible crops they see at the grocery store or farmers’ market today.

A discussion follows that touches on the major economic and social effects of the Columbian Exchange on Eurasia, Africa and the Americas. Students are asked to think critically about colonialism, the globalization of our food system, and how the exchange of food crops during and after the Columbian Exchange impacted the foods we eat today. Finally, students get a chance to go out in the garden and harvest the remaining ingredients for their guacamole (onions, garlic, cilantro, and limes). They finish making it together and then eat it with corn chips.

I loved this lesson because it got the students thinking critically, being physically active in the garden, working on their cooking skills, and trying a healthy snack all at the same time. It was exciting finding ways to use their own garden to teach the students more about the world and to make them aware of the origins of ingredients that they eat all the time.

Some other favorite lessons include a math lesson that lets students plan and plant their own garden bed to learn about perimeter, area and volume, a science lesson that uses peas from the garden to teach about Punnett Squares and genetics, and a history lesson that challenges students to design their own irrigation system after learning about agricultural techniques in Mesopotamia.

What was most challenging part of your fellowship?

This project was definitely a challenge for me. I have previous experience working in schools — I worked at a secondary school in Kyrgyzstan while I was in the Peace Corps helping to develop their English as a Second Language and Health curriculums. But this was my first time working in a garden and with the Common Core standards. I also had to familiarize myself with the 6-8th grade curriculums for math, science, history and language arts. Trying to develop interactive lessons that incorporated all of these elements was pretty tough!

Most rewarding?

Getting to see the students participate in lessons I worked on was a great experience for me. I think there is so much value in learning that happens outside of the traditional classroom. I watched core subjects come alive for students when they could actively experience them instead of just reading about them from a text book. The garden became a space for students to explore learning outside of their comfort zones. The lessons teach students to explore nature with inquisitiveness and appreciation instead of fear, disgust, or indifference. They learn about each component of their garden’s ecosystem, from the soil, to its water source and climate, to the birds and insects that pollinate the plants, to the fruits and vegetables that they plant and watch grow.

The garden helps establish healthy social norms in their school and provides them with the knowledge and skills they need to form healthy habits. When students learn what it takes to grow their own food they understand its value in a way that is not possible to comprehend by eating a bag of chips in front of a television screen.

I was honored to work with Seeds to Plate this summer and to see firsthand the benefits of garden-based education in middle school students. Their future goals include implementing a basic version of their curriculum in other neighboring schools. The opportunities they provide students at Mark Twain are so valuable and I am excited to see the program grow!

How can other students get involved?

You can learn more about Seeds to Plate here. They are always looking for volunteers!


Photo via Meghan O’Connell


Developing a Healthier University with Walter Willett


Walter Willett has become a household name to the thousands of professionals working in the expanding field of food science and nutrition. He has achieved more than you can imagine. The physician, nutrition researcher, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health

is the most cited nutrition researcher in the world and the second most cited author in clinical medicine, with over 1500 published scientific articles, a full nutrition textbook, and 3 best-selling diet and nutrition books. It’s safe to say he holds a lot of influence in this field, playing an especially large role in the science of the American diet. Willett is now a Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and the Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar where Dr. Willett talked about all his experiences within the food realm and the initiatives he is a part of early February of 2016. At first, to me he was just a man with an unmistakable mustache, talking about how he once had a McDonald’s veggie burger at an airport that was so unbelievably revolting that he was convinced McDonald’s made it bad to turn people away from the healthier option. However, it took only took a few more sentences for me to become mesmerized by Willett’s discussion of food issues and projects.

Harvard’s Food Literacy Project

As Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Willett has taken the lead on food and nutrition initiatives at Harvard, running a similar program to the EatWell Pod of the Healthy Campus Initiative here at UCLA. The professor is working with Harvard’s food services to develop a Food Literacy Project that consists of educating students about healthy foods, guiding on food resources available throughout campus and Boston, and conveying the principles clinically at Harvard Health Services. His program is school wide and advocates for a healthier lifestyle through better knowledge of the nutritious value certain foods bring as well as the food resources available to students.

Willett had early success with his program. In a joint effort with food services, Willett removed trans fats and reduced sodium in all foods of Harvard’s dining halls by 25% without students even noticing. Through this program he is teaching active fellowship students about the food system at Harvard, introducing them to the leadership involved, and utilizing students’ connections to other students in order to engage the community and connect food-related initiatives and projects to students.

Harvard utilizes a housing system where 90% of the students live in houses all 4 years and eat dining hall food during this time. The Food Literacy Project is efficient in getting connected to students by utilizing its fellows in each of the houses to act as the go-to source for food education. Similar to how the Healthy Campus Initiative here at UCLA is establishing a student presence by utilizing its student connections and outreach within the resident halls and through a variety of clubs. Through their Literacy Program, table tents that come on a rotating basis are set up near the dining halls with fellows and other individuals there to educate people about healthy food choices with posters and other materials. Through this program, they’ve even noticed a 50% increase in students from freshman year to senior year choosing brown rice over white rice.

Struggles Faced

However, Willett highlighted that a real struggle of the overall program is a lack of a formalized curriculum. They get passionate students and researchers involved in the program, but after 4 years they are gone. The problem Willett is facing is that there is a lack of a formalized curriculum and organization that would allow a continuous recycle of information from older students to younger ones. This lack of organization leads to many active students graduating with valuable information that is not utilized in subsequent years. Furthermore, the lack of career advantage for professors to teach these types of courses limits the numbers of courses they can provide and thus diminishes the interest he could gain from students. Willett’s passion for nutritional science is clear as he strongly says that he’s seen people even change career directions entirely because of some courses they took. He remarks that this field is open to a variety of different people with different interests from biology, physiology, education, public policy, to large-scale data research. Though he’s really disappointed that some of the most popular classes such as Global Nutrition, Nutrition, and Health, can’t be offered as much because they just do not have the resources for them.

Harvard Food Literacy Project

Tackling Sugary Soda at Harvard

One example of Willett’s success is the change in availability of sodas at Harvard dining halls. At Harvard, he ideally does not want to eliminate those soda options, (partially due to the company contracts they have in dining halls), but just encourage students to move away from them or provide less sugary options. He’s developed a 3 color categorization for sugary drinks, with red (obviously indicative of being bad) being for drinks above 1g/oz of sugar, yellow being artificial sweeteners, and green being no sugar. By labeling these drink options at the soda machines with small stickers and providing a sign with the corresponding description of each color, he was able to influence student decisions towards less sugary options. Harvard dining has even made great leaps to reduce their 100% fruit juice to 50%, decreasing the sugar intake by a lot.

Tackling Sugary Soda at UCLA

Right here on campus at our very own lovely Bruin Plate, or BPlate, we have no commercial sodas served. All of the drinks at BPlate are made with carbonated water and fruit extracts that make for a delightful spritzer in our mouth. According to a BPlate Manager, these sodas have reduced sugar content over commercial sodas. I remember when Bplate opened, everyone was very excited about those spritzers. UCLA has done an exceptional job with BPlate being the ideal and premier healthy campus dining hall.

Beyond the Universities

Willett is clearly a man with hands in a thousand different pots and his visions for a healthier world are inspiring. He truly wants to bridge this gap between science and diet, to create a reformed policy that overall benefits all of society, whether it be at Harvard or in small towns. His impact has even been seen when he was part of the program that influenced Starbucks to include wheat products into their menu of foods as opposed to pure white flour.

Walter Willett’s visions for a healthier campus and a healthier society are not far from our reach. As students we can make those visions reality by telling our friends and spreading the word about resources, like the Healthy Campus Initiative. Soon enough we will realize that it doesn’t take much to make a change. As an undergraduate student here at UCLA, Walter Willett taught me from his seminar that being a part of something bigger than myself, like the Healthy Campus Initiative is truly empowering and gets me excited about what I can do to make a change on my campus. In writing my blogs, I hope to reach a large community and influence people to live healthier lives and learn more about all the initiatives going on around campus.

Phillip Cox is a 4th year Bioengineering major and blogger for the EatWell Pod within the Healthy Campus Initiative.

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Global Food Initiative launches online toolkit to improve school food

The University of California’s Global Food Initiative (GFI) has launched a free online toolkit aimed at providing anyone working with preK-12 schools with resources to help improve school food, nutrition education, and sustainability.

In 2014, over 17% of children and adolescents nationwide were obese. The National School Lunch Program provides over 30 million lunches per day to students across the country, with school meals providing almost half of daily calories for kids enrolled in breakfast and lunch programs. This puts schools in a uniquely important position to both serve healthy food to students, and also to provide them with the tools and education they need to form healthy, lifelong habits.

“What you eat not only impacts health, it also is strongly linked to academic achievement,” said Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, who led the GFI project. “This toolkit offers resources to help organizations provide students with equitable access to healthy food, so they can eat better and maximize their opportunities for academic success.”

The newly launched Good Food for Local Schools website brings together resources from all of the UC campuses and beyond to provide educators, school administrators, community organizations, and parents, with resources to make good food a reality in their schools and communities. Resources span various sectors from full nutrition and gardening curriculums, to toolkits that guide operational change, to relevant research and policies surrounding school food, to service oriented projects and programs.

The range of resources includes:

a school nutrition curriculum,

• guides for rethinking school lunches and planning school menus,

an agenda for creating a new regional food system,

research to support healthy school meals,

a sample school food donation policy, and.

a documentary about the school food chain.

The toolkit was developed by members of the UC GFI community, who work with school districts all over the state to procure, cook, serve and teach about healthy and sustainable food. The site was created in close collaboration with the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, as well as representatives from local school districts and experts from community nonprofits.

The EatWell Pod of UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative is featured on the site, serving as an exemplary model for how a university can engage with local food systems through curriculum, on-campus programming, and community engagement.

Other UCLA featured resources include:

Food Studies Graduate Certificate Program

DIG Campus Garden Coalition

Fit for Healthy Weight Program

Transforming Corner Stores: Integrating Health, Food and Community

How to Set Up a School Salad Bar Manual

For more information about Good Food for Local Schools, please visit


By Meghan O’Connell, MPH student and Healthy Campus Initiative and Global Food Initiative GSR

UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative works closely with the UC Global Food Initiative. The GFI, launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014, addresses the critical issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025. The initiative aligns the university’s research, outreach and operations in a sustained effort to develop, demonstrate and export solutions — throughout California, the United States and the world — for food security, health and sustainability.