Natural Chef Patty James stopped in Santa Barbara this week to interview children for her cross-country mission to improve children’s health. As founder of Shine the Light on America’s Kids, Patty will be stopping in towns in all fifty states to get directly to the source on children’s health: kids themselves. Over the next year, she will interview kids about their health, gathering data to find out how to solve a growing problem in our country.
In the United States, sixteen percent of children ages six to 19 are overweight or obese. Almost a third of children ages four to 19 eat fast food every day. If these trends continue, this generation will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than its parents.
Patty has a Master’s degree in Holistic Nutrition and recently co-authored a book of recipes called More Vegetables, Please! Over 100 Easy and Delicious Recipes for Eating Healthy Foods Each and Every Day. Until 2008, she operated the first certified organic cooking school and nutrition center in the country, the Patty James Cooking School and Nutrition Center.
In an interview Wednesday morning, Patty’s blue eyes lit up with a passion for her work that has literally become an all-consuming mission, as Patty will spend a year eating and sleeping in the Shine the Light RV, which will take her on a very personal journey across fifty states.
Patty said the idea for Shine the Light came to her in a transitional period in her life. Having just closed her cooking school, she was spending some time on her sister Margaret’s farm in Oregon. Out on a walk with her dogs, Patch and Wilma, Patty said it just all of a sudden hit her what she had to do: help America’s kids to be healthy. Speaking of kids, Patty said, “They’re sponges. They work with you, they listen to you, but they’re not always listened to.”
Patty’s concept for Shine the Light on America’s Kids centers around the need to listen to what kids have to say about their own health. Patty admitted that kids may not always know best, but stressed the importance of getting them involved in the process. “You can get through to kids, but you have to get out there and talk to them first,” said Patty.
On Thursday, January 21, Patty stopped by Santa Barbara’s Open Alternative School to talk about bone health with sixth graders and to interview three randomly selected children on their health. She asks questions such as “what is your definition of health?” “do you think you’re healthy?” and “how can we help you or your family be healthier?” She then posts videos of the interviews on her website.
Not all answers are helpful — one girl said she enjoyed eating Ho-Ho’s for breakfast every morning — but those interviewed have often been astute and informed. In Sebastopol, for example, an eighth grader named Claire expressed concern that a bag of carrots costs more than a fast food hamburger.
After all the interviews have been conducted, the data will be analyzed by researchers at Sonoma State University, and a team of people will work with Patty to develop a comprehensive program to improve children’s health in the United States. This may take the form of a health center, a school lunch program, or a guide for parents. Patty stressed the importance, however, of listening to what each child has to say. “There are stats,” she said. “You can go to the CC and read the stats. But it’s not the same as talking to [children].”
For now, Patty is taking things day by day. She estimates the end project will require $3 million. Her year-long journey in her RV with her two dogs will require $125,000, much of which is yet to be raised. After her two day stop in Santa Barbara, she continues on to Compton and then Las Vegas.
Patty told me about her experiences growing up. She was raised with simple food, she said. It was homemade, not necessarily organic or cooked with health in mind, but the emphasis was always put on spending time with the family at the table. She played outside mostly, and she raised her three children in the same way. Speaking of the busy lifestyle many parents lead, she acknowledged that it’s hard to prepare three healthy meals a day. “You have to prepare for health,” Patty said, “you know how busy you are. So an hour on a Sunday, get the whole family to chop up some veggies. You always make time to do the things you want to do. We all do. For parents, that’s their responsibility.”
To check out a list of easy, healthy recipes that the whole family can enjoy, visit pattyjames.com.