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Drexel Nutritionist Hopes to Bring Food Sovereignty to Dornsife

June 25, 2015

A Drexel nutritionist is doing her part to help put an end to food insecurity in the Mantua and Powelton Village neighborhoods surrounding Drexel University’s campus.  Brandy-Joe Milliron, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, worked with Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, director of culinary arts and food science in the Center for Hospitality & Sport Management, and Catherine Murray, director of community partnerships, to submit a grant proposal to the Aetna Foundation to bring food sovereignty to the Drexel University Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.  The grant would provide funding for seeds, labor and the sustainable project pieces needed for the garden, and would allow them to hire a co-op student.  The funding would sustain the project for two years.

Food sovereignty is a term typically used in reference to large food systems in an agricultural model, but Milliron uses it in terms of neighborhood nutrition, food access and food justice programming.  “Health and food is a human right.  I used the part of the definition that is the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food that is produced in an ecologically sound way,” said Milliron. 

Perhaps the most important piece of this project is to grow seasonal, culturally appropriate foods that are also affordable and can be purchased with SNAP benefits.  These foods should be calorically dense so they can be made into a center-of-the-plate meal.  

If given the grant, Milliron plans to recruit members of the Mantua and Powelton Village neighborhoods who are involved with Dornsife, and who have already adopted healthy lifestyle behaviors, to be neighborhood nutrition advocates.  These advocates will be trained to deliver nutrition education programming that is focused on cooking.  The nutrition advocates can then teach neighborhood residents healthy ways to cook these foods.  “I’m from North Carolina.  In the south, people eat a lot of collard greens, which are typically fried in bacon fat.  We can’t tell people not to use fat, that’s not culturally appropriate.  We need to modify preparation methods for these foods,” said Milliron. 

 “One thing that they already do at Dornsife is monthly community dinners.  There is a class through the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, there are 8 students who work side by side, and cook for the community.  So everyone shares a meal together.  The food that they harvest from the garden goes toward that meal,” said Milliron.   

The project is slated to start in October.  If successful, Milliron hopes to pilot test it in other neighborhoods that surround the Dornsife Center in the future.