Another New Charla: Nutrition for Salvadoran Families

I write frequently about the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fairs which are jointly coordinated between the Lutheran Church network in El Salvador and the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA  (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).  There are many months of preparation and work that go into these fairs, and a variety of events and projects which happen throughout the year to provide follow-up to the fairs.  We just finished up with the 2020 fair in the northern region last week, marking our 20th anniversary of accompanying people who live in poor communities in the areas of health and wellness.

This year, my teaching charla was about nutrition.  We decided that we had saturated the market with information about menopause, so it was time for me to be assigned a new topic:  Nutrition.  Originally, we wanted to develop a nutrition talk mostly for adults because they are the ones who make the decisions about what food goes on the table.  However, we found ourselves in a couple of school settings, and it became necessary to incorporate a little more drama into my charla.  The setting is important:  a little table, covered with a rainbow cloth, holds a lovely purple basket of plastic fruits and vegetables and a poster called Sugar Shockers. On the front of the table is a giant poster of a nutrition facts label. More about those later.

Now, I present to you, my 2020 Nutrition Charla: 

Hello, my name is Linda.  I am an educator and a worker in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  Today I am sharing a little charla about nutrition.

When we speak about Salvadoran nutrition, the first thing we need to do is give thanks to God for the tortilla, because the tortilla is always present on our table.  (I have a beautiful photo of tortillas which I place on the table.)  Sometimes there is nothing else, but there is always the tortilla, so we say thank you.

The tortilla is very good for filling our bellies, but, if we look at the nutrition information (I hold up my tortilla picture which has an information graphic superimposed on it), we can see that the tortilla does not have many of the nutrients we need to have healthy bodies.  (We notice the level of carbohydrates.  Some are surprised that the tortilla is not full of vitamins.  If applicable, we talk about those in the group whose doctors have told them to eat only one or two tortillas per day.  We also acknowledge, that there are times when the tortilla is the only food available, so we have to eat it, and we give thanks to God for it.*)

When we talk about nutrition, we are talking about the moments when we have the blessing of a bit of change in our pockets, or trees full of fruit, or a good harvest of beans and we make decisions:  What will I eat that is good for my body?  What will I purchase with my quarter?  What will I buy for my children?

Let's play a game.  These are cards which have pictures of foods that are very common in El Salvador.  The gray bar graph shows the quantity of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Protein and other nutrients in the foods. Pick 2 cards each, and let's see what we can learn about the nutrition in the foods we eat.   (Depending on the group or the amount of time, I have participants pick one or a few cards**. If people cannot read, we navigate this a little differently.)

Who has a food with lots of ______?  (We do a little comparison among the foods for each of the various nutrients.  If there is a young mom in the group, I make sure the maternal milk card is in the mix.  I always make sure beans, carrots, melon, beets, watermelon, green leaves (mora, espinaca, chipilín) and maracuyá are in the mix.  One goal for this part of the charla is to illustrate that many of the foods that grow in the community are very healthy.)

Who has a card with a food that has no nutrition for our bodies?  (The cards with soda, chips, candy emerge. Depending on the group, we spend a little time talking about sugar in beverages using the Sugar Shockers poster.  Most people are shocked by the sugar content in sports drinks.  With kids and parents of young kids we talk about treats.)

If you have a quarter and you are going to buy a treat, what is best?  (Parents are very interested in the comparisons between bread, cookies, chips, and fruit!)

OK.  So we have learned a little something about the nutrients in the foods we eat, and what is in the beverages we drink.  Let's talk about a very practical and fun strategy we can use to make sure we eating foods with lots of vitamins and nutrition for our bodies.  It is called:  Eating the Rainbow.

What does it mean to eat the rainbow?  Are we talking about this rainbow? (Everyone shouts NO when I hold up the picture of soda and a slushie.  Sometimes I ask if anyone has tried a slushie.  All the hands go up slowly.)  I can see no one wants to admit they eat slushies because we know they are not good for our bodies.  Why?  (They answer:  sugar, artificial colorant.)  I ask:  Do you know where the ice came from?  Was it water from the spigot?  Was it water from the river? (Looks of horror appear on the mothers' faces.)  How do you know?  You can go to my husband's charla over there to learn more about how to avoid eating poop. (This gets a good response.  My husband had the Typhoid Prevention Charla featuring a giant poop emoji.)

This is the rainbow we want to eat.  (I show a beautiful picture of fruits, veggies, grains, nuts and seeds.  I also hand out the plastic veggies and fruits to all the children in the group so they can help me.)  We can think about eating a rainbow during each week.  If on Monday we have tortillas, rice, beans and watermelon, then on Tuesday we can have ______ . (The participants are fantastic at brainstorming colorful menus for the week.  Depending on time, composition of the group and interest, we talk about soup, atoles and how to make healthy pupusas.)

Here are two creative ideas for you, to help you to eat the rainbow.

Have you ever tried a pink tortilla? (1 out of 600 participants said yes).  Let's make a pink tortilla.  Everyone hold up your beet.  (We pretend all the plastic produce is beets.)  Wash your beets.  Wash, wash, get all the dirty part off.  OK, they are clean, now put them in the water.  (We pretend to boil the beets.)  Ooh this is hot.  I have to take the peel off.  (I peel my pretend beet.)  I am going to put the peel right here.  Put all the peels here.  OK.  Mmmmm our beets are ready to make beet salad and it is so delicious. 

The beets are gone, but we have 2 things left here on the table.  (Kids usually shout out:  the water and the peels!)  I am going to put all these peels in my freezer for later.  (I open my pretend freezer and put them in.)  What color is this water? (pink!)  What can I do with it?  (Some people say make juice but most say throw it away.)  I can make my masa!  (I dump the pretend water into my pretend corn flour and pretend to make masa.)  What color is my masa? (pink! We make pretend tortillas.)  More than the pink color, the tortilla has nutrients from the water.  You can do this with any clean vegetable water than you have after you make your vegetables. (Note:  Salvadorans make awesome vegetables mostly by parboiling them with a little water in the pan.  This is the water we are talking about recovering.)  Imagine the fun you can have making vegetable tortillas for your children, including pink ones and green ones for Christmas!

We still have something we haven't used. (Everyone remembers the peels.  I pull them out of my pretend freezer.)  I have a garden in little containers outside of my kitchen in the United States.  I want to get the most value from my garden and from the vegetables I buy.  So I wash them really well and save all the skins and parts that are not good for eating, like the skins from the beets.  This is a photo from my kitchen.  (I hold up a photo with a funny title that translates to "garbage dump broth." The participants think this is pretty funny.)  What is garbage dump broth?  It is a soup made from all of the clean skins and vegetable parts that are too ripe or too tough.  (The group starts identifying floating objects in the pot in the photo.)  I keep the skins in my freezer until I have a quantity of them.  If you don't have a freezer you can just make this right away from the clean vegetable scraps you have.  Boil them in water for 30 minutes to an hour and then strain the broth.  You can feed the scraps to your plants.  I use the broth in place of water to make rice or beans or a sauce.  I really do use this and if you come to my house and eat my rice you will see it has very good flavor.

(Faces lit up with this idea, but the best response to this part of my charla came from Pastor Emely.  She coordinates the homeless shelter ministry for the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  With great animation she said, "Every day at Casa Esperanza we throw away all the peels and look what we are wasting!  We could make this every day to use for our rice.  This is like giving the people a free vitamin.)

Does anyone have any questions or comments?  The next time I come, do you think I might find a pink tortilla on your table or a garbage dump soup over your fire?  Thank you for listening to my charla.  I hope you have learned a little bit today.

One guy told me to trademark my name for the garbage dump soup.  One woman told me that my charla was a 10 out of 10.  One group actually applauded and gave a standing ovation.  My point in sharing these responses is that it is 100% worth the time and effort that goes into creating a charla that is colorful, interactive, well-researched and practical.  Over and over again, we hear from the Ministry of Health that the most impactful accompaniment we can provide is in the area of health education. 

Thank you to all of the team members in the US and in El Salvador who worked hard to create and deliver charlas over the past 20 years.  Thank you to the amazing support network that donates resources and funds which make it possible to have an annual Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair and to reinforce wellness and preventative health education throughout the year.

*I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to honor and respect the foods which people who live in poverty have available to them.  When we talk about making choices, we who live in privilege may not know what it means to have no choices, to survive on 2 tortillas and a little salt for a day, to go to bed hungry or to have children who are on the edge of starving.  The Health Ministry told us that diabetes and obesity continue to increase as health challenges in El Salvador, and we need to focus our teaching on a return to eating natural foods. Understanding obesity in the context of lack of food and lack of food choice is important.  Like many of the charlas, the Nutrition Charla needs to be fluid in content depending on urban vs. rural settings, age and education level of the participants, and in sync with realities such as drought and soil/water contamination.  

**I made the cards from a document produced in 2016 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Charla stories from previous years include:
More Charlas
The Mesa Final (this is more humorous than it sounds)
Menopause Charla
My Flashy Charla


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