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Student Flexes Her Flax Power

Link to Observer Article
By Genoa Barrow

The term "black market" usually congers up thoughts of smuggled tapestries, banned pharmaceuticals and for the morose, body parts. To students at Sacramento High School, the black market can yield large bags of chips, candy, and liter bottles of soda.

(Photo) Charity Smith (third from left) has received support from other students like Andrea Griffith, Anthony Wandick and La Tescha Williams, each very active in the Youth Congress of Sacramento High School.

Students buy food items off campus to either consume themselves or sell to other students. During lunchtime, some use their cell phones to have pizza and Chinese food delivered to them.

A Sacramento High junior, Charity Smith, is leading an effort to bring her classmates healthier options. As a member of LEARN, or Lifting Educational Achievement with Real Nutrition, Smith is working to open a stand in the school cafeteria called Flax Snax. The group is compromised mostly of adult doctors and educators, but Smith holds her own.

An active student, she also serves on the Sacramento City Unified School District Student Advisory Board. Sitting on the board are 14 student representatives from area high schools, that bring student concerns to the forefront and provide them with a voice in the decision making process.

Smith insists that she isn't the junk food police, that she simply wants to see more choices on campus.

"We only get (30 minutes) for lunch. With 2,500 students, there are long lines. Some kids don't ever eat if they're at the back of the line," she said.

Flax Snacks would offer two items initially, a smoothie and bean soup. As the name implies, the snacks would have at their base flaxseeds. Flax, slightly bigger than a sesame seed, is flat and oval with a pointed tip. Seeds can range in color from reddish brown to light yellow, as produced in the U.S., and are rich in protein, fiber and fatty acids, particularly omega-3s. Omega-3 is vital for the development and ongoing health of the brain and eye and can be found in fish, fish oils, vegetable oils, and green leafy vegetables.

Charity Smith, shown here at center, and LERN say adding flax to a diet has definite benefits for young people and educators as it can improve complexion, memory, resistance, to colds and flu, reduce asthma and allergies and increase stamina - all of which can improve classroom performance and grades.

Smith was first introduced to flax after her father was diagnosed with diabetes.

"His illness got the family as a whole to start eating healthy," she said.

The Smiths particularly enjoy ground flax added to their pancake batter. Research has shown that omega-3s alleviate and protect against diabetes, cancer, heart disease and depression. All hit the African American community at alarming rates.

The idea for a snack stand stemmed from a presentation LEARN conducted on campus last year. Smith was intrigued by the seed's many nutritional values - and that other people even knew what it was.

Forty years ago, most Americans had never heard of yogurt and sprouts but now they are everywhere. In a few years, flax will be a common ingredient in foods," LEARN founding member Lauren Ayers said. Ayers is also a teacher at Charles M. Goethe Middle School.

"My concerns as a teacher is my students; is the brain getting what it needs?" she said.

With the prevalence of eating disorders and child obesity, a nationwide focus has been put on the food served at school. Some schools have banned soda; installed vending machines that dispense fruit instead of chips and cookies; and created vegetarian menus.

Smith and a number of other likeminded students got support for the idea from school and district officials, but when the campus was taken over by Kevin Johnson's St. Hope Corporation, she says, it was back to square one.

Among those offering early advice was Marc Lemieux, director of SCUSD's Nutrition Services department. While he offered to help her, since the turnover, he and the district have no say in what school administrators do on their campus. St. Hope does contract with SCUSD to provide food to its cafeteria.

"Her first step would be the president of St. Hope," Lemieux said.

Those administrators, he said, will most certainly have questions about facility issues and USDA guidelines.

The district's cafeteria program, he adds, ranks among the top 10 percent in the state. SCUSD, Lemieux adds, is compliant with Senate Bill 19, which "places various prohibitions on the sales of beverages in elementary schools and places nutritional standards on the types of foods that may be sold to students during school breaks and through vending machines." More specifically, Lemieux says, it regulates what percent of calories, fat and sugar each sold food item is allowed to have.

"We serve pretty healthy food. The problem with healthy food is that it's adult driven, it's not necessarily what kids want to be eating, but what the adults think they should be eating," he shared.

SB 19 also established a committee that makes recommendations to school district policies on nutrition and physical activity.

In June 2000, the SCUSD turned down a $2 million deal with PepsiCo, Inc. to exclusively see Pepsi products within the district, after opposition from parents and advocacy groups. Officials had hoped to use the money to counteract the effects of stiff budget cuts.

Smith isn't giving up. She said she and the 13 other Student Advisory Board members constantly hear educators talk about finding ways to improve student behavior and decrease expulsion rate. She's educating any educator who'll listen that better nutrition could be the answer to their woes.


Lauren Ayers

James Curiel, PhD
Professor, Sociology

Don Glines
Educational Futures

Hasan Hanks

Jeanie Keltner, PhD
Editor, Because People Matter

Michael J. Kwiker, D.O.

William Mora, M.D.
Health Associates Medical Group

Susan Montoya

Cynthia Mulcaire

Carlina Nowrocki

Robert O’Brien, MA

Suiying Saechao
Member LEAF at Hiram Johnson HS

Charity Smith
President Youth Congress at Sac High