Interview: Shana Donahue on Food Justice and Her Journey from UDC to FoodCorps

Shana Donahue, FoodCorps Washington D.C. service member

My name is Mark Bowen and I am a recruiter with FoodCorps. We’re in the midst of our application period, which means that you can apply to become a service member from now through March 31st. In order for potential service members to better understand what day to day life is like in schools teaching kids about healthy food, I sat down with current service member Shana Donahue.

Shana Donahue, FoodCorps service memberShana serves with FRESHFARM Markets, conducting food education classes in classrooms and gardens during and after school hours at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast Washington, D.C. She has a cool demeanor and is always smiling, but it is obvious she takes her work with her students seriously – making sure students are engaged in healthy and safe practices every step of the way.

There are six fifth grade students* in her afterschool class today. Jakaya explains, “We are making carrot salad. We are adding our own seasonings and condiments, which will be our dressing. At the end, we will taste each of the salads we made, and then whoever has the most votes in the end will win.” As Jakaya explains the activity, there are whisks twirling in bowls, carrots being grated, sweet and sour smells in the air, and a lot of excitement.

FullSizeRender-3I ask the young ladies what else they have made in the class. Amaya explains, “We have made potato salad, cornbread, pizza, and apple-beet salad.” Each student votes on their favorite dish they have prepared so far: two for cornbread, one for apple-beet salad, and one for butternut squash soup. Many of the ingredients used in their meals are grown in the garden at Ludlow-Taylor.

In the end, there were no definitive winners of whose carrot salad was the best. All the participants agreed that each salad had such a unique taste that they were all winners.

I interviewed Shana Donahue about her FoodCorps experience, and here’s what she had to say:

“I always want to put the best things in me so I can be the best. And I want children, and people in general, to have the information to know what to put in them so they can be their best.”

What influenced your decision to join FoodCorps?

At the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), I am a member of MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences). I did not go to the [MANNRS] conference in Houston but my advisor did. She connected with a recruiter from FoodCorps, and explained the opportunity to me.

A lot of my family has experienced several diet related diseases and I’ve always had an interest in nutrition, which is my major – nutrition and dietetics. I felt being able to be in schools, teach children nutrition education, and teach children things that I was not taught when I was in school was a rewarding opportunity. Also, I felt the experience would be awesome, and it has been awesome!

What is a typical day like for you as a FoodCorps service member?

My days vary. There are usually no FoodPrints classes on Mondays and Fridays. Those days are more gardening (when it’s in season), planning, emails, lesson planning for my after school classes and coordinating meetings like the Wellness Committee here at Ludlow-Taylor.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I co-teach FoodPrints classes with Martine Hippolyte, one of my amazing site supervisors. Those days are usually a little more hectic because we usually have two classes each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and vary from one hour for pre kindergarten and two hours for older students. Between classes I prepare for other classes. That may be washing and preparing vegetables, and dependent on the grade level, there may be more preparation that needs to be done. For example, the pre-k and kindergarten classes may need more prep on the front end. After each class there is a lot of cleaning to do!

What has been your most memorable experience during thus far as a service member?

I think it was today! When Kiara’s mother exclaimed, “I can’t believe you got Kiara to eat carrots! Kiara never eats carrots at home. And look, she loves them!” I never knew Kiara didn’t eat carrots because she always eats everything that we prepare. So that was a big moment for me – actually seeing the effect my service is having on the kids. That’s the reward.

Why is food justice important to you? And do you see an intersection between food justice and social justice?

Definitely. One of the main pillars in FoodCorps is access. When it comes to access, you can see the disparities between different groups. Whether due to income, social status, ethnic background, or where someone lives geographically, you can see a difference in the quality of food and availability of local food within those institutions. Being able to link children who may not come across it often otherwise to healthy food is a service worth doing to me.

Nutrition is a big part of my values. I always want to put the best things in me so I can be the best. And I want children, and people in general to have that information to know what to put in them so they can be their best.

As a person of color working in communities of color, what would you say to other people of color about food justice and working with FoodCorps?

Food is universal. No matter who you are, food is important. We all need to eat and we all need healthy nutritious food. But when it comes to African Americans, there are a lot of stigmas around growing food, becoming one with food and knowing where it comes from. I think that should change.

Tell me about those stigmas.

When I told my family what I wanted to study and that I had future aspirations of becoming a farmer one day, they didn’t take it seriously. When I graduate, I will be a first-generation college graduate. My family looks at the career path I have chosen and ask, “Why do you want to study nutrition and be a farmer of all things?” Many African Americans view growing food and agriculture as moving backward, not forward, but I beg to differ. Agriculture is one of the most important industries in the world. I always wanted to do something to help people. I thought I wanted to become a teacher, but then I really got into nutrition. Giving people nutrition and gardening education is still helping people. Regardless of age, color, or location, it’s information that they need. It’s important for whomever you are and wherever you are to know why food is really important.

What does the future hold for Shana Donahue? What are your aspirations? What are your next steps after FoodCorps?

As far as next steps, I plan on finishing school at UDC. Long term, I want to go to grad school, possibly in public health. I also want to become a registered dietician, and continue working in underserved communities by providing nutrition education, gardening education and continue advocating for sustainable healthy local food. Oh, and I want to start a farm!

Apply to FoodCorps now!

*Students’ names have been changed to protect their identities.

This interview is cross-posted with the UDC CAUSES blog.