ANDERSON, Ind. —
A 60-year old woman is offered a cantaloupe at a local food pantry, but she’s never eaten one and doesn’t know how to cut it up. It’s a scene that’s no surprise to Lynn Schocke
“It’s not unusual to have someone say they’ve never had a strawberry, or a pineapple, or a peach,” said Schocke. “Some won’t put vegetables in their mouth at all. To be exposed to spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, squash is almost terrifying.”
Schocke’s job is to educate people about healthy eating, particularly targeted at audiences who may have limited resources. As the family nutrition program assistant with Purdue University Extension in Madison County, Schocke presents classes about three times each week to different groups. Each time, Schocke delivers a sometimes startling message about what constitutes a healthy diet, and she gives participants the opportunity to get hands-on in the kitchen.
“I try to get people excited about eating good food,” said Schocke.
But an additional benefit to eating healthy is the bottom line.
“People say it’s more expensive to eat nutritionally. I say no, no, no,” said Schocke.“The grocery bill goes down when you eat less meat.”
Schocke practices what she preaches. Seven years ago, she weighed over 200 pounds.
Even though Schocke was already armed with the information about how to eat healthy, she said, “I had to learn to eat better. I was being too lazy. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. My back hurt.”
Schocke says that’s how many people wind up in one of her classes. They begin to worry about health, or they already have issues.
“They’ve come to the knowledge they’ve got to change,” said Schocke.
Gasping over fat
Schocke has been teaching adults in Madison County for the last 22 years. She knows her audience, and she knows how to get their attention with a blend of humor and energy and a dose of theatric flair.
Last week at the Park Place Church of God, Schocke addressed a group of 15 people. She graphically demonstrated how much fat lurks inside a burger at the fast food drive-thru.
“One. Two. Three ...” she counted as she spooned out shortening onto a paper plate. By the time she added in the fat from a large serving of fries, the plate was covered with globs of shortening. There were mild gasps as people in the room realized how much fat was contained in a simple burger and fries meal.
The cupful of sugar that Schocke measured out to show what a 32-ounce soda actually contains was also met with mild horror.
The other half of Schocke’s approach is to introduce people to healthy foods and how to prepare them. Last week, the folks at Park Place were whipping up a healthy burrito, a fruit smoothie and roasted vegetables.
Belinda and Jeff Lakey of Anderson were among the crew helping to chop up sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cabbage, onions, peppers and beets to be roasted. Belinda has attended the class several times.
“I like it. I learn new recipes,” said Belinda. “It’s fun.”
Herbs and spices are part of Shocke’s healthy food arsenal. Anderson resident Marie Lindsey was crumbling rosemary into a bowl. Lindsey said that health problems inspired her to learn to eat healthier.
“This program is great. ... I’m coming back to learn a little bit more,” said Lindsey.
Schocke is quick to point out that Madison County has the worst health report card in the state. Indeed, the 2013 County Health Rankings show that Madison County ranks 92 out of 92 counties for health behaviors. It’s a spot they claimed in 2012 as well. That means that when it comes to smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, motor vehicle crash deaths, sexually transmitted infections, and teen birth rate, Madison County has significantly higher rates than national benchmarks. Most are significantly higher than statewide rates. The state, Schocke noted, is already in the bottom 10 on the health spectrum nationwide.
Schocke’s out to do something about that, even if it’s an uphill battle. She celebrates the victories she sees happening, one kitchen at a time.
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