11/07/11 — Food activist working to help others eat better

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Food activist working to help others eat better

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 7, 2011 1:46 PM

Kebreeya Lewis never envisioned herself as a trailblazer when she made the personal choice two years ago to start eating healthier.

And yet the 17-year-old senior at Wayne School of Engineering has done just that -- working with several garden projects in the community, helping introduce a salad bar in her school cafeteria, being featured in an upcoming HBO documentary and currently in the running for an online campaign to recognize real food leaders.

She simply wanted to feel better, and if in turn she could help others do that, so much the better.

"When I started, I started with no fast food for a month," she explained. "I stopped drinking soda for a month. That was two years ago. I still haven't had a soda.

"I became a vegetarian last year. And then last year I didn't eat cafeteria food because I had wanted to add a salad bar. I started a schoolwide campaign about getting a salad bar for our cafeteria."

She researched what it would take to accomplish that, meeting with the child nutrition director of Wayne County Public Schools, Barbara Ward.

It took about a year, but in August, an adjacent room just off the cafeteria at Goldsboro High School was converted to a salad bar. Mrs. Ward said having space available helped, plus the fact they didn't have to hire additional staff.

Funds, she said, were directed to the project from child nutrition money.

"We did it as a pilot program to see how the kids would accept it," she said. "We're just going to keep it monitored, as long as the kids are eating it."

Debra Laughlin, cafeteria manager at the school, said she was "definitely very happy" to have the offering at the school.

"I'm really glad we're going more to the fresher vegetables," she said.

The year started out having the salad bar open two days a week but has grown to five days, she said.

"Everyone enjoys it," said Kebreeya. "I did a school lunch survey of my classmates. They wanted healthier food. Our school's really enjoyed it."

And while the Goldsboro High campus may be the only one with an actual salad bar, Mrs. Ward said, area middle and high schools do have a chef salad option two days a week.

Kebreeya also expanded her efforts. From having "my own garden in my backyard," to working with Students Working for An Agricultural Revolutionary Movement, a small group of students dedicated to raising awareness of local farmers and products and helping educate the public on agriculture, she became involved in other community garden projects, volunteering with similar efforts at Dillard Academy and the garden at the Goldsboro branch of the Wayne County Public Library.

Filmmakers from HBO learned of her activities and came to the area to film her for an upcoming documentary, "Weight of a Nation," featuring "self-motivated kids whose authentic experiences are making their world healthier."

"The HBO show is going to be aired May 2012," she said. "It will be me eating healthier, working toward getting the salad bar."

And now she has been nominated for yet another accolade. The "Real Food Challenge" has been narrowed down to 19 finalists from across the nation in five categories -- student group or student activist, worker leader, producer, food service director or manager, and administrator or faculty member.

Kebreeya is the one of five and the only high school student in her category, student group or student activist, and the only representative from North Carolina.

Online voting at RealFoodChallenge.org ends Wednesday and winners will be announced Nov. 18. Winners will be awarded a cash prize of $750.

"I'm excited," she admitted. "I really want to win."

And while she is pleased at the mark she has made locally, she is intent upon continuing to convey the message that began with changes to her own eating habits.

She plans to graduate in December, then attend N.C. Central University in January.

"Maybe I'll start some type of garden-type program out there, or something for youth or teenagers about living a healthier life," she said.