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Monica Z. Utsey is an accomplished writer and editor. Her work has appeared in national magazines including Heart & Soul, the Crisis Magazine, and Upscale. In addition to writing, she and her husband operate two successful businesses, One Word Tees & Baby Soul for Boys, clothing lines that feature motivational words.

Monica is also the President of the Southern DC Chapter of Mocha Moms, Inc. She is a foreign language enthusiast, avid reader, breastfeeding peer counselor, and proponent of Attachment Parenting. She is currently working on two books: Etiquette for African-American Children and Attachment Parenting for African-American Families.

She and her husband Eric have been unschooling their only son, Zion, age 4 since birth. Monica is a member of the Capital Area Homeschooling Community in Washington, D.C., and facilitates its book club for the early years (ages 3-6). Her future plans include returning to her Alma matter, Howard University, to teach about Afro-Latino Language and Culture.



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Are you supersizing? Teaching Children the Importance of Eating Healthy

Almost half of all African-American women are obese. As their first teachers, our children are paying close attention to us because almost 30% of African-American children are overweight too. As homeschooling families, we have a wonderful opportunity to reverse this trend when we teach our children about nutrition. Doing so helps our children create a lifelong way of eating healthy in order to avoid getting the big three: diabetes, heart disease and high-blood pressure. All of these diseases disproportionately affect people of color. Living and learning is much more fun when you’ve got good health.

My family is not vegetarian (we eat salmon), but we try to eat as healthy as possible. Still, the occasional stop at McDonalds for some fries and a toy was a part of our lives. That all changed after we viewed the film, "Supersize Me," which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock crisscrossed the country interviewing health experts in major cities, including Houston, the "Fattest City" in America. During the filming, Spurlock used himself as a human guinea pig by putting himself on a 100% McDonalds diet for 30 straight days. Spurlock went from a healthy165-pound man (his girlfriend was a vegan chef) to a very sick 225 pounds in a mere month. He was always tired and exhausted, easily depressed, and appeared to be addicted to the fast food. By day 21 his internist was begging him to stop the experiment because his liver was starting to atrophy like that of an alcoholic! After all was said and done, it took Spurlock five months to lose the weight he’d gained in 30 short days.

Though this was a very extreme example of what an unhealthy diet can do to the body, it worked. My 5-year-old son, who used to love to go to McDonalds for the latest toys, became their most ardent detractor. He started questioning kids on the playground, "Do you eat at McDonalds? Did you know it was bad for you?" What really drove it home for Zion was the scene where (sorry if this is gross) Spurlock regurgitates after eating a Big Mac. He didn’t even want to drive past McDonalds.

Now that I had Zion’s attention, the door was wide open for me to expose him to all sorts of healthier food alternatives. We visited a local health food store and purchased a wall vitamin and mineral wall chart with food illustrations explaining what foods are comprised of and how they affect the body. Now, when Zion has a cold, we talk about Vitamin C, its healing properties, what food provides this vitamin, and how it helps make the immune system stronger in order to fight the cold.

In addition to Zion spreading the word about the film "Supersize Me," I’ve shared it with members of my local homeschool community. As a result, one of our cooperative learning topics will be about nutrition. We are going to have a Live Foods Chef come in and show our children how to prepare healthy food that is still living, not dead (cooked).

Children are so literal that I believe giving them the truth empowers them. Therefore, as his first teacher, I believe I must expose him to healthy eating and healthy eaters. Recently, we attended a fundraiser for a school that is operated by the Auser Auset spiritual community. We had a wonderful brunch of pancakes, scrambled tofu, and veggie sausage. While Zion was cleaning his plate, I explained to him that this yummy breakfast was devoid of eggs and meat. He also participated in a Vegetarian Cooking Class for Kids sponsored by Everlasting Life, a health food store in our area. The children made vegan pizzas, using pizza bread, melted soy cheese, tomato sauce and textured vegetable protein. I’m also encouraging my local Mocha Moms support group to schedule quarterly healthy foods potlucks for children. The goal is to have children prepare the meal and bring it to share with other children. This spring, now that Zion is old enough, we will be able to grow food as participants in the children’s garden here in Washington, D.C.

In addition to exposing the fast food industry, "Super Size Me" explores the horrors of school lunch programs and declining health and physical education classes in most schools. We learn that most lunches are made of reheated, processed, high-fat foods. Whole foods, vegetables and fruits are practically non-existent.

The alternative school Appleton Central High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, for troubled teens is profiled in the film. They are served food from the company Natural Ovens Bakery of Manitoch, Wisconsin. The food is mostly low-fat, low-sugar, unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and veggies, no frying, lots of baking and fresh preparation. There are no candy or soda machines, only bottled water. The foods are free of dyes and preservatives. They do not serve beef. A miraculous thing happened when they got rid of the junk food: the behavior problems disappeared. They no longer looked like at-risk children. They were more focused and teachers get more out of them in class. Well, go figure.

What our children eat today, will determine their health status as adults. So everything we do must be worthy of imitation, especially what we eat.

Supersize Me: A film of epic portions