My Graduate Research: Gender Diversity and Food Literacy

Written By: Barb Sheldon, MA, CHNC

Four years of graduate studies taught me more than I could have conceived. It changed me as a person. It commanded my attention, made me sit up straight, and created an awareness about the world around me that I didn’t know I was capable of. I entered the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program wanting to create real change in the lives of vulnerable youth, through food education. Three years of course work on Leadership, Communications, Global Human Resources, Emotional Intelligence, Interdisciplinary Scholarship, Program Design and Evaluation and the LGBTQ2S+ community prepared me to launch into my thesis work around Food Literacy and Youth experiencing marginalization.  It was, of course, not the academic experience that taught me what I needed entirely, but the real life experiences of working with kids that contained my greatest learning.

Before Covid, I had planned to conduct a series of cooking classes with transgender and gender-diverse youth for my research. I wanted to discover how food literacy affected the health and wellness of this community. Then, we were no longer able to see anyone in person, and so my research had to change. This was, of course, for the best. For in the pivot of my thesis I began to instead explore the barriers that youth experiencing marginalization faced when it came to food literacy. Classes seemed to be available for all kinds of kids, in all kinds of situations. Foods classes in schools, extracurricular classes geared towards lower income or LGBTQ2S+ youth, health classes in group settings, online learning, even free Youtube courses- all of these things were available in some capacity in North America. And yet the research showed that while this type of learning was out there, kids were not engaging. And if they did engage at first, this dropped off significantly over time, and they were back where they started- not cooking, not accessing fresh food, and eating more and more from Drive-thru windows, or worse- abusing food and creating dangerous health outcomes. The barriers discovered were many- no access to kitchens, lower income due to discrimination around gender or sexuality, community food security issues, abuse in kitchen employment environments, lack of parental support- many reasons exist why youth do not cook and eat well. One finding, however, stood out for me more than all of those barriers: lack of self worth.

So yes, it can be hard for kids experiencing marginalization to access food. But to think that their own sense that they didn’t deserve to learn food literacy skills, or didn’t deserve to be nourished well was a reason for them not living optimally? Well, this broke my brain. And my heart. I am a mother of two kids now out on their own, making their own food choices and nourishing themselves with food skills that were taught to them in their childhood kitchen. My kids, the eldest of which is transgender, know that they deserve to be well. They have privilege and are aware of it. They channel their good health, their energy, and their full tummies into initiatives that help others. They don't do this because they are better than kids that don’t. They do this because they can. And being well nourished helps them know that. Think of all the potential that goes undiscovered because kids don’t feel they are worth learning how to feel themselves well. Think of the sparks that die because kids are too tired, too brain-foggy, too emotionally and physically depleted to take a food literacy class. And this, because, for some part, they are told by society that they are not worth feeding.

My mama heart.

So, what was my graduate work really about? About helping all be fed. And  everyone knowing they deserve to be.  Every time you buy a class, a kid experiencing marginalization gets a class and support for free. You know you are worth it or you wouldn't be here. Let’s help them know they are, too. I’m grateful for your support.

I am so proud to have received the necessary training to be a part of the Trans Affirming Network, which trains business to be safe, inclusive spaces for gender diverse and trans folks. You can find out more about the good work of the Skipping Stone Organizationhere.And if you are a trans or gender diverse youth, my services to you are always, 100% no charge, ever.

Want more tips straight to your inbox?

Sign up for the newsletter