Preview: Teatro Obesity

UPDATE: ‘Theatrical play pulls obesity battle onto stage‘ ran in the July6, 2011 edition of Vida.

For decades, Agustin Lira has created theatrical performances that promote social messages. Through his plays, Lira – the co-founder of El Teatro Campesino, who also formed El Teatro de la Tierra in 1969, and co-founded Teatro Inmigrante in 2001 – has highlighted farmworker and immigration issues.

This year, he is honing in on another social issue that is impacting the Latino community. Through a partnership with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP,) Lira and Teatro Inmigrante co-founder Patricia Wells Solórzano will develop a play about obesity. (In the San Joaquín Valley, 71 percent of Latino adults are overweight or obese.)

In a phone interview, Lira said he is confident that teatro can be used to educate the community about obesity.

“It has worked in the past to get the message out about different issues,” he said. The production, he said, can “educate people about what things are happening and what they can do about it.”

Are you interested in participating in this bilingual project? Within the next two weeks, Lira will hold a preliminary meeting for people who are interested in performing in the production. The group is looking for people with acting experience, and those without experience who really want to learn.

Volunteer actors and actresses will be involved for a period of two months of rehearsal (two meeting per week) with 5 or 6 theatrical performances at the end of the project. For more information about Teatro Obesity, contact (559) 485-8558.

Above: Lira and Wells Sólorzano perform in ‘A Yellow Rose from Texas: Emma Tenayuca’ in 2007. Photo by Juan Esparza Loera.

‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ guide debuts in the San Joaquín Valley

UPDATE: The story ‘Guide links consumers with local produce’ ran in the June 8, 2011 edition of Vida en el Valle.

Readers of this blog know this paradox:

Here in the San Joaquín Valley, we live in the most productive agricultural region in the world. But at the same time, our community faces high rates of obesity, diabetes, and food insecurity. Many people have little connection to the amazing fresh, seasonal, local produce grown in their backyard.

Enter the first edition of ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local: The Eater’s Guide to Local Food.’

The guide – produced by the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program and the Community Alliance with Family Famers, and supported by the California Endowment – is the first comprehensive listing of all the farms, farmers markets, produce stands, community gardens, U-Picks, CSAs (community supported agriculture), flea markets, swap meets, and school farm stands in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquím, Stanislaus and Tulare counties.

The 32-page guide is more than just an exhaustigve listing, though. It’s a celebration of the Valley’s agricultural heritage. It opens with an essay by farmer David Mas Masumoto, includes a calendar of the Valley’s seasonal harvest, and features profiles – and recipes created by – people and organizations devoted to fresh, local produce.

The guide is intended to connect community members to fresh, local produce, “so we can really change our culture and change our norms, so we are enjoying fresh produce and we are buying local,” said Genoveva Islas-Hooker, of CCROPP, during a press conference at the Garden Market in downtown Fresno’s Courthouse Park Tuesday morning.

The guide will also help the Valley’s small, local farmers connect with urban residents, and provide those consumers with the health benefits of eating local, seasonal produce, said Tom Willey, of T & D Willey Farms in Madera.

For people who want to eat locally and seasonally, the Valley is “probably the best place to live on the planet,” Willey said. The guide could “help make our food culture as big a draw as Yosemite National Park.”

The first edition of the ‘Buy Fresno, Buy Local’ guide can be found for free at or All photos taken at the Garden Market, which runs every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Courthouse Park.

Read more about the ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ guide:

Soda tax fizzles, unhealthy food environments persist

The proposed soda tax fizzled out before my story could even run in Vida en el Valle.

On Monday, the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee effectively killed  AB 669, would have levied a one-penny tax per fluid ounce on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. The bill was moved to the Assembly suspense file, according to news reports.

The bill was intended to fight rising obesity levels.

To report on the now-defunct tax, I visited last Friday the Orosi Market, a convenience store bordered on two sides by orange groves, in East Orosi (pop. 386.) While the tax may be dead, the health problems I saw in the market will, unfortunately, continue long past this Assembly session.

Inside the market, beer advertisements (Este es Cerveza!) wallpapered the store. There are 12 refrigerated cases in the store. Six cases were stocked with beer, and six were filled with soda and sugary drinks.

“Well of course, everybody demands sodas,” storeowner Steve Samin said.

Just one row in one case offered bottles of water. The row wasn’t even full. That probably doesn’t hurt the store’s bottom line.

The amount of water sold at the store, Samin said, is “far off, far off,” from the amount of soda. In three days, he might sell one case (24 bottles) of water, compared with five or six cases of soda.

I spent about an hour inside the market. I watched as community residents stopped in for a snack, and workers stopped in for cold refreshments.

Not one person purchased water or a diet sold during that hour. But a few people did tell me they would support a tax that would curb the amount of soda consumed by children.

“I don’t like soda, and I don’t give soda to my kids… because soda is not good for them,” said Manuela Márquez of Dinuba, as she purchased a tall can of Chelada. “It’s better for them to drink juice or water.”

“I have a daughter, and she has become heavy from drinking so much soda,” said José Velasco of Orange Cove, as he purchased a tall can of Arizona Iced Tea. He prefers she drink “less soda” and more “water, juice, or milk.”

Spending time at the market underscored something Genoveva Islas-Hooker, of the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, said during a media briefing regarding the soda tax.

“We are creating sugar-sweetened beverages as the definitive choice for low-income community members,” she said. “The beverage environment is definitely shaping the obesity epidemic.”