Healthy Eating Habits
DooF TV Strives to Make Food Fun
Mike Axinn introduces his new television show, DooF: Food Backwards, by walking into an Oakland classroom with a beet and asking children if they can identify the vegetable.
In a world where fast food reigns, Axinn is often greeted with curious stares. Unfazed, he hands a beet to each child, explains the vegetable’s origins and shows how it can be cooked and served as part of their evening meal.
As the creator and executive producer of DooF, Axinn hopes to change the way children think about food. A Berkeley father of two, with an impressive list of film credits as sound editor including Star Wars, Titanic and The English Patient, Axinn hopes his new series, targeting children ages 6 to 9 and set to air on PBS television in 2009, will challenge the rising epidemic of childhood obesity and show kids that healthy food can also be fun.
“Children are inundated with ads for fast food,” Axinn says. “Our hope is that DooF can get kids excited about good food through a mix of humor, science, animation, music and cooking.”
Axinn has assembled a talented group of creative professionals to produce the DooF shows, filmed in the Oakland and Berkeley schools. In addition, he has established an advisory board that includes Alice Waters, owner and chef of Chez Panisse, and Dr. Anthony Iton, Alameda County Public Health Officer.
In 2004, DooF began partnering with the Alameda County Public Health Department’s Nutrition Services unit to develop video vignettes about preparing fresh produce.
“DooF staff visited approximately 22 second-grade classrooms in the Oakland Unified School District to teach students where food comes from, introduce new produce that they may have not tasted before and encourage students to eat more produce,” says Diane Woloshin, Nutrition Services director for the Alameda County Public Health Department. “The intended outcome of these classroom visits was for students to be better equipped with knowledge to make healthier food choices.”
The show’s mission dovetails nicely with that of the Alameda County Nutrition Services Department, which has worked diligently in the Oakland schools to promote healthy eating and active living since 2001.
“We are currently promoting nutrition education in the Oakland schools through classroom learning, curriculum integration, healthy food choices, physical activity and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Woloshin says. “DooF reinforces the lessons we are teaching. The feedback from children who have seen episodes of the show has been very positive.”
Woloshin hopes the enthusiasm will spread across the country when DooF hits PBS airwaves in 2009. In January 2008, the Alameda County Public Health Department gave the producers of DooF a generous multiyear grant that helps cover some of the costs of filming their television series.
“I would love to see DooF with a following as big as Dora the Explorer and to do for food and nutrition what Sesame Street did for reading,” she says. “It would be great if children could learn the difference between fresh, whole foods and processed items like Flaming Hot Cheetos and develop a liking for healthier food choices.”
Oakland residents Maya Owings and her partner, Tim Ranahan, both serve on the production crew for DooF as line producer and director and were intrigued by the idea of working on a cooking show for children.
“I was inspired by the prospect of collaborating, through media, on an important topic such as food,” Owings says. “How many kids, save those from rural communities, understand anything about where food comes from? And given the current situation in our world today with food shortages, childhood obesity and disease, awareness on any level of the origins of foods is valuable beyond measure.”
Each episode of DooF begins in a clubhouse where a silly circumstance leads the kids on the show to a quest for ingredients. Along the way, they discover how to make a nutritious and kid-friendly recipe with the help of a guest chef.
“The episode could be led by a talking bee or a mechanical composting dog that leads the DooF gang on a journey to a farmers market, an urban beehive or a dairy run by cowgirls,” Axinn explains. “The recipes showcase quick, easy ways to make healthy food. Kids are much more apt to eat food that they have had a hand in making.”
Owings has seen firsthand how excited local children can get about food when they have filmed episodes of DooF.
“Whenever we shoot at a local farmers market, we get kids from the community to answer questions or participate in some manner, and they always enjoy themselves, often imparting their own wisdom surrounding a particular food,” she says.
The DooF production crew’s passion for getting children excited about food is contagious. For the past two years, DooF has partnered with Google in Mountain View to hold Doof-a-Palooza, a family food event that hopes to encourage children to adopt healthier eating habits. The one-day food event features a variety of celebrity chefs and local farmers. Kids receive a DooF passport that they can take to different booths and sample a variety of tasty, healthy and organic foods.
“Doof-a-Palooza is a joy to witness as children and adults participate in all things food.” Owings says. “I’ve never seen kids so aware of the fun surrounding food and the origins of food.”
Axinn hopes that DooF will help families to embrace the Slow Food principles of eating home-cooked meals together as a family and encourage parents to get their kids excited about healthy food choices as well as get them involved in menu and meal preparation.
“I encourage parents to take their kids to a local farm in the Bay Area to pick fresh fruit and share the special joy of tasting certain dishes they loved when they were kids,” Axinn says. “Having children help cook meals, even if it’s assisting with very simple tasks, is a great way to make family memories while providing your children with a great learning experience.”
For more about DooF, visit www.foodbackwards.com.
—By Linda Childers
—Photography by Jan Stürmann