Organic from birth

Perno hopes to spread diet plan her parents instilled in her at a young age

On February 2, 2014

  • For Hannah Perno, a sophomore environmental science major, spreading healthy eating habits is a passion. “People don’t really understand that what they’re eating is affecting their mood, their body, their skin, their hair,” Perno said.

Healthy eating isn't just a habit or a way of life for Hannah Perno, a sophomore environmental science major. It's a passion.

Perno has been conscious of the power of food since she was born. Coming from a family of farmers and working in food service since she was 16 years old, Perno understands the importance of eating healthy more fully than most students.

An ABC News study showed the best medicine for our immune system may be "the barn." Being raised on a farm could be the secret to healthy living, according to the study. Perno wants to use her knowledge and experience to spread healthy eating habits and improve immune systems throughout the UB community.

"People don't really understand that what they're eating is affecting their mood, their body, their skin, their hair," Perno said. "When you make the switch from processed to organic food, your body can tell the difference."

Perno has never had to make a switch from processed to organic food herself - her family ate strictly organic food even before Perno was born on their farm in Hornell, NY.

"I come from a whole family of farmers from Western New York," Perno said. "My grandma, my mom ... there's generations of stay-at-home women that have always cooked and canned and made real food. We've always had a garden, always eaten food from the ground."

Perno's mother, Karen Smith, believes that living on a farm has more benefits than just the physical. When Perno was 11, Smith told her she wouldn't be able to go to her desired summer soccer camp unless she earned half the fee.

Her "farm girl" work ethic helped her rise to the occasion, she said. Perno played soccer all summer - and for the rest of her middle and high school career.

"Evenings and weekends, she would ride her bicycle the quarter mile to the barn to feed and water calves," Smith said. "Not only did she earn $300 for a camp, but she also did it for the next three summers. Farm kids learn how to work hard and put all their energy and focus into doing the best job possible."

Smith had always encouraged her daughter to value and appreciate their healthy lifestyle on the farm, but it wasn't until Perno took a job at McDonald's in 10th grade that she realized how fortunate she had been. The job "made a huge impact on [her] life," she said.

Perno worked at McDonald's for two years. She cooked on the grill, worked the cash register and took orders behind the drive-thru window.

"On my very first day, I noticed that everybody who worked there would snag a chicken nugget when the manager wasn't looking," Perno said. "Not only did they not have healthy bodies, but they also didn't have healthy attitudes ... they weren't healthy, they weren't happy, they weren't thriving people."

After working at McDonald's, Perno went on to work at two pizza joints and a restaurant. Now she is a student manager at UB Dining Campus & Shops, where recycling and composting are consistently implemented and encouraged. She's also a new member of Alpha Kappa Chi, UB's professional environmental fraternity.  

"[Through the fraternity], I finally found other people that care about what they put in their bodies," Perno said. "I was able to meet other people that are conscious of their waste and how it affects the earth."

Matt Prinzing, a senior geo-science major and president of Alpha Kappa Chi, said he remembers last semester's Buffalo Re-Tree event at Daemen College very well because it was one of Perno's first events.

"It was a very cold, very wet day late in October in which we were attempting to plant 100 trees in four hours," Prinzing said. "The one thing that motivated us to keep working through the mud, wind and rain was when Hannah suggested we get breakfast at Amy's Place after we finished up. We fought through the elements and even had to swap out Hannah's flat tire on the way to the restaurant, but we eventually made it and had ourselves a well-deserved, wholesome feast."  

Perno encourages students to eat vegetables and organic foods despite the widespread availability of less healthy, processed foods.

"If your great grandmother wouldn't be able to identify it, [don't eat it]," she said.



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