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Katherine PryorMy guest today is Katherine Pryor, a good food advocate based in Seattle. While advocating for Farm to School funding in the state capitol one year, Katherine was impressed by the array of stories told by parents, teachers, and school administrators about how having farm to school programs and school gardens had changed kids’ eating practices. She wanted to write these stories from the kids’ perspectives, hoping to inspire schools and government agencies to support good food education. Her first children’s book, Sylvia’s Spinach, is being used to complement school garden curriculum and encourage young readers to try new foods. Her next book, Zora’s Zucchini, will be published in 2015. We’ll be talking about how you can help your kids make better food choices at home and when they are out in the world at school and with friends. Among other projects, Katherine has worked Sylvias Spinachon a successful campaign to get Starbucks to commit to dBGH-free milk nationwide and worked with Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care initiative, helping hospitals use their purchasing power to support local and sustainable food producers. In addition to writing, Katherine manages a statewide program to bring local and sustainable foods to Washington hospitals.





Helping Children Make Good Food Choices

Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Katherine Pryor

Date of Broadcast: July 08, 2014

DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. It’s Tuesday, July 8, 2014, on a beautiful summer day here in Clearwater, Florida. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio.

I can’t talk today. It’s the day after the long 4th of July weekend, and I took yesterday off also. So let me just start again.

Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world, and how to live toxic-free. It’s Tuesday, July 8, 2014.

After a vacation, it just takes a minute to get back into this. Today, we’re going to be talking about helping children make good food choices, and my guest is Katherine Pryor. She’s a good food advocate based in Seattle.

She’s written a book called Sylvia’s Spinach, which is a delightful book for children. I’ll tell you more about it, how I felt about it when she comes on.

While advocating for a Farm to School funding in the state capital of Washington, Katherine was impressed by the array of stories told by parents, teachers and school administrators about how having farm to school programs and school gardens had changed kids’ eating practices.

She wanted to write these stories from the kids’ perspectives, helping to inspire schools and government agencies to support good food education.

Sylvia’s Spinach is her first children’s book. It’s been used to complement school garden curriculum and encourage young readers to try new food. Her next book, Zora’s Zucchini will be published in 2015.

Welcome to the show, Kathy.

KATHERINE PRYOR: Thank you so much. It’s nice to be here.

DEBRA: Good. So I loved your book. I just loved your book. And one of the reasons that I loved it is because it takes the child from not liking a vegetable, and not even be willing to try it, to going through school programs, where they plant seeds, and she happens to plant spinach, this vegetable she didn’t like. And because of the school program and watching the seeds sprout and the vegetables grow that she then liked spinach, and she was willing to eat it.

And I know, myself even as an adult, I’ve been through that same process of growing something in my backyard and just loving the way that it tastes, and just so wanting to eat it because of how delicious it is.

Recently, I’ve been trying to make myself eat kale. I’ve been trying to make myself eat kale for a long time, and trying it in different ways, and just really knowing how delicious it is, how nutritious it is, but just really not liking the way it tastes.

KATHERINE PRYOR: I think you’re on the same boat with a lot of people on that one.

DEBRA: I think so too. And this is why I want to tell you this because I’ve also been making a lot of changes in my diet over a long period of time, but recently this year, I really cut out wheat and all grains, and dairy, and all sugar, even natural sweeteners. The only thing sweet I eat is fruit.

This has been a very difficult transition for me, but the more I do these things, and just basically eat the freshest vegetables that I can, and basic proteins as the basic thing that I eat in my diet, and I eat nuts and seeds and stuff. But the vegetables are the most important to me. My body really needs to have vegetables, and the more fresh they are, and the more right out of the ground they are, the better my body likes them.

And an amazing thing happened to me was that after trying kale, and after trying it in different ways and not liking it, and then making all these changes in my diet, a friend of mine brought over a kale salad the other day that he had purchased. And it had a wonderful Asian dressing on it. And I sat there and I ate it, and I said, “Can I have some more?”

I realized that I wanted kale. Immediately, as soon as I left, I went down to the store, and I bought a whole bunch of kale, and I chopped it all up, and I put coconut aminos, and toasted sesame oil, ginger, and anything Asian I could think of. I’ve been [sorted] on. And I had enough, and I just ate that. And cashews.

And I ate that for three days. Every day for lunch, I ate this kale salad, and then I went and bought more kale. I’m totally in love with kale. And I just bought more and more, and I’m so happy, it’s so good for me, and my body feels good.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that everybody should be as adventurous as your character […] to try something new.

KATHERINE PRYOR: I think your story is really perfect. It’s illustrating why it is so important that we get kids eating these new foods, green foods, at the youngest possible age.

We know that a child’s palate is developing literally every day. They’re growing new taste buds. And we know that their palate and their food preferences are very much being shaped at a young age.

And so here, you had to literally re-train your palate to like kale. And it sounds like you’ve kept at it until you did which is fantastic. But think about how many people wouldn’t go through the effort that you just went through to re-train your brain and your tongue to like something that maybe you hadn’t been raised eating.

DEBRA: I was not raised eating kale. I was in a situation where my mother never learned how to cook. My grandmother was basically a housewife and she did all the cooking. My mother never learned how to cook.

So when I was born, when she got married, my father cooked. And he just cooked whatever it was that he felt like eating like bacon, mashed potatoes and cake, anything he knew how to eat, but it was not a very good idea.

And I had this strange situation where my mother decided when she didn’t want to learn how to cook, she wanted to learn how to be healthy. So she was making green smoothies back in 1957, except that she was making them in a little blender like they had in those days. And so they were horrible, stringy and gritty.

I decided I was never going to eat. She called it a green drink. I said, “I’m never going to eat this again.

When I grow up, I am not drinking this green stuff.”

KATHERINE PRYOR: And if you’re like most kids, I had those healthy parents too, we had green drinks also.

And I remember saying, “Why do we have to get the brown bread? Why can’t we get wonder bread? It was so much more delicious.”

And I would never have guessed that here I am, all of these years later, telling people to drink green drink, and if they’re going to eat wheat, to eat whole wheat.

DEBRA: I never would have guessed […]

KATHERINE PRYOR: They were really onto something, but I think that at the time, we maybe didn’t have the culinary knowledge of what to do with these things to make them taste good.

And I feel so lucky to live in an age where if there’s something you’re curious about, how to make a delicious green smoothie, there are a million recipes out there. And they’re really […] figuring out how to make that good for kids.

DEBRA: Tell us how you got interested. We only have a minute until we need to go to break, but start telling us how you got interested in your subject.

KATHERINE PRYOR: Well, you’re absolutely right that I was lobbying—I found a good food advocate in my day job. I was lobbying in my state capital for farm to school funding. And a dad told a story of how his daughter wouldn’t eat spinach until she grew it in her school garden. And then she ended up falling in love with spinach. She wanted to put it in everything that summer.

And everybody was […] professional advocates, they’re saying, “We need to write a white paper about that.

We need to do a press release about that.”

And all I kept thinking was, “Well, what about this little girl who went through this incredible, personal transformation to do a complete 180 and changed her mind about food? I want to tell it from her perspective.

And I think other little kids might respond to that.”

So I started learning more about how you write kids’ books. I took a class on it. And then I just started having fun with the format. Maybe after the break, we can talk a little bit more, but I’ve done a lot of really […] with kids.

DEBRA: And I want to hear all about it, but we do need to go to break right now. [inaudible 00:09:53] is going to come in and start talking on top of you.

I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. My guest today is Katherine Pryor. She’s a good food advocate and author of Sylvia Spinach, and we’ll hear more from her right after this.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Katherine Pryor, author of Sylvia’s Spinach.

So Katherine, tell us more about writing the book.

KATHERINE PRYOR: Basically, as I was working on Sylvia’s Spinach, around the same time, my husband and I had started a program with a food bank in South Seattle. This food bank literally had a greenhouse attached to it, and the greenhouse had been abandoned by the community gardening program that was using it.

And we had the idea to start growing organic vegetables […] for food bank clients. What a lot of people don’t realize is that with emergency foods, produce and protein are generally the hardest things for food banks to store because they don’t have the freezer space. They don’t have the refrigerator space.

A lot of times, if produce is donated, it’s coming in near the end of its shelf life. So it’s going to be something that people are going to have to […] right away.

And he’s got a background in plant biology. And here, I’m a food advocate. I said, “This is what happens when those two specialists do get married […]” We started growing food together.

So we started this program with a food bank in South Seattle. We were giving out these organic vegetables […] that the clients could take home and grow themselves. They could either grow them at home, they could grow them on apartment balconies, or they could grow them in community gardens.

And the thing that we were shocked by was the way that the kids just lit up on the days that we were there.

So we would be near the end of the line, people would come in, and they would get their dried goods, those beans and pastas and things like that, and canned goods. And then they would get some fresh produce, then maybe some bread. Then they would come to our table.

We noticed that the kids were not even bothering to go through the rest of the line. They were just b-lining to our table and taking out the plants that they wanted to grow. They had a million questions. What will this plant be? What will this plant be?

And the kids were very much the ones who were deciding the plants that their parents would take home and grow.

And at the end of our first season, we wanted to do a survey to see how it had gone, to see if the program had actually worked for people. Were they, in fact, able to harvest fresh food at home? And we found that—I think it must have been like two-thirds of the participants had been able to eat from their garden two or more times a week. And almost single one of those participants said they had kids who could help in the garden and would then eat the produce.

And to us, that was the biggest success that we possibly could have asked for. And it really got me thinking about the relationship that a child has with food as they see it growing. They nurture it, they get to see every stage of its development, and then the big pay-off, you get to taste it.

DEBRA: I think for children, they still have that wonder about nature that I think that we tend to lose as adults, as we go through life and start putting our attention on other things like earning money and all the problems of the world, all those kinds of things. But children, my viewpoint personally is that we’re all born of nature, that you could take the whole industrial world away, and we would still be human beings living in nature as we did prior to the industrial age.

And the children still retain somehow. And so they can look at something living, like a plant, and get very excited about it, and want to take care of it, and participate in the growth of it. And for them to see that connection between the food growing and then it nourishing their bodies is a really wonderful experience that I think every child should have, and every adult should have.

That should restored in everyone.

I had a garden when I was a child, and we grew tomatoes. My grandparents had a garden, a very large garden, and trees. I’ve said this many times on the show, but I’ll say it again, because I love it so much. My first food memory was at age two or three, my grandfather lifting me up into the peach tree, so that I could pick my own peach. And the way that it smelled in the sun, I can remember everything about that. And bringing it in the house, and having my grandmother take the skin off, and slice it up, and put it in a bowl with cream and sugar.

Yes, she puts sugar on it.

But I had that experience of being up in the tree where the peaches are. That’s my earliest memory of food, and I think everyone should have that.

More recently, I had the experience of having chickens in my backyard until the police took them away because they’re illegal where I live. But I had them long enough that I could feed them my kitchen scraps and have an egg come out the other end. And then eat those eggs and see how amazing that very, very fresh chicken egg tastes when you know exactly what went into that egg, that there is no question about what happened at the farm. It was right there in my backyard, and I made that egg happen. And it was fabulous.

KATHERINE PRYOR: It’s miraculous.

DEBRA: It is! No, it is. It’s the right word.

KATHERINE PRYOR: I know that’s a funny word to use about something that literally happens every day, but there is something miraculous about food especially for kids who are growing up in an increasingly urban and suburban areas where they probably don’t see food growing. Really, their biggest interaction with food is maybe in a grocery store and a food […] or something like that.

They often times have never actually seen a tomato growing on the vine. They’ve never seen pea plants.

They might not know that a peach comes from a tree. They really are disconnected from this.

I think the first time that a child sees a tomato growing, a pea growing, and they’re able to reach out, take it, pop it in their mouths, they have this understanding of where food comes from that, unfortunately, we’re pretty disconnected from in the modern world.

DEBRA: We are. We need to take another break, but we’ll talk more when we come back. My guest today is Katherine Pryor, good food advocate based in Seattle, and author of Sylvia’s Spinach. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio, and we’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Katherine Pryor, author of Sylvia’s Spinach.

Katherine, I know that I’ve made a lot of changes in my life, in my diet, as I’ve said earlier today on the show, but one of the reasons why I really wanted to have you on the show is because if I had made the kind of changes that you’re talking about as a child, and other advocates were talking about, who are helping children with school vegetable-growing programs, if I had had that, I think my health would have been very different.

And as an adult, as a consumer advocate, as a researcher about health, it’s so clear to me that great nutrition is necessary to good health. Just really eating those fresh fruits and vegetables, having enough nutrition that comes from real whole food, that is such the foundation of health. And because we don’t have that, we end up having skyrocketing healthcare costs, people wonder what drug they should be taking, but what we really need is nutrition, nutrition, nutrition.

Do you want to say anything about that?

KATHERINE PRYOR: It’s so, so important. There is absolutely no doubt that healthy kids stand a much better chance of becoming healthy adults.

And that’s one of the things that makes things—like this skyrocketing childhood obesity rate is so terrifying.

We know that, unfortunately, unhealthy kids stand at a much a higher risk of becoming unhealthy adults.

We see rates of obesity and diabetes going through the roof just in the last […] from the early 1990’s. And they were nowhere near what they are today.

So we know that unfortunately, the way we have been eating is really putting our health at risk, and future generation’s health at risk. We know we need to do something to stop it.

And that’s why my goal is really to get young kids thinking about eating good food, but not necessarily telling them that it’s because it’s healthy. I want them to love it because it tastes good and it’s fun.

DEBRA: Exactly. I totally agree with you on that. I started doing what I’m doing when I was only 24, I’ve been doing this for so many years. I was only 24 when I started, and I thought, I can’t just tell people that toxic chemicals are toxic and expect them to not use them. I need to tell them that there’s this other more wonderful life that they could have. That it really is more wonderful to wear cotton than polyester, and organic food is so much more delicious than toxic food.

That’s what I did. I somehow knew when I was 24 years old that I needed to take that approach. And I think it was because I needed to take that approach with myself. I was so sick from toxic chemical exposure, and I needed to essentially give up everything I already knew about the world and find everything that wasn’t toxic.

And it’s pretty much like the same process now with nutrition is that I need to come up with for myself a diet that is just so delicious and so wonderful, and so much what I want to eat because I love it, that I don’t even want to eat any of those other things.

Yesterday, a friend of mine and I went down to Sarasota, and we went to Whole Foods. We went to have organic lunch. You walk in, and there are whole racks of all the gluten breads, and the huge pastry department, organic sugar, of course.

But you can’t just walk into a place like that and eat anything, and expect that it’s all going to be healthy because there are all these businesses who say, “Well, we have to produce all these unhealthy foods because that’s what people buy. That’s what they want. And if we don’t give it to them in an organic form, they’re going to go someplace else and buy it from somebody else.”

KATHERINE PRYOR: Honestly, I think one of the big problems is that we’ve taken food like that that were historically a treat food. That’s just something you ate on special occasions. That’s just something you ate at special times of the year, on your birthday, other people’s birthday.

We’ve taken this treat food, and we’ve made it everyday food. And it is available everywhere.

Honestly, I certainly enjoy a cake. My family knows I sucker for the occasional ice cream cone.

DEBRA: But there’s a difference about eating that occasionally.

KATHERINE PRYOR: I love it. You just have to treat it like it’s a special occasion food, and not an everyday food.

I think once you start looking at food that way, it really gives you an awareness of how surrounded we are by things we probably shouldn’t be eating as much as we do.

DEBRA: Well, it’s so easy to buy all these foods or be around them. The point I wanted to make about yesterday was that I am so committed to staying on the diet that makes me feel healthier, and have more strength and energy, and be able to function better that when I walked into Whole Foods and saw all those pastries and desserts full of wheat and sugar, I just said, “I’m not going to do this. As tempting as that may be, I’m not going to do this.”

And I think that that’s part of educating children. It’s educating children by what they love to eat at home. But also, what happens when they go out into the world? Talk about school lunches. Talk about going out with their friends. What would you like children to know about that?

KATHERINE PRYOR: That’s where it gets tricky because there are a lot of parents that I know who absolutely have the best of intentions, and then you send your child out into a world of nugget-shaped chicken and French fries with every meal.

I hate to say it, but I routinely ride my bike through a big kitchen that does a lot of the prep work for the Seattle School. It’s a big industrial kitchen. And my bike path happens to go right by that. And oh, my goodness, when you ride your bike pass that building, it smells like grilled cheese and tater tots because a lot of times, that’s what they’re making for the kids in school.

There is a huge amount of work to be done on the school food front. And I have to say, I absolutely applaud the changes that USDA has been making in changing the requirements for fruits and vegetables and whole grains. This is a massive, massive system that they are trying to turn around, and it is going to take a while.

But I think we’ve got some really good people working on this.

DEBRA: Before you tell us that, we do need to go to break. It goes by so fast, doesn’t it?

But we’ll be right back. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio, and my guest today is Katherine Pryor. She’s the author of Sylvia’s Spinach, and you can go to her website,, and find out more about her and her book and everything she’s doing. And we’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Katherine Pryor, author of Sylvia’s Spinach. You can go to her website,, to learn more about her.

So we were talking about the school lunch program.

KATHERINE PRYOR: Yes, absolutely. And one of the things that I have been loving seeing here in Washington is there’s been a real push to […] getting those Washington farm fresh food into schools. And so we’re starting to see kids who are having more of a relationship with the farms where those foods are grown, which makes them way more excited to see it when it shows up in their cafeteria.

And one of the things that I have also loved seeing is they started doing fresh snacks programs for kids. A lot of schools, particularly, elementary schools, will qualify for funding that allows the school to provide the kids with a fresh snack either in the morning or afternoon. That could be anything from a carrot to a […] to an apple, pretty much whatever happens to be in season right then.

One of the things that I’ve been hearing these schools reporting that I think is really exciting is the school front has been able to implement this program where you’re literally giving the kids a fresh snack either in the morning or in the afternoon, they’ve seen reduced rates of visits to the principal’s office for kids acting out in class.

And it’s just something that I’ve been hearing anecdotally from teachers, from school nutritionists. But my goodness, is that what it would take to reduce rates of kids getting antsy in class, taking up all the teacher’s time when they have to get everyone else on track, and then taking up the principal’s time when they have to figure out what’s going on with this kid.

If we could just give every kid an apple at 10, at 1, at whatever time it would work for the school, we know that kids are much better able to focus.

And if you think about it, whole foods tend to stay with us way longer and sustain our energy way longer than something highly-processed like a white bread, or something like that.

And so what I think we’re going to start seeing more and more of is this effort to get young kids the healthiest food that we can in an effort to help them be better learners. I think we’re starting to see evidence that this is going to work.

DEBRA: Are the kids actually eating those fresh foods? Are they turning up their noses like Sylvia in your book and saying, “No, I don’t want to eat a carrot. I want chocolate chips.”

KATHERINE PRYOR: There will often times be some suspicion of them, and so the teachers who seem to have the most success with it—well, we do a couple of things. One is you try to make it fun. If it’s a carrot, let the kid play with the carrot before they actually eat them. A carrot can be a lot of things in the kid’s imagination.

The other thing—and this is more of what I do when I do school visits for Sylvia’s Spinach. I hate to spoil the ending, but she does end up eating spinach in the book. And so as I’m reading that part of the story to the kids, I will literally eat a piece of spinach as I’m reading it—and the kids gasp.

But then, at the end, I do something called the test of bravery where I ask the kids. We’re talking five and six-year-olds here. We’re not talking big kids […] I will do something called a test of bravery where I will invite all of the kids to try a piece of spinach.

We hand around the biggest plate of washed organic spinach that the kids can try. And we do something called the Sylvia Taste Test where they sniff it, they lick it, and then they crunch it.

And the thing that I tell them is they don’t have to like it, they just have to try it. Remarkably, that seems to do the trick.

DEBRA: That’s what we used to say in girl scouts. Just try it. And so what’s the result when they do that? Do a lot of kids like spinach?

KATHERINE PRYOR: A lot of them do. It’s usually a good percentage.

But here’s the other thing about kids. They’re so susceptible to peer pressure. What I’ll then do is I’ll call on some kids, and ask for their feedback. I’ll have them use some describing words to tell me what they thought the spinach tasted like.

And if that first kid that I call on says it was yummy or it was good, then the vast majority of kids in the classroom are going to say the same thing. Peer pressure is a huge driving force to them.

Think about it. When you were a little kid, you like what your friends like, and you want to like what your friends like. You don’t necessarily want to be different. And I actually think that little kids who are adventurous either is going to inspire a whole classroom to be willing to try new foods.

DEBRA: I think so too.

KATHERINE PRYOR: I think sometimes kids can be our best ambassadors to things like that.

DEBRA: I was just getting this picture in my mind of kids going home and saying, “Mom, can we have spinach for dinner?”

KATHERINE PRYOR: That’s so funny because I had kids ask for more. “Can I have some more?” And I’ll have these teachers and librarians just giving me this strangest look. “What have you done to these kids?”

And I swear, I don’t know if there is a spinach lobby. I do not work for them. I really just take it because it’s a food that kids have a hard time with, and I had heard a story about it. And it seemed like the right vegetable for the book.

It is remarkable how open kids are to it once you presented the food in a really fun way.

And I think that’s one of the things that the […] food movement, we’re not quite there yet in terms of the fun levels that we’re having. I think that one of the things we need to keep in mind—and I think there is no question. We need to change the way that we’re eating. It is literally making us sicker, both the types of food that we’re eating and the way it’s […] There’s no question we need to turn this around.

But the thing that we need to realize is that in any good social movement, we need to win hearts and minds.

There is no shortage in studies out there showing this type of fat is better than this type of fat. You need this many calories per day, and they should come from these foods.

If you’re into food, there are a lot of really incredible logical things you can study to get into it.

But most people are not going to be that. And so I think what we really need to start doing is making good food fun. And that’s for kids and adults. We really need to start getting them emotionally connected with good food.

DEBRA: Here’s one thing that I did. When I first started eating organic food many years ago, I was astonished the first time I ate an organic orange because supermarket oranges have this funny taste to them, which I found out was a fungicide. And it’s on the skins of every orange. And I grew up thinking that that fungicide taste was the taste of an orange.

And the first time I ate an orange without fungicide, it was a revelation. I totally loved it so much so that what I gave everybody for Christmas that year was organic oranges. And nobody else that I knew had ever eaten an organic orange at that time. And it was amazing to them to too.

And so I think there’s no number of studies, or doctors saying things, or scientists saying things, can compare to the actual experience of eating a food that you love. It speaks to you as being healthy and delicious when you put it in your mouth.

KATHERINE PRYOR: Food is a memory.

DEBRA: It is!

KATHERINE PRYOR: You have those foods that you bite into, and it can transport you to all the other times in your life that you’ve eaten that food. And if you have really positive emotional experience with good food at a young age, you’re going to carry that with you.

Unfortunately, I will say, the marketers of said food have also discovered this, which is why marketing to kids of unhealthy products is so prevalent and so frightening.

But I think that once we create positive associations with good food—and in fact, we can probably use the same marketing techniques […] We could probably learn from them.

I think that we have a much better chance of training kids’ palate from a really young age to like foods that are going to make them be stronger, healthier adults.

DEBRA: I totally agree. We only have, literally, a minute left before the end of the show. I wanted to say that one of my favorite places in the world is the San Francisco Farmers Market at the Ferry Building. Whenever

I go to San Francisco, I always go there first.

One day, I was at that farmers market, and there were parents strolling around a little a baby in a stroller.

Not a little baby, maybe one or two. And she had a box of blueberries, these pure, just fresh, organic blueberries, and she was just putting it in her mouth as fast as she could. And she had blueberry juice all over her face.

But the expression on her face, of this little child eating these organic blueberries was, I will never forget it, just the joy of that.

That’s about all we have time to say. Thank you so much, Katherine, for being here. Her book is Sylvia’s Spinach. Her website is This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And you can find out more about this show at Be well.


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