What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, May 29, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
The blogosphere started buzzing last week with the report from the Chronicle of Higher Education that Washington State University had removed a required program for freshmen that included reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma
. Was it politically motivated? Was one more landgrant school succumbing to the pressures of corporate agribusiness? The NY Times reports that the decision was purely financial, and that food safety wonk Bill Marler’s 11th hour check was enough to reinstate the program.
Not so fast, says Tom Laskawy, on Grist, who cites a bad actor on the school’s Board of Regents as the possible culprit in the book’s removal…
Either way, the book is back on the program. And there’s nothing like a quick book banning scandal—real or imagined, true or false—to fuel our passion for free speech.
Posted on Fri, May 29, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Deborah Lehmann is an editor of School Lunch Talk, a blog about school food. She is currently studying economics and public policy at Brown University.
A few months ago, Hester Dye received boxes of beautiful, plump blackberries from the USDA. She was delighted the berries were as big as her thumb and she hoped her students would enjoy eating them for lunch.
But the kids in Jonesboro Public Schools, where Dye directs the school lunch program, didnt touch the berries. Determined not to let the fruit go to waste, Dye and her staff made a blackberry cobbler. Still, half of it ended up in the trash. They didnt know what it was, Dye said. They werent familiar with it.
Students familiarity with certain foods has always driven Dyes menu. When she started working in the Jonesboro cafeteria 37 years ago, students ate home-cooked meals with their families, and thats what they expected for lunch at school. Dye served soup, lasagna and meatloaf, because thats what students were used to. Today, Dye serves students who have grown up with heat-and-serve entrees and fast food, and her lunch offerings have changed to accommodate their tastes.
Weve taken all the lasagna and meatloaf off the menu because the kids dont know what that stuff is anymore, Dye said. They wont eat it.
Instead, Dye offers the items they will eat. Her menu runs heavy on mini corndogs, chicken nuggets and stuffed-crust pizza the foods students are familiar with from restaurants and TV commercials.
Posted on Wed, May 27, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food NYC Chapter Leader Sandra McLean
All over the country, Slow Food USA chapters are getting their hands dirty—whether by working on their own farms, or volunteering on other people’s. On May 16th Slow Food NYC members got together to Dig in the Dirt at East New York Farms! in Brooklyn. East New York Farms! is a collaborative community project that engages kids and adults in order to address food issues in their community. On this d twenty five volunteers helped the youth farmers kick off their 2009 growing season. We worked together for about 4 hours and proudly accomplished a lot. We weeded, mulched, sifted compost, dug trenches and generally got dirty.
It was uplifting to be part of creating change in a formerly blighted neighborhood that now is working towards having the biggest concentration of community gardens in the city. The change is palpable. All day long, neighborhood residents adults and children alike - were stopping by the garden asking how they could become a part of it.
The Saturday farmers market starts in June and there will be a celebratory Harvest festival in September. At the farmers market, in addition to East New York Farms! selling the produce that they grow on the farm, neighborhood residents who grow vegetables in their yard, on their stoop or in a community garden plot can sell their produce. Anyone with a Saturday free, might want to take the trek out there and take part in the fun.
And this is just the beginning for Slow Food NYC (after all the growing season has just begun!)—our next farm volunteer day will be at Queens County Farm and Museum on June 20th.
(For all the details, go to http://www.slowfoodnyc.org).
Posted on Tue, May 26, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
The first time I saw “Pressure Cooker” was at Slow Food Nation last Labor Day. It left me—and as far as I could tell every single other viewer in the theatre—in tears. It follows three seniors at a Philadelphia public high school, charting their journey through a culinary arts curriculum under the wing of the hilariously blunt, tough-loving Mrs. Stephenson. The film has been making the film festival circuit for the past 9 months and will now be enjoying a theatrical release in several cities (scroll all the way down for schedule). Here we sit down for an interview with Co-Directors Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman:
SFUSA: What do kids get from culinary education that they can’t find elsewhere in their schools/lives?
Jennifer: Culinary education provides hands on training that can engage all of the senses smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. It combines creativity with practicality, and is a skill students can use in their lives now and in the future. Culinary Arts also encompasses many other disciplines: reading, math, science, but presents them in a practical rather than theoretical way that appeals to many students. In addition, the discipline of the kitchen adds structure to lives that may not have much structure, and teaches teamwork.
Mark: As for the students from Frankford, in Culinary Arts with Mrs. Stephenson, they are gaining access to a classroom unlike any other at their public school. They know that if they can perfect their crepes and tourne potatoes for Mrs. Stephenson, they can get scholarships and get out of Frankford. Mrs. Stephenson, through her irreverent and uncompromising manner, teaches the value of practice and discipline. There are seven sides on a correctly crafted tourne potato: Wilma helps the kids see that there is a serious upside to perfecting that shape. The patience, repetition, and focus necessary to tourne a potato are skills predictive of success inside and outside the kitchen. Wilma makes that abundantly clear.
SFUSA: What do kids gain by developing a relationship with food?
Jennifer: Some students develop a passion for food and cooking, some gain respect and understanding for the products used in the kitchen, and many learn about nutrition as they broaden their palate and modify their eating habits.
Mark: I felt like I witnessed a developing respect for process. The students at Frankford were learning to put time and care into an endeavor. In preparing even something as seemingly straightforward as an omelet there were several variables that could lead to success or disaster. They developed a rigor in their mentality about how to achieve results.
SFUSA: In the movie we see the kids eat home cooked meals and the food they cook in school—do they, like most teenagers, eat fast food? Or has their culinary training made them less susceptible to the big draw of fast food? Did you learn anything about kids and their relationship to fast food?
Jennifer and Mark: Although Mrs. Stephensons students cook gourmet meals at school and often cook at home, they also consume a lot of fast food because of its low price and easy availability. Also, several students work in fast food chains and often eat there for free. Money and time are big factors when students are at school, doing sports, taking care of siblings, and working part and full-time jobs. Mrs. Stephenson does try to broaden her students palates. In one of the scenes in the film, Erica (a 17-year-old) even chastises her family for not having a discerning palate: You havent acquired the taste for anything but Fritos and Chitos. And Erica believes in what she is saying, even though the food economy and culture around her can prove an overwhelming foe.
Posted on Thu, May 21, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA Intern Melissa Rosenberg
In 2007, Virginia Tech Dining Services (VTDS) was ranked #1 for Best Campus Foods by the Princeton Review, getting high marks for student satisfaction. Recognized for its outstanding work by food industry peers, VTDS received the prestigious 2009 Ivy Award, bestowed each year upon exceptional food service operations.
Hired as the VTDS Sustainability Coordinator in October of 2008, Andy Sarjahani jumpstarted an effort to support sustainable food systems by monitoring every aspect of its food services. In a short time, Andy and his team have implemented a vast array of initiatives: removing trays to decrease food waste, composting, and working with distributors, non-profits and local farmers in a variety of Farm-to-College programs.
In addition, VTDS began growing its own herbs in a garden operated by the Horticulture Department and switched from Pennsylvania-raised factory farm eggs to Virginia-raised organic cage-free eggs. While somewhat more expensive, the food does more than taste delicious: VTDS $8 million budget enables the university to significantly impact the state food and agriculture economy as it feeds 34,000 hungry stomachs each day.
In March, statewide attention was drawn to the changes in VTDS buying practices after the Humane Society of the United States issued a press release celebrating the changes. Since then, staff members have come under pressure from such agribusiness groups as the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Poultry Federation, among several others. The lobbyists are asking the university to scale back or cease its work on promoting awareness and access to sustainable food.
Posted on Thu, May 14, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Marin County Oyster Farmer at Crossroads with National Park Service
A major debate is bubbling up in Drakes Bay in Marin County, Calif., testing the ideals of sustainable farmers, ranchers, fishers and foragers leasing Federal lands for their operations, especially when those lands are set aside for conservation.
Kevin Lunny, a local rancher, purchased his oyster farm Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2005. As part of his purchase he received a special-use permit from the California Coastal Commission. Since the Lunnys began to manage it, Drake Bay Oyster Company has focused on sustainable aquaculture methods for Pacific oysters. They have also collaborated with researchers, planning the recovery of Olympia oysters, purple-fringed scallops, and snowy plovers. Lunny Farms also raises certified organic, pasture-fed cattle on the land surrounding the Drake Estero. Drakes Bay Oyster Company has been honored by the National Park Service itself, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Society for Range Management for its sustainability initiatives.
Nevertheless, the Park Service has for the last two years taken actions to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company in 2012, when its lease expires, to officially designate the area as wilderness. But Park Service judgment was recently called into question when a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel released a report finding the federal government lacked scientific evidence to back assertions the company is harming the waters or wildlife of Drakes Estero. In fact, in a breech of scientific integrity, Park technicians fabricated data on marine mammal disturbances in an attempt to evict the oyster company from Point Reyes National Seashore. Sen. Dianne Feinstein supported efforts to allow Drakes Bay Oyster Company to continue operating by recently sending a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
As Gary Nabhan, RAFT co-founder and a University of Arizona scientist states, We are at a critical moment in this controversy and need reconciliation not further conflict. National Park Service regional director Jon Jarvis has the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership position in driving collaboration between farmers, ranchers, fishers and foragers and conservationists to ensure sustainable food production that reduces our carbon footprint and is not pitted against conservation.
Leaders in sustainable agriculture are getting on board to help mediate the situation between the National Park Service and Drakes Bay Oyster Company. However, were interested in your thoughts about this debate. What are the challenges to developing a symbiotic relationship between sustainable farmers and conversationists? Legislative challenges? Perceptual challenges? What level of scientific integrity and collaboration should we expect from the Park Service? How would you resolve this specific situation?
Posted on Wed, May 13, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Lynn Peemoeller is a food systems planner and president of Slow Food Chicago
Spring hits Chicago like an overdue baby. Its a welcome relief when buds start to blossom and life shoots up from the earth. At the first outdoor farmers market this week, I was pleased to find fiddlehead ferns (foraged in Indiana) among the verdant edibles. But these are not the frosted brown coils of fern tasting of forest that I have had in the past. These thin fronds fall loosley from their stem cascading like curly split ends. They taste more like nutty asparagus and behave like Chinese long beans. This is a head scratcher. Just how many types of edible ferns are there? I had wrongly assumed there was only one variety of this unusual treat. But how delightful to discover I was wrong. Mother nature enchants me with her vast biodiversity of edibles. Just what is the variety of these ferns anyway? And who was the person responsible for getting them to market so they could make their way to my plate? What is the history of foraging fiddlehead ferns? Slow Food USAs Ark of Taste and the RAFT (Renewing Americas Food Traditions) alliance are working with farmers and breeders to capture the most delicious of regional and seasonal food traditions to prevent such rarities from going extinct. Edible ferns are not a turn-on to everyone. (My Dad responds with a shudder.) But, the world is full of other foods with vast genetic and cultural histories that elicit joy and intrigue many of which never make their way into conventional grocery stores. Some of the most iconic heirloom foods in the Midwest are tomatoes, potatoes, apples and livestock like heritage poultry and pork. Slow Food Chicago is working with regional farmers to expand the endangered vegetable varieties being grown in the Midwest. Our goal is to catalog all the Ark of Taste varieties that are being grown for market in Chicago and host tastings for consumers and chefs. We are lucky to have many farmers who have upheld foraging and farming traditions as well as experimenting with growing heirloom and heritage crops. This supports regional biodiversity and creates demand for these unusual and delicious varieties. After all, it just takes one Cherokee Purple to get you hooked on heirloom tomatoes for life. This summer we are also promoting homegrown heirloom tomatoes. We have over 400 seedlings that we will be selling at farmers markets in late May. We hope to encourage our members and all tomato enthusiasts to commandeer precious urban outdoor space to try to grow their own. In the fall we will celebrate the harvest with a tomato festival; a tomato-themed potluck; and a weeklong heirloom BLT theme at a number of restaurants throughout the city. Extra credit goes to the chef who manages to produce a BLT entirely from Ark products! Another local program that we are supporting is a fledgling urban orchard called the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP). This non-profit is raising hundreds of varieties of heritage fruit trees (apples, pears, paw paws, persimmons, raspberries) on urban land and acts as a fruit-oriented community garden. Although many trees are grafted and safely nursed on a temporary site, the organization is seeking a permanent location for its orchard and education center. This fall, Slow Food Chicago is thrilled to play host to the third in a series of RAFT Midwest heirloom fruit and heritage orchard restoration workshops. Our goal is to bring people together to capture and explore the local flavors and traditions of these well-loved fruits. We will be working with our local growers to procure delicious and unusual varieties for tasting, and help encourage more people to grow heirloom varieties. I think apples are a much easier sell than fiddlehead ferns, at least for an educational and tasting series. Whats great is that the RAFT alliance and the Slow Food Ark of Taste celebrate natures biodiversity in its many forms. Whether food comes from the land or on water, in trees or from the forest floor, edibles are all around us and the traditions of hunting, harvesting, preparing are all part of our collective history as the human species as much as it is as our regional culture. We hope that Slow Food Chicago will be able to contribute to the preservation and promotion of food culture of the Midwest through our work with local farmers and consumers. So what about those ferns? I give in to simplicity; just parboil in salt water. Munching those forest fronds is like a vacation from the modern world, taking me back, way back to the hunter-gatherer in my soul.
Posted on Fri, May 08, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
On April 17, our RAFT partner, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, publicly unveiled a Heritage Chicken Definition.
Generally, we think of heritage as meaning foods that are naturally produced in traditional ways, often tied to a particular geographic region. But ALBC is taking it a step furtherlike they did for heritage turkeysby defining the term in order to create a standard understanding among breeders, producers and consumers of what heritage means for a particular species.
So, whats a heritage chicken? In short, its a standard breed of chicken (as defined by the American Poultry Association)like the Buckeye, the Java or the Jersey Giant that can reproduce naturally, grow slowly, and thrive outdoors. These birds were once raised by small-scale family farmers around the country and bred for hardiness, survivability and flavor. They are now in danger of extinction because of mass-market industrialization.
At the beginning of the twentieth century almost 90% of farms had chickens. By 1992, only 6% of farms had any poultry at all. Today, 90% of the chickens we consume are industrial hybrid varieties (mainly a single variety) that are bred to grow fast on minimal food in a confined environment. These are birds with no disease resistance, having been bred to such extremes that they could never survive outdoors on a farm.
People are starting to wake up to the horrors of industrial meat and poultry production and beginning to demand that the meat they buy is not only better for their own health, but better for the animals health and the health of our environment.
But how do we, as consumers, know what were buying? If I want to eat humanely raised chickens and dont keep chickens myself or buy them directly from a farm or farmers market, I have to rely on the packaging. For now, no one is policing the term heritage chicken but ALBC is working with the Standard Bred Poultry Institute and Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch to educate and advocate for the honest use of the term.
This is a great first step but until there are heritage labeling standards, it will be challenging for us as consumers to be assured of the authenticity of a label. As the market for sustainably raised meat and poultry grows, the food industry has been very quick to co-opt terms like cage-free and natural. Even USDA certified terms like organic and grass-fed dont necessarily mean what you think. American Grassfed Association has their own grass-fed certification and label, in collaboration with the Animal Welfare Institute, because some cattle raised in confinement and fed antibiotics are allowed to be labeled USDA grassfed.
But perhaps Im getting ahead of myself. The first step (and ALBCs forte) is recovering the numbers and productivity of these endangered breedsselecting desirable production characteristics within each breed, and growing a solid group of committed breeders and products to increase breed populations. They have developed a suite of online heritage chicken resources for folks interested in raising these breeds, and they lead breed workshops around the country to train the next generation of breeders and producers.
When it comes time to promote these birds in the marketplace, our goal will be to not only educate chefs and consumers about heritage chickens but get consumers acquainted with the unique characteristics of each individual breed. As Marjorie Bender of ALBC says, we want the meat case in the grocery store to look like the cheese case. It shouldnt just say pork chop or chicken breast, but Red Wattle pork chop and Buckeye chicken breast.
Posted on Wed, May 06, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
By Slow Food Portland, Oregon Committee Member Patrick Leonard
On an early Saturday morning, along with a group from Slow Food Portland, I drove down the familiar I-5 corridor to visit a large, local community that few Oregonians have ever considered. It is a community in which 7 languages are regularly spoken, and where residents hail from multiple countries. It is also a community that was built with sweat equity and has struggled over the years for support. And yet, for as complex and as little understood as this community is, we are dependent on its work. Nuevo Amanecer is a farmworker community and its residents are the people who harvest our food.
We met up with the staff of the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation at their Cipriano Ferrel Education Center in Woodburn. Along with the FHDC team, we were joined by a number of their community organizers and property managers, as well as by Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste), who is also the FHDC founder and board Chair. Created in 1990 by a coalition of farmworker advocacy groups, FHDC began operations with the construction of 50 affordable housing units at Nuevo Amanecer. The participating organizations realized that in order to fully address worker rights, they needed to also confront housing injustices. As Ramirez explains it, “Health conditions are directly related to working and living conditions - this led us to housing.”
Jerry Ambris, the Community Development Coordinator led us on a tour of the Nuevo Amanecer complex while explaining their current construction projects. Since the first phase of the development in 1992, FHDC has expanded their management to over 200 units in Marion and Polk Counties. In their current rehab projects and upcoming construction, FHDC has begun to embrace eco-friendly building materials, rainwater harvesting, community gardens, and culturally-sensitive construction. As an example, Ambris told our group how they’ve updated the units’ ventilation systems to accommodate the Latino residents’ dependence on boiled and steamed foods.
These choices are informed by FHDC’s incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic staff, most of whom have personal or family experience with more typical farmworker housing. Additionally, the group relies heavily on the work of their resident property managers to help make decisions about facilities and new projects. On our tour, we were introduced to one of these managers, José Alvarez, who explained the community recycling initiative that he began for Nuevo Amanecer. This kind of positive resident involvement truly sets FHDC’s developments apart from other subsidized housing.
After exploring Nuevo Amanecer, FHDC and PCUN led us out into the surrounding fields to visit two farmworker camps - one caneberry operation and one nursery. From reading and hearing about labor conditions, I thought I knew what to expect, I thought I was prepared for what I would see. There was nothing that could have readied me for the conditions that exist in these camps.
Posted on Tue, May 05, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Gordon Jenkins
White House chef Sam Kass and a team of Chicago high school students are serving Congressional leaders a delicious, healthy meal on Capitol Hill today in order to brief Congress on the need to invest in the National School Lunch Program. The mealwhich features carrot quesadillas, stuffed peppers and saladwas designed by high school students participating in the Healthy Schools Campaign’s Cooking Up Change contest. The students were asked to make a delicious, nourishing meal using ingredients typically available to food service directors. Over 40,000 school children in cities across the U.S. will be served the same meal today in their school cafeterias.
Many organizations are focusing their attention on this years reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is the bill that funds and sets standards for the National School Lunch Program. Over 30 million children eat school lunch everyday. If were going to build a nation where everyone is able to enjoy food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet, then theres no better place to start than in schools. here, on CNN]