What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, July 31, 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.
Most adults dont have glorious memories of school lunch. It was sloppy Joes, shepherds pie, spaghetti with meat sauce, and it was usually on the bland side. But the food wasnt bad, and it was almost always cooked from scratch by an army of school lunch ladies.
How things have changed. A few days ago, I blogged about some pretty dismal statistics on scratch cooking in school cafeterias. A survey by the School Nutrition Association found that over 80 percent of schools cook fewer than half of their main dishes from scratch. And almost 40 percent of schools cook fewer than one-fourth of their entrees from scratch.
What happened? Part of it has to do with rising labor costs. It takes time and therefore money to cook thousands of servings of meatloaf and mac and cheese. Part of it also has to do with evolving student taste. Cafeteria directors say students these days prefer packaged food to home-cooked classics.
But we cant explain the success of heat-and-serve lunchroom fare without giving the USDA some credit. Thanks to a provision known as commodity processing, cafeterias can divert their government-donated foods to commercial processors and receive table-ready items instead of raw products. Today, schools divert about half of their commodities to processors.
According to the USDA, the goal of commodity processing was twofold: it was supposed to allow schools to maximize the use of commodities, while also opening up the school market for the food industry. By those standards, it has been an amazing success. Schools now turn commodity meat, flour, cheese and fruit into a wide variety of (unhealthy) foods kids love. And companies rake in the money from turning raw chicken into nuggets, strips and breaded patties. Today, over 150 companies from Tyson to Jennie-O Turkey process commodity items for school cafeterias.
Posted on Thu, July 30, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Paula Shatkin, leader of Slow Food Russian River, coordinator of Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium Project
Of the hundreds of California apple varieties, the Sebastopol Gravenstein is one of the bestgreat fresh, great for pies, juice, vinegar, sauce, and brandy. It has a fine balance of sweet and tart, it’s crunchy, and it holds its shape when baked. This heirloom variety was brought to California around 1790 by the Russians. By the early 1900s thousands of Gravenstein orchards were the heart of a major industry in Sonoma County. Annual Gravenstein festivals, parades at apple blossom time, streets and schools named after the appleall this has been part of the cultural heritage of the area. Now we are losing apple acreage at an alarming rate, primarily due to the much higher profitability of wine grapes.
Slow Food Russian River applied to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity six years ago to make the Sebastopol Gravenstein the first Presidia in California, and one of only six Presidia projects in the US. Since then, a large, active group of volunteersthe Apple Corpsԗhas worked with a growing number of local farmers to promote the Gravensteins, to increase demand, and to raise awareness of the importance of supporting local growers.
This year we are sponsoring a Gravenstein Season Kick-Off event at the Sebastopol Farmers market on August 2nd, where local chefs and bakers will offer tastes and samples, Slow Food members will press juice, and a local radio host will broadcast her show and interview Gravenstein apple farmers. Two weeks later, we will sponsor a booth at the annual Gravenstein Faire, August 15th and 16th in Sebastopol, and two local growerswho make juice, sauce, vinegar and other value added productswill share our booth and sell their products. We will give out literature, sell posters and bumper stickers, and sell fresh apples.
To add to the excitement, we have recruited close to 70 Bay Area restaurants that have all agreed to feature Gravenstein apples on their menus for the month of August, and place our posters and other literature in their windows. Our website will list each restaurant to help promote them to the community.
Posted on Wed, July 29, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Winnie Yang
Its the moment weve all been waiting for. We dreamt of it in the depths of winter. Its been eagerly awaited by produce lovers, farmers, and Italian grandmas. The height of summer: its finally here, and the farmers markets runneth over with squash, peppers, corn, berries, green beans, and tom Wait. Where are the tomatoes?
As you may have heard (here, for instance), Northeast tomato crops have been decimated by a widespread outbreak of late blight. The highly contagious fungus is believed to have spread from plants in garden stores to backyard gardens and commercial fields, Julia Moskin reports in the New York Times. A rainy June exacerbated the spread of the blight, which thrives in damp, windy weather.
The disease affects both tomatoes and potatoes (a strain of it caused the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s) and is so infectious that plants showing any signs of disease must be destroyed. Burning, spraying and deeply burying infected plants are options for farmers, Moskin writes. Home gardeners should pull plants out at the first sign of the disease. Rather than composting them, the plants should be sealed in plastic bags and thrown away.
Posted on Wed, July 29, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Call your representative today and urge them to support the Kaptur-Farr Food Safety Proposal.
H.R. 2749, The Food Safety Enhancement Act, has been moving through committee and now is slated to go to the floor of the House on Wednesday, July 29. The bill will go to the house floor under a suspension vote, which means limited debate and no amendments can be introduced on the floor. A two-thirds majority is needed for passage.
Last week, representatives Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Sam Farr (CA-17), Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL-2), Peter Welch (VT-at large), Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) submitted a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee with specific proposed changes to HR 2749 that addresses many of the concerns raised by the sustainable and organic agriculture community.
H.R. 2749 contains provisions that could hinder sustainable and organic farmers’ access to markets, require expensive fees, and lead to dismantling of important conservation practices and wildlife habitat.
Please call your Representative today, Wednesday, and ask them to join the effort to protect small and mid-sized family farmers, the environment, and consumer choice by supporting the provisions in the Kaptur-Farr proposal to HR 2749.
Its easy and only takes a minute to do:
Click here to find your Representatives name and enter your zip code in the top left-hand corner of the screen.
Then call the Capitol Switchboard and ask to be directly connected to your Representative’s office: 202-224-3121. You can say:
“I am a constituent of Representative___________ and I am calling to ask him/her to support the Kaptur-Farr proposal to HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. I am also asking him/her to vote against HR 2749 unless the proposals included in the Kaptur-Farr letter are included in the final bill.”
Posted on Tue, July 28, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA campaign intern Stephanie Miller
Here at Slow Food USA, we started our Time for Lunch campaign because providing kids with local, healthy food at school is a goal worth fighting for. Over the last few months, weve been talking with parents, food activists, and food service professionals from all 50 states about the challenges they have faced on the road towards a better National School Lunch Program.
Extreme environments often overlooked in the discussion of local food and nutrition are the frozen deserts, deciduous ranges, and rain forests of Alaska. According to Kerri Burrows, manager of the Alaska Food Coalition, the main food issue in area schools is not nutrition, but supply. Traditionally, native Alaskans have relied on a seasonally variable high-protein diet. But schools still have to comply with the nutritional standards of the National School Lunch Program. This means that most school food is shipped thousands of miles north from the continental United States. When perishable foods arrive, they are less than fresh, and very expensive. To account for these extra costs, school meals in Alaska are subsidized three times as much as the average in the rest of nation. The one thing that isnt unique about Alaskas school food is its impact on childrens health: as is the case elsewhere else, childhood obesity is spiraling out of control, especially among indigenous children who rely on a non-native diet full of the processed foods that are popular in the rest of the country.
Kathryn Carl, of Haines, AK, has been working hard to find a solution to this problem. She works with a school in nearby Klukwan, a Chilkat Indian village, to serve locally sensitive lunches. In order to implement the program, the school has opted to not receive lunches from the National School Lunch Program. They serve about 30 meals a day to local children and elderly residents of the small village. The program relies heavily on donations, such as local Halibut and Salmon, as well as a garden where they can grow produce such as potatoes. They are currently trying to raise funds for a greenhouse. Kathryns husband makes fresh bread several times a week, since shipped bread often arrives with mold in the middle.
On September 7, Kathryn and other residents of Klukwan will hold an Eat-In as part of Time for Lunchs National Day of Action. We hope that their example of hard work and ingenuity will inspire discussion in their region and in other local food communities, whatever the local challenges. Its not always easy to give kids real food at school, but its an important and absolutely necessary job: the health of our nation depends on it.
Posted on Mon, July 27, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Follow Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel on Twitter!
And while you’re at it, follow Slow Food USA, the organization, as well. So far, about 1,500 people are doing it!
And if you really just really can’t get enough, join the fun with 4,500 other fans on Facebook!
Posted on Mon, July 27, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA Biodiversity Intern Regina Fitzsimmons
Navajo-Churro sheep have sustained the Dine, Pueblo and Hispanic communities of the Southwest for over 400 years. In the late 1500s, Spanish explorers docked their boats on the Mexican/Texan coast and ventured into the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of the Southwest United States with flocks of sheep, brought from Spain.
Under the watchful, guiding eye of the native Dine and Pueblo people, the sheep adapted well to the semi-arid mesas and pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Colorado Plateau and desert canyons.
These sheep were valuable for their pelts, two distinct types of fiber, meat, milk, horns and wool. But despite their extraordinary value, they suffered two near-extinctions. The first came in 1863 when the Dine people were declared enemies of the United States. United States troops burned their crops and peach trees and slaughtered nearly all of the Churro sheep. A few clans escaped and small sheep populations survived. Several decades later, the Churro population made a comeback only to be pillaged again in the Dirty Thirties when stock-reductions of all grazing animals were ordered by the U.S. government (as a way of lessening ground exposure after grazing) in an effort to prevent more dust from billowing into blackening skies. By the 1970s, there were approximately 400 Churro sheep left, counted by a veterinarian on the reservation. Other sheep existed, but were scattered around the U.S. and not always identified for what they were.
Thanks to a loyal group of shepherds like Jay Begay Jr. from Hardrock, Arizona, restoration activists like Dr. Lyle McNeal professor of animal sciences and veterinary medicine at Utah State University, and the help from a few organizations (Navajo Lifeways and the Navajo Churro Sheep Association) these sheep have started making a third comeback. Today there are over 5,000 registered sheep nationally and approximately 3,000 unregistered.
In 2006, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity recognized the Navajo-Churro Sheep as a breed of distinct cultural and biological importance and launched a Presidium to help market the meat, thus promoting the economic vitality of Dine shepherding traditions and preserving their rich cultural heritage while simultaneously reviving the breed.
In conjunction with the Presidiuma project of Slow Food Alta Arizonaa film was developed by Peter Blystone and Margaret Chanler over the course of two years. This movie, titled A Gift from Talking God: the Story of the Navajo-Churro, is now available for purchase by calling the Slow Food USA office (718-260-8000) and features Roy Kady, Jay Begay, Jr, Dr. Lyle McNeal, and Dr. Gary Nabhan. They explain the importance and traditions of the Navajo-Churro and speak of their stewardship to the sheep.
Posted on Fri, July 24, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
By Gary Nabhan
This last week, I went out into the desert to find an old friend in her trailer-turned-artisanal kitchen. My friend is a Hispanic woman who lost her job after 9/11 in a borderlands community that lost thousands of more jobs during the mortgage fiasco two years ago and the more recent economic downturn. And yet, despite all the discouraging turns that have occurred in the Tucson, Arizona economy over the last decade, I did not hear discouraging words in Esperanza Arevalos kitchen. I heard words like flavor, prayer and miracle; and I smelled the savory, smoky fragrance of mesquite tortillas just off the griddle. Despite warnings that these are the worst of times to be starting a small business, her homemade mesquite tortillas are selling like hotcakes. Tortilleria Arevalo is having the best of times.
Esperanzawhose name means hopeis but one of several entrepreneurs in the border states who have recently convinced me that local, place-based heritage foods are not just for the elite, but that other, less fortunate folks have chosen to purchase them during some of the toughest times that the U.S. and Mexican economies have ever faced.
Eleven years ago, Esperanza, coached by her Sonoran-born father Javier, began to offer on Tucson street corners a unique sort of tortilla whose heritage goes back centuries, if not millennia. It is made of the flour of mesquite pods, the flour of ground, popped amaranth seeds, wheat flour and olive oil. It may sound simple, but balancing the flavor and texture of these tortillas took months of experimentation by Esperanza and Javier. I know, because I was their first customer! But within a year or so, Esperanza was making twenty dozen mesquite tortillas a week in her spare time, and Javier was helping her hustle them to prospective buyers , not only on street corners, but at a couple health food stores as well.
Posted on Thu, July 23, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Chicago’s doing it; New York City’s doing it. Who’s next, and what’s “it?”
“It” is something called a “foodprint resolution,” and it represents an initiative to help cities acknowledge the connection between climate change and food production and distribution; and make a commitment to reduce their impact and increase their citizens’ access to healthier, greener foods. On Tuesday, in Chicago, the City Councils Committee on Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities voted unanimously to pass the resolution. On June 30, New York City Council Member Bill de Blasio introduced a similar resolution calling for a citywide “FoodprintNYC” initiative to reduce the citys climate foodprint and create greater access to local, fresh, healthy plant-based food, especially in low-income communities, as well as city-run institutions. So far, 11 City Council members have signed on as co-sponsors.
The resolution is being introduced as a kind of coda to NYC’s carbon footprint reduction commitment (PlaNYC). As blogger Kerry Trueman explains on the HuffPost,
“a lot of us—including our very own mayor—are only just starting to understand that our food choices affect the environment’s health as much as our own. Mayor Bloomberg has famously (and courageously) launched numerous campaigns to fight various public health nuisances: trans fats; smoking; calorie listings; sodium; yada, yada…
And yet, for a man who seems pretty adept at crunching numbers, Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t put two and two together when it comes to food and climate: PlaNYC doesn’t take into account the ways we produce, distribute and discard food, even though they collectively create more greenhouse gases than transportation.
NYC’s carbon foodprint must be considered, too, when we examine how to conserve resources, improve our aging infrastructure, and create a more sustainable city.”
Local organizations are hopeful that this initiative has traction and can be a model for all cities across the country.
Posted on Wed, July 22, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Heidi Busse
Madison, Wisc. When students get to work in a garden, good things happen. An empty lot is transformed into edible fields, students learn job skills that connect them with their agrarian heritage and fresh produce is harvested for the local food pantry.
These are just a few of the benefits that students at Madison East High School are learning and sharing with the community. This summer, Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens has created an urban farm in partnership with Madison East and the Goodman Community Center. If successful, their goal is to create a new model for high school agriculture education.
When we started [this spring], there was nothing planted here, says Megan Cain, East High Farm Manager. Now this 5-acre plot is a lush vegetable garden, a mosaic of newly tilled vegetable beds. The land was originally donated to the Madison School District in the 1950s by a retiring dairy farmer. The school district built an elementary school on the land, but kept 5 acres of woods and green space to use as a demonstration site for their agriculture program. When I walk the land and see the stands of edible fruit trees and wildflower prairie that stand among the newly planted vegetable beds, I cant help but dwell for a moment on the hard work and dreams that have been put into this place long before the students started farming this summer.
East Highs agriculture program has been eliminated other programs have higher priority and more interest but the district has kept the land as a community gardening site. The pressure to transform the site into something of value weighs heavy, because the district would benefit from the profits of selling the land. So this summer, Community GroundWorks came in to help the district realize the farms educational potential and provide jobs to East High students and Native American youth.