What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Sun, August 16, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Time for Lunch campaign intern Callie Gleason
More than 12 million American children and adolescents are obese. My eyes flutter back over this unimaginable number. My image of a child includes running around tirelessly for hours. So whats changed? Whos taking care of our nations children?
As we face an era in which the obesity rate for children has quadrupled over the last four decades, where does each individual child fit into the spectrum? Im not a parent or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, so how do I know whos watching out for that little boy I see leaving his front stoop, book bag in hand, every morning?
Starting at an early age, children spend a great deal of time at school. And things have changed since the days when schools made meals from scratch. Parents cant always feel confident when they send their children away from their home kitchen and into the school cafeteria. So how do we change that? One way is through positive education.
Recipe for Success, a non-profit charity organization started by Slow Food Houston member Gracie Cavnar, aims to do just that. Working with children in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade who attend Title I schools, Cavnar and her staff with the help of 45 volunteer chefs from the Houston area reach over 3000 elementary children per month. Their mission is combating childhood obesity, but rather than setting strict nutritional requirements or restricting specific foods given to the children, Recipe for Success tries to empower children through knowledge. Through a program called Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education, they teach children how to garden and cook using local, healthy foods, at times incorporating these lessons into writing exercises, science experiments and math problems.
Staff member Veronica Ortiz recalls her first year with Recipe for Success, when she worked closely with a group of 4th graders at a local school. All year long, one of her students refused to participate in the lessons on cooking or gardening, routinely stepping to the side each day to eat a fast food meal delivered to him. Then, in the last week of the program, during which the children are invited to form Iron Chef teams and create their own meal, the student spearheaded his own team and engaged enthusiastically with the local, healthy foods he was provided with. At that moment, Ortiz was able to see the effects of her program she saw a child making his own decisions through an educated and engaged understanding.
This type of education and empowerment is, I think, exactly what has to happen in order to turn the future of our nations food and healthcare systems around. If you give young people the tools to make their own educated decisions, they will start to demand a better living for themselves and for future generations. Foundations like Recipe for Success are doing great work to someday make this goal a reality.
Look out for some of the upcoming projects from Gracie Cavnar and Recipe for Success, including a program to start a non-profit urban farm in the inner loop of Houston that could become the nations largest urban farm of its kind as well as a new cookbook for kids.
Posted on Fri, August 14, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Anne Obelnicki, RAFT Grow-Out Project Coordinator
Towards the end of July I had the pleasure of visiting John Harkins at Heritage Farm on Aquidneck Island (Portsmouth), Rhode Island. John is one of the farmers participating in our RAFT Heirloom Vegetable Grow-Out, and Id scheduled this visit for my birthday with the premonition that this would be a special place to spend a few hours. I wasnt disappointed.
My visit was on a rainy day, not much of a surprise in New England this summer. However, John and his two farm workers one full-time, one part-time bustled through the fields as cheery and efficient ever, apparently unfazed by the gloomy weather.
Like other New England farmers, John told me that his crops were about a month behind this year because of all the rain and the lack of sunshine early in the season. Luckily, he hadnt had much disease as a result, and as he cheerfully led me through the fields he pointed out variety after intriguing variety of beautiful plants thriving in bushy, healthy rows.
Johns career path evolved into vegetable farming after spending a chunk of his 20s in landscaping. He told me he liked the productivity of vegetable farming creating something useful, something delicious that you can eat and found it in sharp contrast to the unproductive nature of maintaining grassy suburban landscapes. John gave a short, ironic laugh as he commented on the discrepancy between what people will pay to have their lawns mowed (a lot!) in contrast to their expectations for the cost of good, wholesome local vegetables (not much!). Obviously a thoughtful farmer, his mind seemed to buzz a mile a minute as we continued to walk the fields.
John is growing 11 of the 16 RAFT veggies included in the Grow-Out, but his enthusiasm for heirlooms vastly exceeds the bounds of our project. As we walked, he pointed out the row where he is doing a seed trial of 10 tomato varieties for Fedco Seeds. I was impressed as John rattled off names of strange and intriguing heirloom squashes, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and other veggies, all remembered without a map. While many farmers find it more convenient to grow just a few varieties, John told me growing TONS of varieties is part of what makes farming engaging and exciting for him.
John is new to working with restaurants, but were hoping through the Grow-Out hell make connections with many chefs in his area. With all those amazing heirlooms to sell, theyll be lucky to have him as a supplier.
Posted on Thu, August 13, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Youth Programs Intern Reece Trevor
A few days ago, Cecily posted a piece on the Slow Food USA blog about Monsantos rather disingenuous efforts to market a commitment to sustainability on public radio shows. Monsantos radio spots are the latest in a long string of corporate attempts to green-wash their products and actions by spending lots of money on glitzy environmentally-themed public relations efforts even as they continue to conduct business as usual. Green-washing seems to grow more and more rampant by the week, so I thought Id throw in my two cents.
My two Canadian cents, that is. Earlier this summer, Hellmanns (of mayonnaise fame) launched a web site called Eat Real, Eat Local. Its a slick flash-based site designed to educate Canadians about the importance of eating locally-grown foods. The sites centerpiece is an animated short highlighting, for the most part, Canadas considerable food trade deficit. Hellmanns frames the issue primarily in economic terms, often veering towards the nationalistic as well with its portrayals of hard-working Canadian farmers losing out to foreign producers.
Okay, fair enough. Economics is certainly a viable component of locavorism. But then the movie fades, and a brave little jar of mayonnaiseyoull never guess what brandappears at the head of a mighty phalanx of broccoli, carrots, and beets. Have no fear, good people of Canada! Hellmanns cares, and theyre here to save you from the corporate masterminds who want to corrupt your nations food system!
Posted on Thu, August 13, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
In Dan Barber’s op-ed in the NY Times on Saturday, “You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster,” he writes about late blight, a disease attacking tomatoes and potatoes across the Northeast this summer. He notes that the huge increase in people growing their own food this year may have actually contributed to the problem. We cant just eat locally we must also buy plants locally. A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate. When you buy locally grown plants, you not only support local farmers but also protect against the spread of disease. If a disease occurs in a small nursery you can isolate it much more quickly than in an industrial breeding operation that distributes to Home Depot, Kmart, Lowes and Wal-Mart stores all around the country.
Barbers main point, though, is that a healthy food system is a diverse food system. “The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it’s really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.” For Barber, the “resilient farm of the future” is a farm with 30 plus different crops, with several varieties of the same vegetables (some heirloom, many not).
Here at Slow Food USA we are working to create a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who produce it and good for the planet. Diversity is central to the good, clean, fair food system we envision. In our biodiversity program, we encourage our chapters around the country to recover and promote foods that are adapted to regional climates, soils and cultural traditions. These are foods that are quickly disappearing from our farms and our tables, like Anishinaabeg manoomin, Great Lakes hand-harvested wild rice, and Pineywoods cattle and Gulf Coast sheep, breeds well adapted to the humid South.
Posted on Wed, August 12, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
I love a good paradox, dont you? And sometimes I like to take mine with a side of situational irony.
A recent study appearing in this months journal of Economics and Human Biology as reported by Science Daily concludes that the US Food Stamp Program has actually been shown to contribute directly to weight gain. The studys researchers found that food stamp users had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 1.15 points higher than those not enrolled in the program. In laypersons terms this would be a weight gain of about 5.8 pounds. Also, the BMI of those studied tended to increase at faster rates, and the biggest weight gains were witnessed amongst female study participants.
Now the irony lies, of course, in the fact that the Food Stamp Program is meant to combat basic hunger by facilitating food consumption amongst sensitive populations. Would weight gain not then be considered a positive effect? Isnt it poverty that tends to be a predictor of weight gain and obesity? Shouldnt having access to bread, milk, meat and veggies make you healthier? Shouldnt any food dollar assistance make ones family healthier?
Let us consider, however, our list of Food Stamp allowables which in many ways can be connected to conversations around whats served in school lunches across the country. The basics such as breads, dairy meats, veggies and other staples are covered, but they are generally of a lesser grade (uncouth, discriminatory government cheese jokes anyone?). Certainly food stamps can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, but they can also purchase convenient frozen, prepared and high-fat products. Organics are only minimally allowed if at all with restrictions varying state-to-state, and food stamps still widely cover unhealthy, high-fat creations such as Lunchables and other food monstrosities.
Posted on Wed, August 12, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
A while back I wrote about Fritz Haeg’s art-cum-ag project called “Edible Estates.” Well this news just in: for the new edition of the book they are looking for more reports from across the country from those that have decided to engage in “full frontal gardening.”
Have you replaced the lawn in front of your house or apartment building with a completely edible garden? Questions and submissions can be sent to: assistant[at]fritzhaeg.com
They will need:
- a 500 word story about your garden
- 4 or 5 photos of your garden at the highest resolution
- your name, mailing address, size of garden, date established, and USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
Edible Estates (http://www.edibleestates.org) has initiated a series of regional prototype front yard gardens since 2005 for families in Salina, KS; Lakewood, CA; Maplewood, NJ; London, UK; Austin, TX, Los Angeles, CA; Baltimore, MD; and most recently, the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan, which will have it’s public opening on September 14th:
Posted on Tue, August 11, 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.
I get Google Alerts about blog posts and articles that mention school lunch, and lately the emails have had lots of links to stories about how to pack a healthy midday meal. Ive been getting alerts about everything from packable recipe ideas to the latest stylish lunch boxes. All of this reminds me that while more than 30 million students participate in the National School Lunch Program each year, another 20 million forgo cafeteria fare and bring lunch from home.
Many parents pack lunch for their children because they dont consider chicken nuggets a healthy meal. I dont either. But before you resolve to pack lunch for your child every day this year, think about this: one of the best ways to get better food into public school cafeterias is to put away the lunch box and become a loyal lunchroom customer.
Ive blogged before about how cafeterias operate much like restaurants. Since their revenue comes from a mixture of federal per-meal reimbursements and student dollars, cafeteria directors need to bring students into the lunch line to stay afloat. They do that by offering the foods kids like pizza, chicken nuggets, nachos and French fries. The hope is that students will look at the menu and say, Mom, I want to buy lunch today because the entree is popcorn chicken.
That means kids have a lot of power when it comes to determining whats for lunch at school. But it also means that parents have a lot of power. After all, parents are the ones who supply the lunch money. If parents and Im talking big groups of parents started using that power, cafeterias would probably be pretty receptive. If cafeterias had to cater to parents instead of kids, they probably wouldnt serve popcorn chicken.
Posted on Sat, August 08, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Amy McCoy, leader of Slow Food Rhode Island
Undeterred by the seemingly constant rain here in the Northeast, Rich Pederson, the farmer of Southside Community Land Trusts City Farm in Providence, RI, and I recently set out to plant True Red Cranberry bean seeds.
City Farm sits just blocks from Rhode Island Hospital, tucked between Southside Community Land Trusts community gardens and the Buddhist Center of New Englanda large circus-style tent with colorful signage facing the road. City Farm is no less colorful: a bike rack with an arbor dripping in beets, a planting vessel fashioned by a welder neighbor, a vibrant mural celebrating our agrarian past painted on the face of the greenhouse. And then there are the plants. We like to plant colorful things here, Pederson informed me as we walked around the back of the greenhouse, admiring garlic, scarlet runner beans, and pansies bursting from a container of compost. Thats why the True Red Cranberry bean is such a good fit for us.
Slow Food Rhode Island donated the True Red Cranberry bean seeds as well as Boothbys Blonde cucumber seedsanother unusually pigmented varietyto City Farm as part of our outreach for the Renewing Americas Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance New England Grow-out.
In keeping with the use every bit of space philosophy of City Farm, Pederson and I planted the True Red Cranberry beans at the base of the sunflowers growing up at the back of the greenhouse. With the remaining seed, we planted the perimeter of the Bean Teepee, a fixture of the Childrens Garden, where the 200 or so participants in City Farms seven-week summer program will enjoy a hideaway formed by beanstalks.
Posted on Fri, August 07, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by youth programs intern Reece Trevor
Slow Food USA will profile a number of our 2008 Slow Food in Schools Micro-Grant recipients in the coming months. Look out for these profiles, along with best practice suggestions for Slow Food in Schools projects from our 2008 Micro-Grant recipients, which will be housed on the Youth Programs page this fall.
Diablo Community Day School isnt a typical high school. Its students have been expelled from every other school in the district; many of them have been shuttled around the alternative education system for months. Diablo Day is their last chance.
Something else sets Diablo Day apart: its school garden. In mid-2008, volunteers from Slow Food Delta Diablo, supported by a Slow Food USA Micro-Grant and donations from local businesses, set up an 8-bed garden on Diablo Days grounds and planted a number of permanent fruit trees. Every Tuesday for the rest of the school year, the garden ladies would join students in the garden as they learned about new foods and new ways of eating.
Within weeks of the gardens opening, teachers at Diablo Day started to notice its successes. From the slow food perspective, the benefits of growing closer to their food was obvious, but the kids got much more. Teachers were amazed at how well gardening promoted teamwork and communications skills. Most of all, Diablo Days students go home knowing that theyve created something that they can nurture as it grows—from a seed into an edible plant. As one student put it, In the garden, I feel a sort of peace. I feel so proud of myself because I know that some of the wonderful things that I planted are still growing.
Posted on Thu, August 06, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Claire Stanford
My school lunch awakening began the summer after I graduated from college, in 2006, when I volunteered as a counselor at a free day camp in New Haven, Connecticut. The point of the camp was many-fold: to teach kids about the environment, to keep kids off the street and out of trouble all day, and to exhaust them enough during the day that theyd stay out of trouble when we let them out, too. And, importantly, to give them free breakfast, lunch, and snack every day, provided by the New Haven public school system.
For many kids, school lunch (and the less well-known school breakfast) serve the invaluable function of providing two guaranteed meals a day, something I didnt realize until that summer. Kids were allowed to bring their own lunch; out of the forty-or-so kids, I could probably count the number who actually did bring brown-bags on one hand.
Every day at noon, the kids would sit in a big circle on the floor, and we would pass out lunch, the most typical one being a baloney and cheese sandwich (one slice of baloney and one slice of processed American cheese on white sandwich bread), a bag of carrots, and a small carton of chocolate milk. In the middle of the circle were three bins labeled trash, recycling, and food waste. The plastic wrappers for the sandwiches and the carrots went in the trash bin, the milk cartons in the recycling, and anything the kids didnt eat into the food waste. At the end of every lunch, after everything had been cleaned up, one counselor would weigh the bin of food waste. We recorded these weights on a chart posted on the blackboard; the goal was to get below one pound of food waste. If the goal was reached, the head of the camp promised, she would shave off her eyebrows.