What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Wed, March 31, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Christine Binder
A recent study in Nature Neuroscience found that rats allowed to binge on high-fat, high-calorie foods junk food bought at the grocery store not only became obese, but also became compulsive eaters. The neuroscientists found that changes in the brains of the obese rats are similar to those found in people with a physical addiction to drugs.
This comes as no surprise if you have read David Kesslers book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, which states that overeating comes not from character flaws, but from biological conditioning. Eating foods high in fat, sugar, or salt reinforces the desire to eat those foods again. The more people eat them, the less rewarding they taste, which drives them to compensate by compulsively eating even more. The food and restaurant industries know this. Tons of research and development goes into designing foods that are literally irresistible, or as the industry calls them, cravable.
Kesslers book has influenced Michelle Obamas Lets Move initiative, which aims to eradicate childhood obesity within a generation. Here is an excerpt from The First Ladys speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association earlier this month:
“Humans are hard-wired to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods. And it is temping to take advantage of that to create products that are sweeter, richer, and saltier than ever before.
This can be particularly dangerous when it comes to our kids the more of these products they have in their diets, the more accustomed they become to those tastes, and then the more deeply embedded these foods become in their eating habits.”
Posted on Tue, March 30, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Valerie Scott
We all know what local, sustainable food can do for the health of our bodies, but could it also be a cure for the health of ailing economies? Ben Hewitts book The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food delves into this question, exploring the growth of a vibrant local food economy in Hardwick, Vermont, population 3,200.
Hardwick is a lot like how it sounds unemployment in the town is 40 percent higher than the state average; incomes are 25 percent lower. But in the last few years, Hardwick has returned to its historical roots in farming, with a new twist local, sustainable agriculture. Its growing a vibrant local food system that is restoring not only some jobs and higher wages, but a sense of community and food thats connected to it.
A diverse network of agrepreneurs in Hardwick High Mowing Organic Seeds, Petes Greens, Jasper Hill Farm, the Vermont Food Venture Center and so on - are producing organic and artisanal foods and seeking investors. Business owners share advice, capital and facilities. About a hundred jobs have been created.
Sounds great, but is the story of this one towns thriving local food system unique, or is it a viable model for other communities? As I read, part of me hoped to find an easy-to-follow plan - just do it like we did! Farm this way, market that way, save the world, take a nap. Sadly, social change isnt that easy, but while Hardwick doesnt offer an exact blueprint, it is a thought-provoking example of a thriving local food economy.
Hewitt suggests that a couple of unique, and surprising, variables have contributed to the towns growing local-ag economy: poverty and small size. Hewitt believes that Hardwicks success is founded upon trust and collaboration which are in no small ways social and cultural responses to economic hardship. He also suggests that the population had a just right quality that was big enough to be ambitious, and small enough to be fast-acting and flexible.
The best lesson to be learned here is about cooperation and inspiration. The Town that Food Saved is a story about the ability of a group of likeminded folks to come together in pursuit of a passion for sustainable, local food not without challenges, but with dedication to a bigger vision. Thats what Slow Food is all about too.
If youre interested in learning more about thriving local food entrepreneurs, BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) has some exciting network programs focused on sustainable agriculture. And for ideas on how to invest in other inspiring small food enterprises, you can check out Slow Money, a non-profit dedicated to investing in local food systems and connecting investors to local economies.
Posted on Thu, March 25, 2010 by Gordon Jenkins
Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved its bill to update child nutrition programs (the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act). The bill will now go to the Senate floor at a date to be determined, no earlier than mid-April.
The committee made no major changes, though we were excited to see Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas increase funding for Farm to School programs to $40 million (inching closer to our goal of $50 million over five years). The bill also strengthens nutrition standards for all the food sold at school, effectively kicking junk food out of school vending machines. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio passed an amendment for an organic food pilot program to get more organic food into school meals, though the amendment doesnt yet have funding.
Overall, the bill invests $500 million per year in child nutrition programs, which falls short of the $1 billion per year proposed by President Obama in order to help schools serve healthier food. Senator Lincoln was hopeful about funding, however, saying:
“I am committed to working to identify additional resources for this legislation…. After reporting this bill I look forward to working with my colleague Senator Baucus and the leadership in the Senate to identify additional funding.”
Funding for healthier food will be paid for by offsets in other parts of the federal budget. Currently, the Child Nutrition bill makes a cut to conservation programs, which is a cut that Slow Food USA does not support particularly when a much larger portion of the budget goes to farm subsidies that support unhealthy processed foods.
On the same day that the committee approved the bill, Slow Food USAs Time for Lunch Campaign surpassed its goal of sending 100,000 letters and petition signatures to Congress. The momentums still growing—click here to learn how you can help out.
Posted on Wed, March 24, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Julia Landau
Jamie Oliver, the famed Naked Chef, launches his new reality TV program Jamie Olivers Food Revolution this Friday, March 26 at 8pm EST on ABC. For folks like me who cant wait until Friday (who said patience was a virtue?), a sneak peak of the first episode is available.
The show accompanies Oliver through his quest to change the way America eats. Hes chosen Huntington, WV, the statistically unhealthiest city in the U.S., as his jumping-off point.
Jamies efforts are two-pronged, focusing both on school food and on family cooking in the home. On both fronts hes up against resistance and skepticism. In the first moments of the show, we watch Oliver meet Central City Elementarys crew of chefs, who have to operate within a broken system and arent necessarily happy with ambitious outsiders telling them what to do. Following his tense introduction to the cafeteria, Oliver brings the revolution home to a local family, where his challenge is to transform the diet of a family living off of fried food and frozen pizzas. Hes up against fifty years of ingrained values and misinformation.
TV hoopla aside, I believe this show is actually a big deal. It has the potential to speak to a mostly mainstream audience, and to help Americans take a hard look at school food and what were eating. To be sure, he may piss off more than a few people, but Im glad to see he isnt shying away from hitting the ground and talking to people face-to-face. Lets also consider the network on which the show is airing ABC. This isnt the Food Network. Hes outside the bubble.
Whats more, Jamies show comes at exactly the right time, as Congress is just beginning to discuss its bill to update school meal programs. The timeliest way to join the food revolution is to ask your legislators to support a strong Child Nutrition Act that helps schools serve healthier food. Check out Slow Food USAs Time for Lunch Campaign to get involved and check out Jamie Olivers Food Revolution for some laughs, some tears, and hopefully a happy ending.
Posted on Wed, March 24, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Christine Binder
Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed the health care bill into law. Tucked away inside the massive piece of legislation, there is provision requiring chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets in the United States to list calorie counts on menus, menu boards, and drive-through displays. The law, which affects over 200,000 U.S. restaurants, also applies to vending machines.
In 2008, New York City was the first to mandate calorie counts, and was followed by Seattle, California, and over a dozen other states and municipalities. The Food and Drug Administration will create standards for the labeling, which should come into full effect within the next few years. Soon enough, people all over the country will be able to see the number of calories in an item before they purchase it. According to food policy guru Marion Nestle, calorie labeling has a second positive effect: it motivates fast food and chain restaurants to provide lower-calorie offerings.
For more information see Nestle’s blog, Food Politics.
Posted on Mon, March 22, 2010 by Gordon Jenkins
Last week, Slow Food Denver volunteer Andrew Nowak had the opportunity to sit down with one of Senator Michael Bennets staff members in D.C.
In the meeting with Senator Bennets staff, Andrew talked about his nine years of work coordinating Slow Food Denvers Seed to Table School Garden Program. He also encouraged the Senator to help schools serve healthier food by passing a strong Child Nutrition Act and to include legislation to support purchases of local food through Farm to Cafeteria initiatives.
After, Andrew had a few words of encouragement for other Slow Food leaders:
For someone who participated in this arena for the first time, I do feel closer to the process and have learned quite a bit of what goes on. I can’t say that I will become a total political junkie after this experience, but I am a more informed voter. I think you should encourage other Slow Food leaders to reach out and connect with their representatives on this issue.
Well said. Contacting your legislators staff is an opportunity to become someone on whom the staff relies for advice and information. Its a particularly good idea if your Senator is on the Agriculture Committee, because theyll begin marking up the Child Nutrition on March 24.
To learn more about Slow Food Denvers work with local schools, check out what Andrew had to say in this recent article on INDenverTimes.com.
Posted on Fri, March 19, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Julia Landau
Over 100 school food service directors, community activists, and government agency partners will convene at the second Annual Meeting of the organization School Food FOCUS in Chicago on March 25-27, 2010.
School Food FOCUS supports the nations largest urban school districts in their efforts to procure more healthful, more sustainably produced and regionally sourced food. FOCUS was developed in response to a call by urban school districts to transform the quality of school food. The organization is also driven by a recognition that improving the meal service in large school districts with major purchasing power can go a long way towards improving the food system nationwide.
The keynote speaker of next weeks conference is Jan Poppendieck, author of the new book Free For All: Fixing School Food in America (We reviewed it on this blog last month). The meeting will also feature the first Real School Food Showcase - a selection of carefully chosen chicken, whole grain and other food products available for institutional purchasing that strive to meet FOCUS criteria for more healthful, local, and sustainable.
The meeting will highlight demonstrated successes in sourcing local and nutritious school food. There will be a conversation with USDA officials, giving participants the chance to learn more about the new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program and the upcoming Childhood Nutrition Act.
This is seriously good timing for talking about school lunch. Senator Blanche Lincoln just introduced her draft of the Child Nutrition Act, and the Agriculture Committee will begin marking it up on March 24. Slow Food USA is asking legislators to invest in healthier food, strengthen nutrition standards and link schools to local farms click here to learn how you can help.
[photo, from Fed up with school lunch]
Posted on Thu, March 18, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Lila Wilmerding
At the beginning of the century, Michael Thompson left his career in landscaping to give conventional farming a try in Northern Illinois. Finding little appeal in corn and soybeans, but still looking to engage in agriculture, Michael returned to Chicago where he and two partners founded an urban honey co-operative in 2004. They based their business on three main tenets: they would produce healthy, delicious food; they would provide job training and mentorship for those in need of it; and they would run a self-sufficient business.
Having pulled together their business plan, the three partners got the Chicago Honey Co-op project off the ground quickly. They set up their bee hives in an urban lot, and began connecting with the Chicago community while selling honey products at local farmers markets. At one these markets, Slow Food members approached the co-op, hoping to host a community dinner at the bee farm. Though the event was a success and he believed in the Slow Food message, Michael was not completely sold on Slow Food as an organization until he heard Carlo Petrini speak on one of his book tours. Carlos enthusiasm and charm pulled Michael into the Slow Food web, and, a few years later, he was excited to attend the Terra Madre conference in Turin in 2008.
At this meeting, Michael connected with farmers, chefs, and activists from all over the world who share his beliefs in some form or anotherthey all want to reform the current food system so that it supports local economies and food traditions. In his words, Terra Madre is a grassroots movement to support local farmers so that they can treat the land well and leave something good behind. Upon returning from Italy, Michael wanted to spread what he learned at Terra Madre. He and the honey co-op have been involved in several local organizations, often working with youth, as a way of sharing what they know.
Specifically, they have participated in the Hull House Museums Rethinking Soup program. This projectthrough the University of Illinoispulls together people weekly for free soup and discussion about social, environmental, and economic issues. Their topics often focus on food traditions and sustainability. Members of the co-op present a beekeeping workshop to the Hull House audience. In addition, Michael has lent his co-op expertise to a group of Chicago youth as they form their own business plan to create the community-run Dill Pickle Food Co-op.
The Chicago Honey Co-op also hoststo increasing demanda couple of beekeeping workshops on their farm each year. Those who attend these classes learn in detail the sustainable traditions that the co-op members practice. With these projects, among others, the Chicago Honey Co-op has made a clear impact in the community and paved the way for the next generation to continue on the path towards a more sustainable food system.
Posted on Wed, March 17, 2010 by Gordon Jenkins
Today, Senator Blanche Lincoln unveiled her version of the Child Nutrition Act and announced that the Senate Agriculture Committee will begin marking up the bill next week, on Wednesday, March 24.
Lincolns draft boosts funding for child nutrition programs by $500 million per year, and includes stronger nutrition standards and some support for Farm to School programs. She called it a record investment in child nutrition programs, which is technically true but only because Congress has consistently under-funded school meals in every Child Nutrition Act until now. It’s encouraging to see that there’s any new funding, but Lincoln’s draft only has half of the $1 billion proposed by President Obama, which isn’t enough to transform school lunch in a time when nearly 1 in 3 children is obese or overweight.
If your Senator serves on the Agriculture Committee, you have a short window of time to make an impact. Please take three minutes to make a phone call to your Senators office in D.C. and ask them to support:
Helping schools serve healthier food by making the full investment of $1 billion per year for child nutrition programs.
Including $50 million over five years for grants to start Farm to School programs, which link schools to local farms and support the local economy.
You can learn more about Slow Food USAs campaign to help schools serve healthier food at www.slowfoodusa.org/timeforlunch.
Posted on Wed, March 17, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Julia Landau
Food riot?? asked an indignant Eric Holt-Giménez at a talk he gave in New York City on March 5, referring to protests in response to the 2008 food crisis. According to Holt-Giménez, the Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, food rebellion would be more accurate.
Between 2007 and 2008, approximately 40 food protests occurred around the world. In Mexico, corn prices made tortillas prohibitively expensive for the nations poor. In Haiti, soaring food prices led people to the streets, and eventually to overthrow the Prime Minister.
These protests were not spontaneous outbursts fueled by mob-mentality hence they were not riots. Instead, they were conscious, political acts: rebellions. The agency and intention implied by the word rebellion are essential: they are not just a reaction to food prices, but a protest against a flawed system. Its the difference between responding to symptoms and curing the sickness.
The commonly-cited reasons for hikes in food prices are grain speculation, increased use of land for agro-fuel production, increased meat consumption, and a particularly poor harvest season what Holt-Giménez calls proximate causes. While in 2007-2008 these forces were certainly at work, a deeper look reveals that the food crisis was actually a long time in the making. We have a vulnerable food system one in which 91% of our crops are maize, cotton, wheat, rice, and soy. With such a lack of diversity in our agricultural repertoire, we leave our crops open to environmental and economic shock. Think Irish potato famine.
There is a danger in conflating the proximate and root causes of the food crisis, Holt-Giménez warns. When we focus only on the symptoms of the problem, we easily reach the conclusion that genetically modified food and industrial agriculture present a solution, or an immediate fix to world hunger. But if we look at the root causes, we see that this quick fix leaves us vulnerable to loss of crop diversity, market flooding, and farmer bankruptcy. The consolidation of land and power are at the heart of the problem.