What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, June 14, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of talk about reducing the amount of salt in the U.S. food supply. Government officials, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg, and the First Lady have all been asking food companies to voluntarily cut back the amount of salt they use. Some companies have complied, but there’s also been a lot of industry pushback, especially because the Institute of Medicine is recommending that the government create regulations for the amount of salt allowed in products. The New York Times recently published an excellent exposé of the food industry’s reactions to these potential salt restrictions.
So why is salt such a big deal? It’s because the stakes are so high, both for the health of the American people and the sales of the food and restaurant industry. Excess sodium consumption is a risk factor for high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart failure, kidney disease, and stroke – some of the biggest killers in America. Even though rates of hypertension are higher in certain populations, it is still a really big problem for everyone across the board. One third of American adults have hypertension, and another third have pre-hypertension. Rates of high blood pressure have been increasing even in children and adolescents.
Back in April, the Institute of Medicine came out with a report on reducing sodium intake in the U.S. The report asserted that forty years of salt reduction initiatives – focused mostly on consumer education and voluntary salt reduction by the food industry – have failed. Americans still eat 50% more sodium than the 2,300 milligram maximum recommended daily intake for healthy adults. Health experts estimate that a significant decrease in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives annually.
Posted on Thu, June 10, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Outside the Capitol Building earlier today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010. Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA), joined by celebrity cook Rachael Ray and other child nutrition and anti-hunger advocates, unveiled the details of the new legislation.
At the news conference, Representative Miller stated that “First Lady Michelle Obama has lent her leadership and knowledge to help end childhood obesity with her Lets Move! initiative. This bill answers her call and moves us closer to meeting President Obama’s challenge to end childhood hunger in America.” Click here to watch videos of the conference.
The bill is a step forward for school meal programs. If passed, it will fund $50 million in new Farm to School grants, expand nutrition education, and increase access to meal programs. It will also strengthen nutrition standards for all food served in schools, including vending machines.
Unfortunately, it will only raise the school lunch rate by six cents. Right now, schools have roughly $1 to spend on ingredients. So six cents, while welcome, is not going to transform the quality of school meals.
The House version of the bill is largely similar to a Senate version introduced earlier this year (the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010). The Senate bill, which was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee and is now waiting to be scheduled for floor debate, adds only $450 million per year to child nutrition programs. The House bill ups it to about $800 million per year, but still falls short of the President’s proposal of $1 billion – and far short of what schools need to serve healthy food.
The big challenges now are time and money. Legislators need to find adequate funding for child nutrition programs, and both the House and the Senate need to pass the bill by the end of the summer so President Obama can sign it into law before current school lunch legislation expires at the end of September.
Posted on Wed, June 09, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Last Friday, nearly 500 chefs from 37 states, all dressed in their whites, convened on the White House lawn for the launch of the “Chefs Move to Schools” program. The new program is part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. Here is the video and transcript of the First Lady’s remarks and coverage of the event in the Washington Post.
Mrs. Obama is calling on chefs to get involved in the effort by adopting a local school where they will work with parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, and administrators to educate kids about food and nutrition and improve school meals. Nearly 1000 chefs and 500 schools have already signed up for Chefs Move to Schools. You can see a map of participating chefs and schools here or sign up to participate on the USDA website.
Earlier in the day, the chefs heard experts speak about school food policy and the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization at a breakfast hosted by Share our Strength. They also toured the White House kitchen garden. Many celebrity chefs and American culinary luminaries were in attendance, bringing their star power to the First Lady’s initiative. By creating healthy dishes that taste good, chefs have a unique ability to show children that cooking and eating healthy foods are both cool and fun.
Some kids have already been inspired by the Let’s Move campaign. Georgia and Michael are nine-year-old twins who love to cook and are collecting 1000 healthy recipes from kids all over the country to send to Mrs. Obama. They want to show kids that they can learn to cook and make healthy choices for themselves. Here’s their YouTube video and their website where you can learn more about their project, Kids Cook USA.
Posted on Wed, June 09, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by Jennifer Casey, Slow Food WiSE Biodiversity Projects
I can just imagine…a warm autumn afternoon, in the not too distant future, sitting around the picnic table with a group of people to taste the Milwaukee apple. I won’t be the only one curious about the character of this apple, for not one of the many chefs, growers, food activists, and just plain eaters that I’ve spoken with in and around Milwaukee, WI have ever sunk their teeth into this rare varietal. Now, after much planning and a bit of planting, if we carefully watch over our tiny bench grafted trees, we’ll soon have our very own nursery to help usher this apple and others back into our regional foodways.
Guided by the work that the RAFT Alliance has been doing nationally, and with the help of local orchards Weston’s Antique Apples and Maple Valley, Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast is joining others across the country to protect apple biodiversity. We “adopted” the Milwaukee, but also planted the Pewaukee, Oneida, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Autumn Beauty apples—our choices of varietals guided by their ties to our region, description, and threatened or endangered status, or simply on the recommendation of one of our local orchard experts. Our chapter also planted a variety of apple that we refer to as the “Stahl-Conrad”—named for the historic homestead in which our nursery sits. The Stahl-Conrad Homestead once was home to a thriving orchard and now only and old, gnarly apple tree, sans fruit, still stands on the three acres that have been preserved. Wishing to cultivate this apple, we collected scions from the tree in very early spring and made our way to a grafting workshop at Weston’s for assistance binding our scions to root stock.
Here’s what Jeff Filipiak, one of Slow Food WiSE’s chapter leaders had to say about our apple planting day: “I’d never worked with tree graftings before, and this was a nice way to appreciate how a slow approach respects the present, past and future. Digging and getting one’s hands in the dirt kept me in the moment, taking the care required for the task. Planting old varieties draws upon the skills of farmers and fruit-growers developed over the course of decades. And planting a tree for food is an act of faith in the future (as Wendell Berry notes) and delayed gratification, since the benefits won’t be seen for years or decades in the future.”
Posted on Tue, June 08, 2010 by Slow Food USA
The oil situation in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening an entire culture on Louisiana’s coastline. Along every step of the food chain—from fisherman to chef to impassioned eaters like me—there is fear of the unknown. Until the oil gusher is stopped, none of us can tell what the future holds.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Slow Food Ark of Taste committee made an emergency boarding of Gulf seafood that seemed the most threatened at that time. Louisiana oysters and wild-caught Gulf shrimp were welcomed onto the Ark of Taste along with the New Orleans poor boy bread that they are so often served on.
Today, countless varieties of Gulf fin fish are hugely threatened, including lynchpins of our local menus like speckled trout and redfish. Our gumbo crab, the Louisiana blue crab, which is found both in the Gulf and in our brackish waterbodies like Lake Pontchartrain, could be wiped out by the intrusion of oil into our estuary marshes.
Since the oil disaster began, I have heard from Slow Food friends across the United States who ask, “How can we help?” The single best way to assist your food friends of the Gulf is to EAT GULF SEAFOOD.
Posted on Tue, June 08, 2010 by Intern
by intern Maia Piccagli
Many of you may recognize Dr. Susan Rubin, the leader of Slow Food Westchester, from the school food documentary, 2 Angry Moms. What you may not know is that last summer she, along with the kitchen staff at Camp Ballibay, took on traditional camp food and successfully overturned tradition.
The story started when Chef Ellen Thomas approached Dr. Rubin about finding college kids to staff the camp kitchen. As a mom of campers, she was especially interested in providing good food, and asked if instead, she could come work in the kitchen. Ellen welcomed her, created new menus, and together they transformed the camp diet from one of largely packaged and processed foods sourced by Sysco to a locally-supplied, fresh, and nutritious menu items that the campers ultimately loved. 30% of their fruit came from local Pennsylvania producers. One of the best parts was, when all was said and done, their new kitchen practices resulted in a $5000 savings.
They didn’t strip camp favorites like pizzas and sandwiches from the menu, but they sourced the ingredients differently. They made everything from scratch—even yogurt and granola. Campers were introduced to foods with which they may not have been familiar, like Korean rice balls and hummus (check out their hummus music video above). She recognized that raising awareness and providing healthy food options needed to be done, but had to be done with fun to be engaging.
Campers loved the changes. A performing arts camp, Ballibay holds a variety of “jam nights,” musical jam sessions where students can strut their stuff. They added a “kitchen jam” as a joke one night, and 21 campers showed up! The staff began rotating campers through the kitchen to help cook.
Posted on Thu, June 03, 2010 by Intern
by intern Shauna Nep
You may already be aware that currently, over 70% of USDA’s farm payments go to the wealthiest and largest 10% of the producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice. The smaller farms and the growers of fruits, veggies, and livestock receive little support, if anything.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been helping us understand these government payments and ensuring that their distribution to farmers is transparent by tracking where the billions in farm subsidies go and releasing this info to the public. The EWG database allows you to search for government subsidies by state, county, congressional district, farm, and also by crop.
Unfortunately, the EWG recently announced that they will not be able to update their subsidy database for 2010. This is because the data that revealed who is receiving the billions paid is no longer available. Congress was able to avoid making this data available by changing the law to say that the USDA could decide whether to release the information and the administration chose not to spend the money to do it.
Well, this is bad news. The EWG introduced this database in order to motivate the public to demand a sensible and fair Food and Farm Bill. However without the data from the USDA, the EWG will not be able to tell the public which farmers (and which crops) are receiving large payments, and which are not. This is especially important since these payments are still a large part of the reason that the food system produces more fast food than healthy food.
This just means we will have to pay extra close attention to the Food and Farm Bill happenings with the hope that we will end up with a bill which encourages government support programs that are responsible, fair, and effective.
For the full article at EWG’s site, click here.
[photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, grantmac]
Posted on Wed, June 02, 2010 by Intern
by intern Maia Piccagli
“Eating Alaska” is a quirky documentary that follows the journey that Ellen Frankenstein, a former vegetarian, takes in search of a local, sustainable diet in Alaska.
After 15 omnivorous years married to a commercial fisherman and deer hunter, she sets out from her town of Sitka to explore the ways that sustainable eating in Alaska necessarily looks different from eating sustainably in the lower 48.
In her journey, she raises a number of questions and finds answers to a few:
Posted on Wed, June 02, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Recently, the Slow Food USA network sent over 40,000 letters to Congress asking Senators not to delay action on the Child Nutrition Act. The goal was for legislators to sign a “Dear Colleague” letter asking Senate leaders to schedule time for floor debate and pass the Child Nutrition Act before this session of Congress runs out of time. Here’s an update on what’s happened since then:
On May 27th, Senate leaders received the bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter, which included the signatures of 53 Senators. (Great job, everyone!) You can click here to see the letter and check if your Senators signed it.
Just last Thursday, the House voted on an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. The amendment, sponsored by McGovern (D-MA), Emerson (R-MO), Bishop (D-GA), includes a “Sense of Congress” stating that hunger and obesity are impairing military recruitment and must be properly addressed by fully funding child nutrition programs. The Defense bill does not appropriate funding to the Child Nutrition Act, but it stands as a record that Congress feels that child nutrition programs should allocated an additional $10 billion over the next ten years, as requested by President Obama. The result of the vote is encouraging: 341 Representatives voted for the amendment and only 85 voted against it. Here is the list of which House members voted yes and which voted no.
Hopefully the Child Nutrition Act will come to the House and Senate floors within the next several weeks. Until then, it’s up to us to keep telling Congress that school lunch is a priority for their constituents. Congress has the power to fully fund child nutrition programs, so we need to hold them to their promises. Your legislators will be home in their districts this week. If they signed the “Dear Colleague” letter or voted for the McGovern-Emerson-Bishop amendment, give them a call or send them a note to say that you appreciate their support and that you’re counting on them to make a difference for the health of America’s kids.
Posted on Tue, June 01, 2010 by Slow Food USA
For America’s remaining 30,000 poultry growers, the Department of Justice and USDA’s joint workshop on competition in the poultry industry held last Friday in Normal, Alabama has been a long time coming. For some, it arrived too late. As the second of five DOJ/USDA hearings to be held across the country this year, a number of attendees felt this hearing was more balanced than the previous hearing in Iowa, but still left many wondering what the overall impact these hearings would have in such a highly consolidated industry which continues to force so many family farmers out of business.
Of the seven chicken producers that opened the session’s morning Roundtable Discussion on Poultry Grower Issues, four of the farmers were “former producers,“which was a foreshadowing of the theme of the day; that poultry farmers daily face fear, uncertainty and intimidation from those companies they contract with, otherwise known as “integrators.”
In the weeks leading up to the Alabama workshops, many poultry farmers across the country reported threats from the broiler company representatives, warning them that they would face negative consequences if they spoke at the event, or even attended.
Sitting next to Secretary Vilsack, former North Carolina poultry grower Kay Doby told the audience, “The growers that are here today are in jeopardy because of intimidation by company personnel. They’re taking a big risk. Every grower here is taking a big risk.”
One poultry grower I spoke with the day before the event, refused to give the name of the company that he contracted under or even the state he lived in for fear that they would find out he attended the event. This type of intimidation is a clear sign of just how powerful and arrogant these companies have grown; that in the face of a Department of Justice investigation, they feel comfortable enough to make these types of threats to farmers simply trying to air their grievances to their government.