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 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 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.
Posted on Wed, March 17, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Alex Loud, leader of Slow Food Boston
For a number of years now, a host of organizations in Massachusetts have been pushing to reduce the amount of junk food being marketed in public schools in the state. Before this year, however, these efforts had been consistently rebuffed in the Massachusetts legislature and cafeterias around the state have continued to hawk a sorry collection of chips, sugary cereals and soda. Last week, however, all that changed.
On March 11th, the Massachusetts state Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill known as the “School Nutrition Bill.” The bill as written currently will ban junk food, sodas and sports drinks from being sold in schools either in vending machines or cafeterias. As the Boston Globe put it:
“The measure establishes nutritional standards for items available at vending machines, school stores, and snack bars during school hours, and it essentially bans the sale of soda, candy bars, fried chips, and even sports drinks, which health officials say can sometimes have more sugar than their carbonated counter parts.
The bill calls for selling nonfat and low-fat dairy products, non-fried fruits and non-fried vegetables, whole grains and related products, and beverages without additives or carbonation, non-sweetened water, and 100 percent fruit juices.”
Posted on Fri, February 26, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Christine Binder
Last month, I attended a meeting of parents at a Brooklyn public school. Janet Poppendieck, the author of Free for All: Fixing School Lunch in America, led a discussion about the state of school lunches, describing to us the changes in the National School Lunch Program over the years, and explaining the various forces that continue to shape what students eat. Afterward, we discussed the potential of the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization which only happens every five years to improve school lunches.
In researching for Free For All, Dr. Poppendieck, a professor of sociology at Hunter College, visited school cafeterias and kitchens all over the country, and even spent time working in one. Along the way, she met many people striving to improve school food in their own communities, whom she describes in the “Local Heroes” chapter of the book. It is heartening to hear their stories of success, but I cant help but agree with her when she says, It shouldnt be so hard. One should not have to be a superhero, a magician, or a saint to get healthy, tasty food into the school cafeteria, or to make school food truly accessible to children.”
Currently, there are many obstacles for those working to improve school food. It is very difficult to serve delicious, healthful meals to children with a food budget of less than a dollar per meal. Many schools need to sell junk food in vending machines and snack bars in order to break even. Procuring local food is not always possible, due to bureaucratic and logistical barriers. Poppendieck points out, however, that the National School Lunch Program is ultimately the responsibility of Congress, and that only Congress can “step up to the plate to enact changes in federal law that make local improvements much easier to achieve.”
Towards the end of the meeting, Dr. Poppendieck asked a profound question: How old will your children be in five years? Everyone in the room sat in thoughtful silence, imagining the state of school food and the well-being of their children five years from now. When you think about it that way, its very clear; Americas children cannot wait any longer for healthy school food. Tell Congress to prioritize school lunches. To quote Free for All one final time, Its time to see what we can do if we put children first.
To contact your legislator, click here!
Posted on Fri, February 12, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
When it comes to our food system, everyone has a different wake up call. For Congresswoman Nita Lowey, it was reading about ammonia use in ground beef in the New York Times. A grandmother of eight and former healthy food advocate during her own children’s early years, Mrs. Lowey was horrified. She knew she must take further action.
As she rounded up food and health experts in the county to learn more, she called upon Slow Food Westchester to be part of the conversation. Mrs. Lowey had attended our Slow Food Eat-In on Labor Day at the Washington Irving School in Tarrytown along with 200 local residents. That event impressed her with our group’s ability to create community around advocating for better food in schools. Slow Food has done a great job in framing the conversation about food that is good, clean and fair.
Our meeting with Mrs. Lowey went well. We handed her more information on Slow Food’s mission and Slow Food’s national policy platform for the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act. We also discussed the value of a better school lunch program in conjunction with the health care issues she is facing in Congress. We used the opportunity to hand her a booklet filled with letters written by kids and parents about school lunch. Reading these letters and hearing the stories of families impacted her in a way that no statistic on childrens health could. Congresswoman Lowey is now a passionate advocate for a better food system.
Over 20 years ago, Wendell Berry said, Eating is an agricultural act. It’s more true today than it ever was. But today, thanks to Michael Pollan and others, we also know that eating is a political act and that we vote with our forks every day. These days, when both personal and planetary health are on the line, it’s up to all of us to go beyond the end of our forks and roll up our sleeves to get involved. Writing a letter to your Congressional representative can be a great start to a deeper connection to your own government that will help result in real change for our nation’s food policy.
Both food and democracy work best when we are not just spectators but active participants.
Posted on Tue, February 09, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Julia Landau
Calling the childhood obesity epidemic eminently solvable, today the First Lady rolled out her plan to eradicate this serious health threat within one generation. Her take-home message? Lets move!
Before unveiling the exciting project, Michelle Obama invited Will Allen, farmer and founder of Growing Power in Milwaukee, and Dr. Judith Palfrey, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics to talk about their work. The launch was also preceded this morning by the signing of an executive order creating a childhood obesity task force.
Approaching childhood obesity through four main avenues, the initiative (called Lets Move) will focus on: helping kids and parents make healthy choices, providing healthy food at school, encouraging physical activity, and making healthy food accessible and affordable. Combining personal choice and public access, the initiative seeks to tackle the issue through waves of efforts across the country starting right now. You can learn more at the Administrations brand-new website, LetsMove.gov.
Speaking of cross-country-school-food-healthy-children efforts, Slow Food USAs Time for Lunch campaign is doing just that and giving citizens an opportunity to speak up. In her speech, Michelle Obama called for Congress to swiftly reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act and get healthier food into our nations schools. As the First Lady said, an investment in child nutrition pays for itself many-fold in the long run. To learn more about Slow Foods efforts to give kids Americas kids a healthy future, check out the newly updated Time for Lunch Campaign web site.
Interested to hear more but didnt catch the webcast? You can read the full transcript of the First Ladys speech and, as always, check out the ObamaFoodorama blog for great updates on White House food initiatives.
Lets keep moving!
Posted on Fri, February 05, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
1. Biopic about Temple Grandin, humane slaughterhouse designer and generally fascinating person, stars Claire Danes and airs this weekend on HBO.
2. NAIS no longer a problem! Niiiiiiiice. “Faced with stiff resistance for ranchers and farmers,” the USDA has dropped its National Animal Identification System proposed program; this comes as good news to small-mid scale producers and their supporters, who felt it would have placed on undue burden on them.
3. Weird unpronouncable things allowed in your meat: via Bob Perry at University of Kentucky, here is the latest list of what weird stuff is allowable in commodity meat & poultry from the USDA. As he says: “and people wonder why I only buy from local farmers…...”
[photo courtesy of Paul Stevenson, flickr creative commons]
Posted on Wed, February 03, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
Poop and salad: two great tastes that go great together? Bleccccch. Consumer Reports tested bagged leafy greens and found “bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contaminationin some cases, at rather high levels.”
Scale-appropriate legislation: With all of these discoveries of food contamination, there is a need for some regulation—but as the food movement has been squawking about for several months now, it is IMPERATIVE that small and mid sized operations are not thrown in together with the big guys. A new Act on the table might help. As the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition explains: “Fortunately, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has introduced the Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758) to create a national food safety training and technical assistance program. It would deliver training and technical assistance appropriate to small and mid scale farms to reduce the incidence of food borne illness.” Click here to find out how you can express your support, by urging your Senator to co-sponsor the Growing Safe Food Act (S 2758).
Posted on Mon, February 01, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Jackie Fortin [a closer look at the story we touched on in last week’s “Latest School Lunch News.”]
Lets think about what we give students to ingest, says Mrs. Q, an anonymous Illinois elementary school teacher who is choosing to eat school lunch every day in 2010 and review the results in her blog, Fed Up: School Lunch Project.
Not one to make waves in her professional life, Mrs. Q considers herself a whistleblower for school lunch.
I think every child no matter how much money their family has deserves to eat quality food at school, she said. Most teachers do feel the same way that I do Weve all discussed the lunches and how bad they are in passing. Then we go back to teaching. No one has done much.
Mrs. Qs project, which began Jan. 3, consists of buying a $3.00 school lunch Monday through Friday, bringing it back to her room for a working meal, and taking pictures of each trays plastic-wrapped contents with her phone camera.
Despite her concealed identity, she admits to feeling majorly exposed and nervous about the traffic her blog is getting three weeks deep. I could absolutely lose my job over this, she wrote.
But the overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging comments are piling up. She has been interviewed by Small Bites blogger Andy Bellatti as well as by Robin Shreeves of Mother Nature Network, nutritionist Marion Nestle, Serious Eats, Chow.com, Food Safety News, Diets in Review.com, Treehugger, Grist and several bloggers have all cited Fed Up in online posts.
According to Bellatti, the project, likened to a more realistic Super Size Me…perfectly captures the problems of school lunch poor nutrition, odd flavors and textures, environmental unfriendliness (plastic, plastic, and more plastic!), and the effects of cheap crop subsidies on individual health.
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.