What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Thu, October 22, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Deborah Lehmann is studying economics and public policy at Brown University, where she was recently awarded a Royce Fellowship. She writes for the Brown Daily Herald, covering campus news and trends in higher education. She is also the editor of School Lunch Talk, where this post first appeared.
The current nutrition standards for school meals are in sore need of an overhaul. They havent been updated since 1995, and theyre not in line with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The USDA tried for several years to bring the regulations up to date, but after running into problems either technical, or political, or both the department outsourced the task to the Institute of Medicine last year.
The IOM released its recommendations yesterday, and theres some good news and some bad news.
Heres the bad news: the changes may increase costs for cafeterias by up to 25 percent for breakfasts, and up to 9 percent for lunches. Unless Congress increases the reimbursement rate for school meals, most cafeterias wont have the money to meet the new guidelines.
The IOM proposed sweeping changes to the school meal nutrition standards. First, the committee recommended a food-based menu planning system that includes limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium. Currently, schools have the option of using a nutrient-based system, which makes it easy to serve heavily processed, fortified food. They can meet requirements for vitamin C, for example, by serving fortified fruit snacks. Under a food-based system, nutrient targets are used in developing the standards for school meals, but they are not used in the actual menu planning. Instead, schools must simply serve items from a number of different food groups, including dark green and orange vegetables and legumes.
Posted on Thu, October 15, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Gordon Jenkins
This week is National School Lunch Week, as designated by Congress in a law that dates back to 1962. To announce it, the White House issued a press release that began, Every young American deserves access to a wholesome, nutritious lunch. This is noteworthy because it is true and because the reality of school lunch is nowhere near it. More often than not, the lunch served to 31 million young Americans at school is overly processed and unhealthy, and the impact of this problem extends far beyond the cafeteria.
Congress created the National School Lunch Program in 1946 as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well being of the Nations children. At the time, the U.S. was emerging from a war in which an alarming number of army recruits were so malnourished that they were unable to serve. Recognizing that lack of adequate food during the Depression had created a national security risk, Congress created a program to provide every child with a healthy lunch every school day. When President Truman signed the program into law, he declared, No nation is healthier than its children.
This is a lesson we have forgotten. Todays kids are the first in over two centuries to have shorter life expectancies than their parents. We shouldnt gloss over that fact: for the first time in modern history, our kids are unhealthier than we are. Why? Because we let them eat the overly processed foods that have taken over the American diet. Many parents let their kids eat them at home, which is irresponsible though sometimes parents dont have much choice. Letting kids eat them at school is just unacceptable. In this economy, more kids than ever need the guarantee of a healthy meal every day. It is wrong to put a child who relies on school lunch in the situation where the alternative to going hungry is to eat the processed foods that are going to make him sick and keep him from performing well in the classroom. Our nation can do better.
To get involved in Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign, click here.
Posted on Thu, October 08, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Debbie Lehmann, the editor of School Lunch Talk, a blog about school food. She is currently studying economics and public policy at Brown University.
Ive been feeling relatively optimistic about the USDA commodity program lately. Offerings are heavy on the meat and the cheese, but they have gotten much healthier over the years. When it comes to providing nutritious food, it seems like cafeterias face larger obstacles, such as maintaining student participation and keeping within tight budgets.
Well, at least thats what I thought until this weekend. Now, after reading The New York TimesҠterrifying report about the ground beef inspection system, I am convinced that the commodity program has a critical role to play in changing the school food status quo.
The Times article a scathing indictment of both the meat processing system and our food safety system traced the meat from a hamburger that sickened 22-year-old Stephanie Smith and left her paralyzed for life. The ground beef was produced by Cargill under the label American Chefs Selection Angus Beef Patties, and it was contaminated with a virulent strain of E. coli.
A number of sickening flaws in the meat processing system led to the E. coli in Stephanie Smiths hamburger. Notably, the meat in Cargills patties was a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria. The Times goes on:
Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together. The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.
Posted on Sat, October 03, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by biodiversity intern Alaine Janosy
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are being introduced into our food system regularly, and there is no easy way for consumers to know if what they are eating is GM or non-GM. Since the United States has not issued any legislation related to genetically engineered (GE) products since 1986, the general public is left to their own devices when trying to determine the genetic origins of their food. If companies are going to continue to splice genes into plants to make them insect resistance or herbicide tolerant there should be a labeling requirement so each of us can make the personal choice whether or not to ingest them. No new legislation in 23 years is a little ridiculous considering how prolific GMs are becoming in our food system.
Lacking all-encompassing federal legislation, the issue will continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis, generally as a result of a law suit being brought once the GM food has already been in our food system for months, if not years, in courtrooms nationwide, as it was on Monday, September 21, 2009, in Federal District Court in San Francisco. The source of the debate, the sugar beet, which has long been a source of sugar in the United States, and accounts for about 30% of sugar production worldwide.
Although sugar beets have been processed for sugar in the United States since the mid-1800s, it was only recently that genetically modified (GM) sugar beets began to be planted. During the spring of 2008 the first Roundup resistant sugar beets were planted. These beets contain a bacterial gene that makes them resistant to the chemical weed killer, Roundup, produced and sold by Monsanto, a global provider of agricultural products for farmers. Monsanto also licenses the gene that makes the beets Roundup resistant.
Posted on Thu, September 17, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
The GMO debate rages onwith one side, including our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and our Secretary of bajillions-of-dollars-to-invest Bill Gates, suggesting that our best hope for feeding the worlds growing population is genetically modified crops.
Some of us, on the other hand, doubt GMOs actual ability to yield, and fear their still unknown effects, their potential threat to the environment, destruction of agrarian culture, and damage to the livelihoods of farmers. Not to mention we doubt the veracity of scientific research funded by big, powerful corporations.
Government agencies, scientists, farmers, and advocacy organizations have weighed in, but what can we actually do? What solutions are available to help the average person make the right choices? How do we really know what were eating and feeding our families?
These questions are being addressed right now as part of Ashokas Changemakers GMO Risk or Rescue? Helping Consumers Decide online challenge. From now until October 21st, Changemakers invites everyone to submit ideas that will educate and advocate for consumerswhether youre for or against genetically modified organisms.
GMO Risk or Rescue? Helping Consumers Decide is a competition in search of solutions. Anyone with an ideafrom a local gardener with a seed preservation project, to a University-sponsored pro-GMO campaignis welcome to voice their opinion, promote their cause, and ultimately provide the answers that will affect our world.
The Changemakers online community will vote for the most innovative ideas, and one lucky winner will receive a $1,500 Changemakers Idea Grant and have the opportunity to meet with Michael Pollan. The winner will be revealed on November 4th.
Visit Changemakers.com now to hear what others are saying, and to enter your winning solution before October 21st.
[photo courtesy of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation]
Posted on Tue, September 15, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Robyn O’Brien
Today’s headlines are enough to make any mother wary. As we battle our toddlers in the grocery store, we hardly have the energy left to decipher the headlines: Organics aren’t healthier, death panels await health care reform, bankers receive record bonuses, swine flu pandemics swirl . What has happened to the world that our children are inheriting? And does anyone care?
Perhaps we should. Because the children of today represent the economy of tomorrow. Today’s parents and grandparents are raising the “think tanks” that are going to be the solutions to tomorrow’s problems . Today’s children will reinvent energy technology, redefine reform and regulations and enhance agricultural productivity in ways that we can not even begin to imagine. But only if we give them the tools with which to do it.
Obama insisting on school and education, with the support of Laura Bush, is a start. But more fundamentally, what about health? Today, 1 in 3 American children now has autism, allergies, ADHD or asthma. 90% of the worlds ADHD medications are prescribed to the American kids, while the US only represent 5% of the world’s population. According to MSNBC, sales of EpiPens are up, while test scores are down. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 2 African American kids and 1 in 3 Caucasian kids born in the year 2000 (that is this year’s 4th Graders) will be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood.
And while Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart formulate their products differently for children overseas (with reduced fat, salt and synthetic ingredient content), our National School Lunch Program continues to be a dumping ground for the remnants of the agrichemical corporations who are unable to dispose of their technology laced corn and soy in grocery stores, restaurants or to the livestock industry. And while we allocate $600 billion to the Pentagon in 2009, we only allocated $9 billion to the National School Lunch Program and a meager $2.4 billion to the FDA.
And we wonder why our children have earned the title “Generation Rx” or why our economy is heaving under the burden of health care costs.
Posted on Fri, August 21, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Biodiversity intern Regina Fitzsimmons
Last month, HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, passed in the House. While this legislation marginally amps up government food oversight by granting the FDA power to force food recalls and increase inspections of food processing plants (a poweryou got itthe FDA can now only recommend), spokespeople for small farmers have big concerns if this bill passes in the Senate. You can read a breakdown of the bill by the Washington Post and keep up on the current Congressional actions at the Library of Congress online.
In sum-up, though, concerns arise from a couple of things: for one, identical regulations will be imposed on both small and large food enterprises. In tangible terms, this bill would require all food handlers. Under this legislation a big company like Kraft would pay the same FDA registration as an artisan cheesemaker with a couple of goats. A second concern is that the legislation also grants the FDA the power to set standards determining how crops are grown, requiring the adoption of tracking technologiesa process significantly more taxing for small operators. Food writers like Gourmets Barry Estabrook are hoping that Senate wont follow in the Houses fast-tracking footsteps and will instead allow a sustained debate with the inclusion of possible amendments like Kaptur-Farr legislation that was glazed over in the House. Estabrook hopes the Senate will address these concerns because as he put it, being a conscientious farmer is a tough business [and] Congress just made it tougher.
It isnt surprising that the House steam-rolled through the review and vote of HR 2749. This bill comes a month after yet another food recall: this time, Nestles Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. In the past three years, weve avoided bagged spinach, ground beef, tomatoes (even though Serrano chile peppers were the real culprit) and peanut butter, among other foods. People are getting sick and we all want to know the answer to the most basic of questions: whats okay to eat?
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 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 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.”
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.