What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, July 20, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Kurt Michael Friese (this post originally appeared on Grist)
Grinnell Heritage Farm is 152 years old. Andrew Dunham is the fifth generation of his family to work this land about 50 miles east of Des Moines. He is a direct descendant of Josiah Grinnell, founder of the town and the man Horace Greeley once famously quoted as having said, Go west, young man, go west. Andrew and his wife Melissa are a few months shy of receiving their formal certification as an organic farm.
Across the road, due north of their land, is a field of corn that is managed by the nearby Monsanto seed corn plant. In Iowa and anywhere commodity corn is grown, it is common practice around this time of year to use chemicals to control fungus. Often this is accomplished via the use of aerial application, commonly referred to as cropdusting. On July 6th, a rustic-looking old biplane swooped in to spray Monsantos field. To put it mildly, the pilots bombardiering skills were not what one would hope.
Dunhams crew was in the field picking broccoli and spinruts (turnip backwardsa Japanese form of the root vegetable). They witnessed the plane as it failed to shut off its spray mechanism in time, and the fungicide drifted into their tree planting and hay field. The hay ground is in the third year of transition and would have become organically certified on September 1st, Andrew said. Now, probably not.
Youd think that this would be a clear-cut cause of action, as the legal folks would put it. But the clever folks at Monsanto hire the crop dusters as contractors, and they in turn use a corporate shell with no assets, so when something like this happens and a victim sues, they simply file bankruptcy and then form a new corporation.
Iowa is the single most radically altered landscape in the country. No state has changed more since the arrival of European settlers, and today the land is heavily mono-cropped. Nature abhors a lack of diversity, but pathogens love it so farmers respond with more and stronger chemicals to fight off the bugs and weeds and fungi. No one owns the airspace, so planes can fly over any land they choose. Even if the pilots are incredibly accurate, Iowa is a windy place (thus the massive increase in wind energy production here in recent years). Drift is practically inevitable.
Posted on Thu, July 09, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
By Claire Stanford
For many (most?) twenty-somethings like myself, issues like school lunch can be murky and distant. Im not eating school lunch; nor do I have children who are eating school lunch (nor will I in the foreseeable future). When I think of school lunch, I mostly envision a Wonder Years-style cafeteria line, complete with mystery meat (or is it called Salisbury steak?) and a scoop of mashed potatoes. Not so bad, not so good, but unchanging and unchangeable. Right? Wrong.
School lunch isnt unchanging and it isnt unchangeable. It is changing: it is largely getting worse looking more and more like fast food, with fewer and fewer nutrients for the kids, and more and more fat and calories. This information alone that kids were eating pizza and chicken nuggets and baloney and cheese sandwiches was surprising to me, making my Wonder Years visions look like home-cooked meals.
But what was truly shocking to me was just how possible it is to change school lunch for the better, just how changeable school lunch (and breakfast) is. For years now, since I realized just how bad school lunch really is, I have been wondering about legislation. There must be some way to change things, I thought, if only there was some way But I figured that was just the way it is; thats just what school lunch had to be, that it was a meal put in place by a government action a billion years ago that would take an act of divine intervention to ever get back on the Hill.
And then, this year, I discovered the Child Nutrition Act. For one thing, I had no idea there was one all-encompassing bill that covered not only school lunch, but also school breakfast. And for two, and perhaps more importantly, I had no idea that this all-encompassing wonder bill came up for reauthorization in Congress every five years.
I think a lot of people out there are like me: we know that school lunch is abominable and shameful, but it seems like such a large, vague problem that it just isnt even approachable. Starting from scratch to fix a problem as widespread and systemic as school lunch is intimidating, but thats the thing we dont have to start from scratch. A discussion of school lunch is actually built in to legislation every five years, and the next reauthorization coming up this September. And that means that we actually have a chance to make a change this year or if you really think about it, to make a change this year, and then five years from now, and then five years from then.
I care about school lunch because five years from now (or five years from then), I may be sending my kids to school, and I want to be confident theyre getting a lunch that is both tasty and nutritious. I care because my taxes will be paying for the health care costs of diabetes (which one in three children born after the year 2000 will have). I care because better school lunch can help stimulate local economies, by giving workers skills and investing in local farms. I care because school lunch is a holistic problem, with wide-ranging implications; and I care because school lunch is also a specific issue, and because on that most specific level it the food we are feeding children is shameful.
Want to be part of a country that feeds its children right? Sign the Time for Lunch petition, organize an Eat-In, and be aware that school lunch affects everyone in America, whether or not you or your child is eating it.
Claire Stanford is an MFA student at the University of Minnesota and a blogger at Food Junta.
Posted on Tue, July 07, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
First published on School Lunch Talk. 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.
Imagine if Las Vegas built a Costco-themed hotel with a particular emphasis on chicken nugget samples and then filled the building with lunch ladies. Thats the best way I can describe the School Nutrition Associations annual food expo, which is taking place right now in Vegas Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Every summer, thousands of lunch ladies flock to the show to sample the newest industry products for school lunch. They stroll through over 800 booths, tasting everything from popcorn chicken and mini cheeseburgers, to whole-grain doughnuts and blue-raspberry slushees. Forget flipping through cookbooks today, this is the menu planning process for your kids school cafeteria.
If you want a birds eye view of the problems plaguing school food, this is the place to go. The expo boasted 40 booths showcasing ice cream, cakes, cookies, puddings and other desserts. Over 20 booths peddled poultry (mostly breaded) and 20 more featured beef products. Pizza showed up at 12 booths. Fresh fruits and vegetables showed up at only 10.
I accumulated a thick stack of spec sheets and brochures during my four-hour stroll through the booths this morning. Heres just a random sampling of the products on display:
Posted on Fri, July 03, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
As more people across America sign up to organize Eat-Ins for Time for Lunch, were hearing some wonderfully creative ideas from organizers.
The leaders of Slow Food Charleston are spearheading Children Supporting Children for Healthy School Lunch, a summer-long initiative where kids from the Charleston, SC community will talk about Time for Lunch at tables setup in front of local food markets. Starting June 30th, theyll be manning (supervised) tables at the Whole Foods Market in Mt. Pleasant, at Earthfare in West Ashley and at Harris Teeter on East Bay Street. Alongside community members, the kids will discuss and answer questions about Time for Lunch, gather signatures for the Time for Lunch petition and provide market-goers with packets of information about ways to get involved.
According to Melissa Clegg, the Slow Food Charleston member leading the program, This campaign aims to empower children by giving them the tools and the platform to take initiative for the building of their futures and the futures of children without a voice. Every child I have spoken with has identified with the issue of school lunch and been energized to fight for healthier choices that help build our local communities and reduce negative impacts on the environment.
Slow Food Charlestons extraordinary work with children and local food education did not start with the Time for Lunch campaign. This past Sunday, Clegg and chapter leader Carole Addlestone held a Bring-Your-Own Picnic fundraising event on Wadmalaw Island to benefit their organic garden project at Sanders-Clyde Elementary in downtown Charleston. Last week, the project was featured in Charlestons Post and Courier.
As Slow Food moves forward with its campaign to give schools across America the resources to serve real food and to plant gardens like the one at Sanders-Clyde Elementary Melissa and Carole continue to work with Charlestons youth. With their help, several children from Charleston schools have written letters to their legislators, letting them know how important healthier school lunches are to our nations future.
If youre in Charleston on September 7th, the day of the National Eat-In, make sure to attend one of the several small community Eat-Ins Slow Food Charleston is planning. To get involved, please write Carole Addlestone (caroladdlestone[at]mindspring.com).
Posted on Tue, June 30, 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.
Cathy Giannini has been working in the cafeteria in Soquel, California for 21 years. In the world of child nutrition, thats not unusually long (Ive spoken with directors who have been working for over 40 years). Still, the changes she has seen throughout her career are striking.
When Giannini started out, she arrived in the kitchen at 4 am every day to start cooking. She made her own refried beans, her own hamburger meat for tacos and sloppy joes, even her own ranch dressing. She cooked 20 turkeys at a time in an enormous kettle and served the meat with homemade mashed potatoes. A baker in the district made all the breads from scratch as well.
Giannini grew up on a farm in Georgia, where food and home cooking were celebrated. Her father was a cook in the Army, and her two grandmothers were always preparing something in her kitchen. Giannini learned to cook by watching them as they added a pinch of this and a pinch of that to the pot. When she was raising her own children, Giannini always cooked from scratch. She loved it, and she is a firm believer that homemade food is healthier. That way you can control whats in it the amount of sodium and the amount of oil, she said.
Today, Gianninis lunch program is the antithesis of her experience growing up. On a visit a few months ago, students came out for brunch and picked up doughnuts and sausage-studded breakfast pizzas both in a package, both recently out of the freezer. For lunch, they get packaged el eXtremo burritos, corndogs, mini cheeseburgers (on their buns in a plastic package) and Round Table Pizza. Giannini used to spend her days flipping through recipe books. Now she goes to food shows and seeks out the newest processed products.
Posted on Fri, June 26, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Part of what I love about “food books” as a genre is that the phrase is entirely non-specific, and covers everything from poetry to science, from art to history, from memoir to fiction. Today, some more summer reading suggestions, both about our broken food system, but very different from each other.
First, Robyn O’Brien‘s theUnhealthy Truth: How Our Food is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It
. Her book is a good companion piece to “Food, Inc.” I think, exploring how food is making our kids sick, and how big business is profiting from that, all from a Mom’s first-hand perspective. As she explains it, pretty plain and simple: “the recent deregulation of the American food system allowed chemicals and additives into the American food supply that have either been banned or labeled from foods around the world in order to enhance profitability for the food industry.” Click here to read an excellent interview with her on Civil Eats.
Next up, a book I had the pleasure of getting to hear read aloud live (ok, well, parts of it) by the author the other night. Lisa Hamilton, a photographer and writer has crafted a beautiful triptych—three stories, three farmers, and how they are struggling to keep their way of farming alive in a world pushing towards the industrialization of damn near everything.Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness
is clearly the work of a seasoned photographer; it reads like a giant photograph, with depth of field, and texture, and life bubbling up off the page.
Posted on Thu, June 25, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA Biodiversity Intern Regina Fitzsimmons
Do you want better oversight of GE Crops?
You have 5 days to tell the USDA what you think
In the winter months of the Bush Administration, the former President allowed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to weaken its oversight on genetically engineered (GE) crops.
The Center for Food Safety writes, Instead of tightening controls to protect the public and environment from contamination and harm, what the USDA has offered further endangers your right to choose the foods you and your family eat and farmers rights to their chosen livelihoods.
The proposed rules raise concerns for many: among them, the Center for Food Safety and 83 other farm, food, public interest and environmental organizations who previously wrote to our new Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, last March about oversight of GE regulations.
Some of the many regulation concerns include: proposed rules that will ensure more frequent GE contamination of organic and conventional crops and continued permission to the self-interested biotechnology organizations to make the decision about whether their GE crops should be regulated at all. Whats more, the USDA published these rules before releasing the full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)a breach of lawresulting in an absence of required public review that would provide the USDA with informed regulatory recommendations.
In the past few days the Center for Food Safety has drafted a letter to the USDA and Slow Food USA has signed on. If you would like to submit a letter of your own, you can send this sample letter or use it to help compose a letter of your own. You still have 5 days to comment before the comment period closes.
For an interesting debate on the roots of GM opposition, the role of big agribusiness, and whether weve achieved real scientific consensus, click here.
Now, you might be saying: It sounds like there are problems surrounding GE, but Im not completely convinced that GE is a bad idea. I think I need more information before I decide one way or the other. If I sign this form, am I saying that GE crops are bad?
No, youre not. And if youre confused or on the fence about GE, youre not alone. By signing your name to the Center for Food Safety letter you are asking the government to follow the law and allow a public review of USDAs GE regulations. You will be asking for a moratorium to be placed on commercial planting of new GE crops until new regulations of GE crops are implementedregulations will be developed from the pool of collected information and recommendations from the public. In sum-up, you are asking for transparencyfor all GE practices to be brought out in the open, and be subject to public opinion.
Posted on Wed, June 24, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA intern Carol Dacey-Charles
HR 2749The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009has passed through committee and is on its way to the House of Representatives for a vote before the July 4 holiday break. Now, given the recent and on-going challenges our food system has faced with recalls of peanuts, pistachios, spinach and tomatoes, not to mention mad cow and swine fluyou may think a little more regulation might be in order and I would agree with you. But how much of this is a good step forward in protecting the public and how much is using a sledgehammer to put up a tack?
The Act gives the FDA some powers that you might want in a food regulatory agencythe power to order a food recall, access to a farmers or producers records, and establishing a means to trace food along its chain of production. Other aspects of the new bill may make you think Big Brother is about to take over our food system. Among the “Alarming Provisions” of the bill (as reported in the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund site) are: giving the FDA the power to quarantine a geographical area—prohibiting all food movement in that region; empowering the FDA to dictate how crops are raised and harvested; and the narrow definition of a “farm” that would be excluded from these new fees and regulations—it turns out if you make cheese, bread or use lacto-fermentation you are a manufacturer and not a farm. How many growers at your local farmer’s market create value-added products to boost their incomes—probably no longer if this bill passes in its current form.
Posted on Tue, June 09, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
There are a bunch of sustainable food documentaries that have been kicking around our circles for a few years now. Some of them are very good—enlightening, celebratory, inspiring, damning. But we all have probably wondered: who sees these but the proverbial choir?
Filmmaker Robert Kenner, along with producers Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, is making a go at hitting the big time,—i.e. lots of viewers, even ones outside the usual circles—with his movie “Food, Inc.” The movie, which opens in NYC San Fran and LA on June 12th, got some primetime coverage in the New York Times this past weekend. The Times article will help the word spread, but so can you. Go see the movie, and while you’re at it, go tell some others to see the movie.
Participant Media is a unique production company in that they release their movies as part of a social action campaign. Remember “An Inconvenient Truth?” This time around they are focusing on food issues of all shapes and sizes. The movie touches on many issues, including violations of farmworkers’ rights; aggressive litigiousness on the part of large agribusiness; food safety; the role of industrial organic; and some straight up weird stuff like an irradiated fat slurry that goes into most hamburger meat produced in this country. The main theme, as the title suggests, is what goes wrong when corporations control the food system.
Along with the movie they have released a companion book with the subtitle: “How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer—And What You Can Do About It.” It includes pieces by many of the faces in the movie, like Eric Schlosser, Gary Hirshberg (of Stonyfield Farm Organic), and farmer Joel Salatin, as well as a few people and organizations who did not have face time in the movie, such as Heifer International and United Farm Workers.
In addition, they are focusing on improving school lunch and the Child Nutrition Act’s Reauthorization—you can check out their “interactive cafeteria” and sign their school lunch petitionhere.
With movies like this, it’s important to head out the first few days they’re open, so run out this weekend and see “FOOD, Inc.” if you haven’t already.
Posted on Fri, May 29, 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.
A few months ago, Hester Dye received boxes of beautiful, plump blackberries from the USDA. She was delighted the berries were as big as her thumb and she hoped her students would enjoy eating them for lunch.
But the kids in Jonesboro Public Schools, where Dye directs the school lunch program, didnt touch the berries. Determined not to let the fruit go to waste, Dye and her staff made a blackberry cobbler. Still, half of it ended up in the trash. They didnt know what it was, Dye said. They werent familiar with it.
Students familiarity with certain foods has always driven Dyes menu. When she started working in the Jonesboro cafeteria 37 years ago, students ate home-cooked meals with their families, and thats what they expected for lunch at school. Dye served soup, lasagna and meatloaf, because thats what students were used to. Today, Dye serves students who have grown up with heat-and-serve entrees and fast food, and her lunch offerings have changed to accommodate their tastes.
Weve taken all the lasagna and meatloaf off the menu because the kids dont know what that stuff is anymore, Dye said. They wont eat it.
Instead, Dye offers the items they will eat. Her menu runs heavy on mini corndogs, chicken nuggets and stuffed-crust pizza the foods students are familiar with from restaurants and TV commercials.
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.