What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Sun, July 04, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
Last Thursday, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) convened the House Education and Labor Committee for a hearing on the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 (H.R. 5504), the House’s version of the Child Nutrition Act.
Witnesses at the hearing included USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack; Chef Tom Colicchio of Top Chef; James D. Weill of the anti-hunger organization FRAC; Dr. Eduardo J. Sanchez, a family practice physician and health insurance executive; U.S. Army Major General Paul D. Monroe from the organization Mission Readiness; and Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation (who was the only witness to speak against Child Nutrition legislation).
Most of the legislators present seemed in favor of implementing Farm to School programs and removing junk food from schools. Those are great steps forward, but they’re only partial victories if the Child Nutrition Bill doesn’t receive full funding. Right now, the National School Lunch Program leaves schools with about $1.00 for each meal’s ingredients. This bill would add six cents – not enough to give every child access to a healthy meal.
Posted on Fri, July 02, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by guest blogger Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray
When I was asked to write about why I recently started my blog, The Lunch Tray, I came to see that it really all started with a simple packet of animal crackers.
By way of background, I’m a former lawyer and current freelance writer living in Houston. I’m also the stay-at-home parent of two children at an HISD public elementary school. I’ve had a longstanding concern about public school food and last spring was appointed to a new Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) formed by HISD and Aramark (the company to which our food services operations are outsourced).
Right around this time, HISD was expanding its initial roll-out of a universal, in-classroom breakfast program, so at the first PAC meeting, HISD showed the parents the food it was serving for breakfast—Trix yogurt, high sodium biscuit and sausage sandwiches, Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the like. Horrible stuff, but what really baffled me was that at every meal, kids were also required to take a packet of animal crackers.
When I asked about the animal crackers, the HISD/Aramark dietician explained that they were needed for the meal to meet USDA nutritional guidelines and thereby qualify for government reimbursement. That really stumped me. I started to realize I’d stumbled into an area totally outside my prior experience, which led me to Janet Poppendieck’s fantastic new book, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, an invaluable School Lunch 101 for anyone trying to wrap their head around our present system. [Editor’s note: we reviewed the book here.]
Meanwhile, when parents started finding out that I was on the PAC, it seemed like everyone had something to say to me. I was stopped in hallways to discuss everything from school food to Oreos at the 10 am soccer game—people clearly wanted to have this conversation. And, armed with the new knowledge I’d gained through the PAC and my own research, I realized I had a lot to say, too. Hence, The Lunch Tray.
Posted on Tue, June 29, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
This Thursday morning, Representative George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, will be holding a full committee hearing on the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010 (H.R. 5504). This is the House version of the Child Nutrition Bill that’s waiting to be scheduled for floor debate in the Senate.
It’s important for Congress 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. The bill is a step forward for school meal programs, particularly because it creates a grant program for local food and finally kicks junk food out of school vending machines, but it only raises the school lunch by six cents, which isn’t enough to ensure every student has access to a healthy meal. Right now, schools get by with about $1.00 for each meal’s ingredients.
If your House Representative is on the Education and Labor Committee, you can help out right now: please call them before Thursday and ask them to bring the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act up for committee vote quickly and to fully fund the bill with at least an additional $1 billion per year. Even if your Representative is not on the Education and Labor Committee, you can still call them and urge them to ask their colleagues on the committee to quickly pass a fully funded bill.
Click here for a list of members of the House Education and Labor Committee. You can find your Representative’s name and contact information here.
Posted on Mon, June 28, 2010 by Intern
by intern Khalilah Ramdene
A recent study by the Rudd Center at Yale University found that children prefer foods branded with cartoon characters, often citing those foods as better tasting then their unbranded counterparts. Licensed cartoon characters are often used to advertise unhealthy foods to children, suggesting that this direct marketing may be a primary contributor to the child obesity epidemic.
The study sampled 40 children in New Haven, Connecticut between ages four and six. The children were provided with three pairs of identical food, some packaged with a cartoon character (Scooby Doo, Dora, and Shrek) and some without. The study found that children were more likely to choose a food with a familiar branded image, which suggests that advertising and marketing has a strong influence over the food choices children make. Aside from choosing foods branded with recognizable cartoon characters the participants claimed the food tasted better. Cartoon characters are more often used to sell the unhealthy foods (foods high in fat, sugar and/or sodium) that are linked to the child obesity epidemic.
Advertising unhealthy food directly to children has its precedent in the McDonald Happy Meal model. Along with a third of a day’s worth of calories, and two days worth of sugar, children receive a toy in their Happy Meal, usually a character associated with new movie releases or hit television shows. In 2003, the sale of Happy Meals reached $3.4 billion and made up 20 percent of McDonalds sale. Earlier this week, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a statement threatening to sue McDonalds for their “unfair and deceptive marketing” to children. CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner states, “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”
Posted on Fri, June 25, 2010 by Slow Food USA
The third of the Department of Justice/USDA Anti-trust workshops is underway in Madison, WI, as we write this. Last night, as in Ankenny Iowa a few months ago, there was a town hall held the night before the workshop. Here’s a report from the field…-ed.
by Siena Chrisman, WHY Hunger
Appropriately, the evening began with a picnic featuring local cheese and ended with an ice cream social under a yellow moon. In between, dairy farmers, consumer advocates, professors, labor union representatives, faith communities, antihunger advocates, an aspiring cheesemaker, and even a Certified Public Accountant spoke out forcefully about the widespread injustices in the dairy industry.
The main event was a Dairy Town Hall Forum in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored by Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farm Coalition, and Food and Water Watch, and timed to coincide with Friday’s Department of Justice and USDA workshop examining corporate concentration in the dairy industry. The workshop on Friday is part of the ongoing investigation (which I reported on here) by the two departments to determine whether food and agriculture companies have become too concentrated.
The dairy industry is one of the most concentrated in the country, with just one company controlling 40% of the US milk supply. Prices for farmers have fallen so low in the past three years that many dairy farmers were losing as much as $200 per cow every month in 2009. Meanwhile, even though the price farmers were paid for milk fell by almost 50% from 2007 to 2009, the retail price dropped by less than 25%. Someone’s profiting, but it’s not farmers or consumers.
Posted on Thu, June 24, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
When I heard that Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator, was going to be the guest judge on Bravo TV’s Top Chef this week, I knew this would be a must-see episode. For those of you who didn’t tune in last night, let me give you a quick recap. No spoilers, I promise!
After creating some seriously tasty-looking “bipartisandwiches” for the Quickfire Challenge, the 16 contestants broke into four teams. For the Elimination Challenge, each team was charged with the task of cooking a delicious, nutritionally balanced lunch for 50 D.C. middle school students, a seemingly simple assignment, except for one major twist. Each team was only allotted a budget of $134, which comes to $2.68 per child, the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches. Chef Kass explained that because this money is used for labor and supplies in addition to ingredients, he would be subtracting $4 from their total budgets, leaving them with $130, which he described as a “major gift,” since schools usually only have roughly $1 to spend on ingredients.
As I expected, the chefs had a very difficult time adhering to this restrictive budget. At the Judge’s Table, one chef confessed, “We found ourselves at the cash register sacrificing creativity to keep substance in our meal.” The struggling teams also sacrificed nutrition, failing to include enough fruits and vegetables and “loading up with a lot of starch and sugar…the easy thing to do,” according to Kass.
Overall, I thought this was a great episode because it drove home two major points. First, cooking a healthy and delicious school lunch with a budget of $2.60 is a difficult challenge. Doing the same with only $1 for ingredients is much, much harder, which is why it’s so important for us to tell Congress to fully fund child nutrition programs.
Posted on Sat, June 19, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
Recently, Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel visited with some high school students in California, one of whom shared with him the gory tale of hot Cheetos with melted cheese on top. In a bag. With a fork. Lunch on the go! We asked our mole, Rameen, to send us a picture. Whoahhhhh.
He reported that his school cafeteria sells them—not in the lunch line, but in one of the “competitive foods” lines. He said they appeal to students whose lunch period is too short to wait on a long lunch line. In his words, they’re “very gross…we could use some help. It would be cool not to have to pack bag lunches for the rest of my high school life!” When we asked him to explain a little more how he feels about the school selling this stuff as lunch, he said:
“I really hate seeing this kind of food going around at the school because it probably causes some of the most long term problems in any of the kids at my school. I’m not going to lie, many kids at my school are overweight. One student was so big, he broke his ankle just by trying to run. Fortunately, that problem doesn’t affect me directly, but it affects my friends and people i care about. If this kind of food is the only food a student can get at his school without wasting his whole day waiting in line, well every kid is going to have to pack bag lunches to school for the rest of their high school lives.”
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.
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.