What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Wed, September 15, 2010 by Intern
Thanks to the work of the faculty and students of Avoyelles Charter Public School, Slow Food Avoyelles, and the wider community, a once-empty space has been transformed into a vibrant and lively Edible Schoolyard.
by intern Claire Brandow
Between a line of trees and the softball field at the Avoyelles Charter Public School in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, is an abundant garden. Cauliflower, lettuce, and shallots grow. Corn, squash, and beans grow together as the “three sisters.” Sunflowers and rose bushes represent the flower population here, and a few fruit trees mark the beginning of an orchard. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago, this space was an empty field. Thanks to the work of the faculty and students of Avoyelles Charter Public School, Slow Food Avoyelles, and the wider community, the once-empty space has been transformed into a vibrant and lively Edible Schoolyard. From seeds-and-dirt to fork-and-plate, the 700 students of ACPS are now engaging with their food from many different aspects.
In August 2009, after approval from school director Julie Durand, Paige Rabalais and Polly Boersig, officers of Slow Food Avoyelles, began the work to turn the space into the impressive program it is today. Community donations of time, labor, and resources resulted in the construction of a shed that serves the dual purposes of tool storage and outdoor instruction. Next, a winter of “lasagna gardening” helped to ready the space for planting. In “lasagna gardening,” a cover crop is planted over a thick layer of compost in one quarter of the garden. The planted quarter is then rotated over the entire garden, depositing vitamins and nutrients into the soil.
The latest facet to the students’ food education is the addition of a kitchen to the curriculum. Painted in vibrant hues and stocked with Anolon cookware donated by the company as part of its “Creating a Delicious Future” initiative, students are now learning to cook what they’ve grown in the garden. Cushaw, a squash favored by local Cajun traditions, was recently given a few culinary treatments. It was baked with butter and honey, pureed for soup, and the seeds were roasted for a snack. The students have created many other delicious dishes like fluffy omelets, fresh squeezed orange juice, okra fritters, and even an herbed gazpacho with homemade garlic croutons.
Posted on Fri, August 06, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
Just when we all assumed that Congress was too busy to talk child nutrition before their summer break, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act late today.
Just when we all assumed that Congress was too busy to talk child nutrition before their summer break, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act late today. It provides an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to federal child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch program. The days leading up to this unanimous passage had been full of urgent calls to action—from Michelle Obama in the Washington Post to Senator Richard Lugar in the New York Times.
Does this mean this long road—the battle to get a fully funded and improved child nutrition bill—has finally come to an end? Not yet. The House still has to pass it as well (and then there will be reconciliation, etc.). The clock is ticking however; the bill expires on September 30th and the new funding contained within will be lost if it isn’t reauthorized by then.
The version that passed in the Senate included a bunch of our priorities - more funding for healthier meals, regulations to kick junk food out of school vending machines, and $50 million for Farm to School programs, but it also makes cuts to food stamps in order to pay for them.
This process has now dragged on for nearly a year past its original expiration date—now’s the time to urge your House Rep to help bring this process to a close, which would, as our First Lady said today “bring us one step closer to reaching that goal [of ending childhood obesity].”
UPDATE: Earlier this week there was some concern that the House, in an effort to move speedily before heading off for August recess, might pass the Senate version. Thanks to the 4,000+ of you of you who responded to our call to action with a letter to your Rep urging them, to pass the HOUSE version (the House bill avoids making cuts to food stamps (SNAP) - a move which will impact the children that are the most vulnerable. School lunch should not be funded at the expense of other important food programs). In the meantime, you can still use the link above to write your Rep—urging them to pass the bill before the September 30th expiration.
Posted on Fri, July 16, 2010 by Slow Food USA
An update on the school lunch bill in the House of Representatives.
Yesterday, the House Committee on Education and Labor, which is tasked with updating the National School Lunch Program, finally passed its Child Nutrition bill (H.R. 5504) by a bipartisan vote of 32 to 13. The bill proposes to establish healthier nutrition standards for school meals, to kick junk food out of school vending machines, and to help schools connect with local farms and plant school gardens. It would also provide a very modest increase (six cents) to the funding schools receive to serve each lunch ($2.68, about a dollar of which goes to ingredients).
While we’re glad to see progress being made, six cents isn’t going to transform a program that’s failing to serve healthy food in the midst of a child obesity crisis.
The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a similar Child Nutrition bill in March. Now that both bills are out of committee, we’re waiting on Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule both the bills for floor debate and pass them as quickly as possible. Child Nutrition programs were supposed to be updated last year, and are currently on a one-year temporary extension. The current legislation expires on September 30, so if House and Senate leaders don’t move quickly, we may see another one-year delay – which means another year of neglecting the health of America’s children.
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 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 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.