Posted on Tue, June 08, 2010 by Intern
2 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, School Food, Take Action, Youth Food Movement, Uncategorized,
by intern Maia Piccagli
Many of you may recognize Dr. Susan Rubin, the leader of Slow Food Westchester, from the school food documentary, 2 Angry Moms. What you may not know is that last summer she, along with the kitchen staff at Camp Ballibay, took on traditional camp food and successfully overturned tradition.
The story started when Chef Ellen Thomas approached Dr. Rubin about finding college kids to staff the camp kitchen. As a mom of campers, she was especially interested in providing good food, and asked if instead, she could come work in the kitchen. Ellen welcomed her, created new menus, and together they transformed the camp diet from one of largely packaged and processed foods sourced by Sysco to a locally-supplied, fresh, and nutritious menu items that the campers ultimately loved. 30% of their fruit came from local Pennsylvania producers. One of the best parts was, when all was said and done, their new kitchen practices resulted in a $5000 savings.
They didn’t strip camp favorites like pizzas and sandwiches from the menu, but they sourced the ingredients differently. They made everything from scratch—even yogurt and granola. Campers were introduced to foods with which they may not have been familiar, like Korean rice balls and hummus (check out their hummus music video above). She recognized that raising awareness and providing healthy food options needed to be done, but had to be done with fun to be engaging.
Campers loved the changes. A performing arts camp, Ballibay holds a variety of “jam nights,” musical jam sessions where students can strut their stuff. They added a “kitchen jam” as a joke one night, and 21 campers showed up! The staff began rotating campers through the kitchen to help cook.
Parents followed the kitchen shenanigans via Facebook. A new Ballibay parent, Sherri Brooks Vinton, chose the camp this summer for its careful attention to sustainable agriculture, asserting that “an organization that cares and nurtures its participants through the dining hall is bound to do so in other respects as well.”
Camper appreciation for the new menu didn’t die at camp. Parents reported that their kids came home wanting to try new foods—they had expanded their palettes and were excited to continue exploring new, fresh, and nutritious foods.
This summer, Dr. Rubin is excited to go back and continue the magic. She has big plans—this summer’s secret ingredient is basil (they will be growing 8 kinds). Do I smell a pesto music video? Campers will participate in tending the garden as well as preparing meals. Dr. Rubin views her camp food success as a stepping stone, and her big goal is that over the next five years, all parents will demand that their kids are nourished well at camp.
To me, her triumph is a great illustration of how it is possible for institutions (like schools!) to change they way they do food. Dr. Rubin likened this success to the achievement of the 4-minute mile—once that barrier had been surmounted, it was achieved over and over by more people. Evidence that institutional food can be fresh and local on a small scale is a first step towards achieving the same on a large scale.