This year, The FEED Foundation, established in 2008 by Lauren Bush and Ellen Gustafson to raise funds for the United Nations World Food Program‘s school feeding initiative, turned its attention to school food in the United States with the launch of FEED USA:
FEED USA is a new campaign to improve school food all across America as well as a new brand of FEED products. … The cornerstone of FEED USA is the funding of teacher-led, school-based interventions; which will allow local activists to see the challenges to improving nutrition in their own schools and ask for specific projects and supplies to address those challenges.
As part of their solution, FEED USA recently kicked-off their first FEED USA Project: funding for teacher-led nutrition initiatives in schools across the country. In a Kiva-like format, teachers’ project requests are displayed (description and photos), along with the “dollars-to-go” until a project is fully funded. On the list, which can be sorted by state, you’ll find everything from outdoor and container gardens, to cooking classes and composting lessons. An individual can help with as little as $5. “Once the project is fully funded, DonorsChoose.org will deliver the materials to the school, then send you photos and thank-you letters from the classroom you helped.”
To help raise funds, FEED USA has a line of FEED USA bags co-designed with the Gap. With each bag you buy, $5 is donated to the teacher/project of your choice.
Further, there is a Funding Opportunity for Teachers. Through their partnership with DonorsChoose.org, for a limited time, FEED USA is offering “Double Your Impact” matching funding for projects submitted by teachers from a list of 8 suggested food-related projects. The list includes initiatives such as Gardening at School, Cooking in the Classroom, and a Class Trip to a Farmers Market. Teachers can submit projects for funding at www.donorschoose.org/teachers.
And then there’s Whole Foods Market, who recently launched their Back to School program, the cornerstone of which is a fund raising effort to put salad bars in 300 schools by January 1, 2011. The school nutrition problem as they see it?
Highly processed foods are standard fare in many school lunchrooms, and more than two-thirds of public schools serve lunches that exceed recommended limits for fat content. And, we’re paying for it with our kids’ health. At least 30 percent of children are overweight, childhood obesity has more than doubled, and it is predicted that one in three will develop diabetes.
The Whole Foods Market solution?
Whole Foods Market is proudly partnering with Chef Ann Cooper, a.k.a. “The Renegade Lunch Lady,” to help schools make a change. … With your donations Chef Ann Cooper will install a salad bar in at least one school near each of our U.S. stores. That’s almost 300 salad bars! Help start the conversation about salad bars in every U.S. school.
Make a donation at any Whole Foods Market store in the U.S.to help us Put Salad Bars in Schools, or donate online at The Salad Bar Project.
Feed our children well.
I came across an enlightening piece, “Eat an Apple (Doctor’s Orders),” in the Food section of last Thursday’s New York Times. It describes an innovative nutrition program being run in Boston, “in which doctors write vegetable ‘prescriptions‘ to be filled at farmers’ markets.” Program participants receive coupons to be redeemed at the markets for fresh fruits and vegetables. The idea is to provide low income families with the means, and the incentive, to try out fresh produce and prepare more meals at home. The goal? To show that healthy eating is good preventive medicine. “Doctors will track participants to determine how the program affects their eating patterns and to monitor health indicators like weight and body mass index.” The hope is that the families will reduce their consumption of unhealthy, salty and sweet snacks as they increase their consumption of healthy produce.
The clinics administering the project are sponsored by a foundation called Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited (CAVU). A non-profit, Wholesome Wave, based in Bridgeport, CT, and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture each provided $10,000 in funding.
And, apparently, Massachusetts is not the only state taking the initiative. “Thirty-six states now have such farmers’ market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children.” Which is a good thing. Because the very real cost of what we’re eating goes like this:
Childhood obesity in the United States costs $14.1 billion annually in direct health expenses like prescription drugs and visits to doctors and emergency rooms, according to a recent article on the economics of childhood obesity published in the journal Health Affairs. Treating obesity-related illness in adults costs an estimated $147 billion annually, the article said.
Pay now or pay later. That’s the choice. And that does not even factor in the most important outcome of programs like this, the positive impact on quality of life … priceless.
I love a good cupcake almost as much as I love a good story. If you give me a fantastic cupcake hand-in-hand with a great story, well, that’s about as good as it gets.
That’s exactly what I found in a cupcake booth at the weekly Scripps Ranch (San Diego, CA) farmers market. Escondido high school Juniors (soon-to-be-Seniors) Lauren Ball and Sawyer Epp started City Cupcakes a year ago. Looking for a way to make money but keep control of her schedule, Lauren took a cue from her entrepreneur parents and decided to set up her own business. Having cast about, she set her sights on cupcakes and asked her friend Sawyer to join her in the venture. I’m not sure how good they were when they first started out, but I can tell you that 5,000 cupcakes later they’re fantastic. And it appears that being high school students is precisely part of the reason:
Lauren said she originally used recipes from a cookbook her aunt gave her, but has changed them to include only natural ingredients such as actual vanilla beans rather than extract.
“I know a lot about chemistry,” she said about another secret to her success. “For my sophomore science project, I did the chemistry of cakes. Now when I’m creaming butter and sugar, I’m thinking of what the sugar’s doing. It’s a lot of knowledge that adds to the value of the product.”
Lauren has created 10 cupcake recipes, including vanilla, chocolate, red velvet and carrot, and Sawyer said she has created a secret recipe for frosting.
My two favorites are the red velvet and the coconut. Let me start with the red velvet. To me, it’s perfect, and what I mean by that, is that I want to eat the whole thing, not just the icing. It’s the cake itself. Dense and moist and flavorful. I often find that cupcakes can be too light or too dry which is not the case here. And then there’s the icing, the thick, rich, cream cheese icing. I love it. Topped with a tiny heart, it will delight your taste buds.
As for the coconut, again, they’ve got it right. The cake is a lighter than the red velvet, as it should be, but equally as moist and full of flavor. And there’s so much shaved coconut atop of the vanilla icing that you know you’re eating a real coconut creation, not some poor imitation.
Every once in a while Lauren goes to the extra effort of making “minis” which sell for $1 (regular-size cupcakes are $3). They pop into your mouth in one bite and leaving you wanting more. It’s an effective marketing idea, and it certainly worked on me.
Having started their business at the Escondido Farmers Market, the two now sell at Scripps Ranch, Crusin’ Grand, and Del Sur, as well. The teens do not yet have a website, but both are available on email (email@example.com) or by phone. And they happily take custom orders.
With summer jobs more difficult to come by this year, Lauren and Sawyer are proof positive that it’s possible to take destiny, and the creation of a summer job, into your own hands. Find what you love, make a plan, and start small. You never know what can happen.
End of story.
In today’s GOOP newsletter, Gwyneth Paltrow talks to chef Jamie Oliver about his Food Revolution. She’s obviously a fan, as am I. I wrote about Jamie Oliver’s quest to change how and what we eat in my post, Is It Time to Revive Home Economics Classes? I was serious about it then and I am now, which is the reason I’m bringing your attention to the newsletter.
The most enlightening part of the interview, beyond the recipes which I’ll get to in a moment, is when GOOP asked:
Give us a little bit of knowledge on what is happening to us as we are eating more and more fast and processed foods? What are the real risks here?
To which Jamie Oliver replied:
Well, I think it’s pretty simple really: forty years ago we ate mostly fresh, local food, and we knew where that food was coming from. But then fast and heavily processed foods crept in and totally changed our palettes and food businesses. And ultimately, this food is killing us. Obesity and weight gain are the most obvious symptoms, but the problem I have in telling this story is that there are also loads of skinny people suffering because the garbage they are eating is affecting them in a different, but equally dramatic way.
Another real risk I see is that we’re in danger of completely losing touch with all the best things about food. I’ve worked all over the UK and the US and I’ve been in many homes with no kitchen table at all. I know that’s got nothing to do with health directly, but it means there’s no sitting down together, no conversation, no family meals. I’ve gone into schools where kids are eating with their hands instead of knives and forks, and they can’t tell me what a potato or a tomato is… I think that’s pretty shocking. If our kids aren’t learning about food at home, we’ve got to make sure they learn at school in a contemporary, relevant, and exciting way.
He covers it all. And he’s not joking. If you’ve not yet seen his six-part series, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on ABC, do make a point of checking it out. The facts that he cites above were on display in the first two episodes.
Now for the recipes he’s designed to encourage us to take up the crusade. What I like about Jamie Oliver’s creations is that they use fresh, simple ingredients, are full of flavor (herbs and spices are prominent features), and are easy to prepare. There’s not a boring dish in his cookbooks, nor is there one in the GOOP newsletter: Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous, Asian Chicken Noodle Broth, and Classic Tomato Spaghetti. He also provides us with several “Jam Jar Dressings” to make ahead and keep on-hand, the intention being that we eat more salad: French dressing, Yogurt dressing, Lemon dressing; and Balsamic dressing. There are no excuses now.
There is an enlightening piece in this month’s Atlantic, “The Great Grocery Smackdown,” digging into Walmart’s Heritage Agriculture program. Enlightening because, just like the author of the article, Corby Kummer, I would never in a million years thought of Walmart in the same sentence with the words “very reasonable-looking produce, most of it loose and nicely organized,” let alone in one with “efforts to sell sustainably raised food.” You’ve got to read it to believe it. And, when you do, you’ll see that it actually makes a lot of sense … and, pardon the pun, but dollars and cents as well; we are talking about Walmart after all.
The program, which Walmart calls Heritage Agriculture, will encourage farms within a day’s drive of one of its warehouses to grow crops that now take days to arrive in trucks from states like Florida and California. In many cases the crops once flourished in the places where Walmart is encouraging their revival, but vanished because of Big Agriculture competition. … As with most Walmart programs, the clear impetus is to claim a share of consumer spending: first for organics, now for locally grown food. … Even if the price Walmart pays for local produce is slightly higher than what it would pay large growers, savings in transport and the ability to order smaller quantities at a time can make up the difference. Contracting directly with farmers, which Walmart intends to do in the future as much as possible, can help eliminate middlemen, who sometimes misrepresent prices.
Mr. Kummer then gets to the crux of the matter when it comes to what we eat today, and, beyond price, why: availability and accessibility.
And Walmarts serve many “food deserts,” in large cities and rural areas—ironically including farm areas. I’m not sure I’m convinced that the world’s largest retailer is set on rebuilding local economies it had a hand in destroying, if not literally, then in effect. But I’m convinced that if it wants to, a ruthlessly well-run mechanism can bring fruits and vegetables back to land where they once flourished, and deliver them to the people who need them most.
Watch out Whole Foods.
Then, in Time Magazine there’s a Global Dispatch. In “School Lunches in France: Nursery-School Gourmets,” Paris-based correspondent Vivienne Walt tells of her experience with her son’s nursery school lunch program: 5-course meals, 5 days a week, all of the meals for the next two months detailed in a lovely brochure.
On Mondays, the menus are also posted on the wall outside every school in the country. The variety on the menus is astonishing: no single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period, and every meal includes an hors d’oeuvre, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert.
Somewhere Jamie Oliver is doing cartwheels.
My favorite line in the article comes at the end of this passage, where Ms. Walt proposes her theory as to the workings of the “French paradox” (how the French eat everything including meat, cheese, pastries, and wine and stay so slim):
But another reason has to be this: in a country where con artists and adulterers are tolerated, the laws governing meals are sacrosanct and are drummed into children before they can even hold a knife. The French don’t need their First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the Élysée Palace to encourage good eating habits. They already know the rules: sit down and take your time, because food is serious business.
Because food is serious business… My point exactly.
In response to The Epicurean post “More on Microfinance in the United States,” Scott of slowmoneyaustin.com and rockroom.com mentioned “Slow Money … where Slow Food meets Venture Capital,” and I was intrigued. I’d heard of the Slow Food Movement, but what did that have to do with venture capital? And when Scott suggested that, “Microfinance could be the seed capital to get thousands of food microenterprises going, but what is missing is patient risk capital to take some of those businesses to scale, ” I wondered what the prospects were for such an enterprising concept.
First, Slow Food. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Slow Food USA says, “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”
Okay, but how does this translate to money? Enter Woody Tasch, venture capitalist, social entrepreneur, and author of the book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. (Read an excerpt on NPR.org.) Mr. Tasch believes that the speed with which money is invested and transacted has increased to an unsustainable rate, as exhibited by the recent worldwide financial meltdown. We don’t know where our money is going, how it is being invested, and what we can reliably expect for a return.
His central thesis is that there is another way to invest, not all of our money, but some portion of it, in local food systems. And he’s trying to get a lot of people to do it: “A million Americans investing 1% of their assets in local food systems.” He calls it “nurture capital.” The result is The Slow Money Alliance, a non-profit seed fund which he founded on a set of six Principles, “[i]n order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration.” On the web site, Mr. Tasch explains that:
Slow Money’s mission is to build local and national networks, and develop new financial products and services, dedicated to:
- investing in small food enterprises and local food systems;
- connecting investors to their local communities, and;
- building the nurture capital industry.
In her Wall Street Journal article, “Forget Conventional 401(k)s; Think Goat Cheese and Fennel,” Stephanie Simon describes Slow Money this way:
The crux of the movement is persuading investors to put some of their assets into businesses they can see, smell and even taste — to measure growth not by the flashing numbers on a stock ticker, but by the slow ripening of a tomato. … If all goes well, investors will see a modest 3% profit, maybe 6% over many years. But Mr. Tasch has a broader balance sheet in mind. The real dividend, he says, is diversity: In an era of industrial agriculture, where millions of acres are planted with the same variety of corn and millions of pigs are bred to be genetically similar, small local farms are the ultimate hedge fund. They preserve heirloom seeds and quirky breeds; strengthen the soil with organic nutrients; create local markets that connect producer directly to consumer.
So, in addition to a financial return, the model provides social and environmental returns. Money stays circulating in the local economy, soil is not eroded through the use of chemicals, and the investor actually sees the result of his or her investment. The movement has its roots in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), where customers buy shares of local farms in exchange for food products throughout the year, and as John Tozzi pointed out in BusinessWeek, “The emerging model involves several trends we’ve been tracking for a while: crowdfunding, community development capital, buy local movements, and for-profit social enterprise.” Not to mention our health. As David Gutnick wrote for CBC News, “Tasch was hungry for a more focused approach that connected health, food and capital,” forming connections where today there are none. If you’ve not already read them, take a look at two recent Epicurean posts: “Is It Time to Revive Home Economics Classes?” and “Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town.” There is no doubt that our disconnect from what it is that we’re eating is hurting us and it’s hurting the planet.
As with microfinance initiatives in the United States, it would seem that the support of local, sustainable food businesses means a variety of approaches, from small CSA-like initiatives to more capital-intensive projects requiring Slow Money nurture capital. From Dante Hesse who sells the milk he produces on his “a small organic dairy farm in Ghent, NY” at New York City farmers markets for $5 a quart, and who “could sell even more milk — plus butter and cheese — if he could just build a processing plant right in his barn. For that, he needs to raise about $700,000. … Hesse is offering 6 percent interest for an unsecured loan of $1,000.” NPR.org To Tom Manley who runs his family’s chemical-free animal feed business, Homestead Organics, and has more customers than he has feed to sell. In order to grow his business he needs new silos and feed cleaners. “Sure, he found people willing to lend him a few thousand dollars at a time, but he needs about $2 million to meet his goal of doubling the business again in 10 years.” CBC News.com
What if people took seriously Mr. Tasch’s worthy goal of a million people investing 1% of their assets in local food businesses or the suggestion that Mr. Gutnick put forth in his article: “There are more than 50,000 philanthropic foundations in the United States. Their assets total $400 billion US, most of it invested in the stock market. Needless to say, that money would be a game changer if it — or even a fraction of it — was reinvested in local agriculture.” Sustainable, low environmental impact businesses producing healthy, organic food. Long-term, sustainable investments made by individuals expecting a modest financial return while knowing they’re doing good. A change in mindset. A change in expectations. A change in what and how we eat.
There’s an encouraging, inspirational piece in last Wednesday’s New York Times, “Field Report: Plow Shares,” about an innovative group of landless, wannabe farmers who lend their hands and, often expertise, to help small, local farmers with land. Meet Crop Mob.
The group is based in the Triangle Region of North Carolina where “the sustainable-agriculture program at Central Carolina Community College draws students from across the nation who stay put after graduation,” and, according to Crop Mob, “there is a surge of new sustainable small farms. These farms are growing diversified crops on small acreage, using only low levels of mechanization, and without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. This is a much more labor intensive way of farming that brings back the need for community participation.” The movement recalls the collective involvement of entire towns in agricultural activities prior to the migration to more mechanized, factory farming processes.
Once they’ve descended on a farm, the Crop Mob of 40 to 50 volunteers can accomplish more in an afternoon than the farmer could in weeks. The day New York Times reporter Christine Muhlke visited the group was working on Bobby Tucker’s Okfuskee Farm in Silk Hope, NC. “In five hours, these pop-up farmers would do more on his fledgling farm than he and his three interns could accomplish in months. ‘It’s immeasurable,’ he said of the gift of same-day infrastructure.” The cost to the farmer? A meal for the Mob.
The group started out as mostly young, twenty-somethings with a desire to pursue a simpler, more community-oriented life. However, it seems that the interest has expanded beyond that one demographic. More people of all ages are pursuing a passion for farming, for “getting their hands dirty.”
This initiative has the potential to give small-scale farms a leg up, a chance to compete. I wonder about the likelihood of this catching on in other areas of the country. That would truly be a movement: sustainable labor helping to meet the goal of sustainable farming.
Meatless Monday. The concept is simple – one day a week, don’t eat meat. The impact is profound.
This is a movement that is organized and gaining momentum. “Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our goal is to reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”
What is the impact of a reduction in the consumption of meat? From a health perspective, you reduce your risk of heart disease and maintain a healthier weight. As you substitute lentils, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds for meat, your diet becomes more well-rounded and provides an increase in the variety of vitamins and minerals you take in. From an environmental perspective, you “reduce your carbon footprint,” “minimize water usage,” and “help reduce fossil fuel dependence.” As individuals and as a society, these are meaningful changes.
Visit the web site. It contains a wealth of information – dozens of recipes, articles, tips, data, book and film suggestions – everything to help you make Monday (or any other day of the week) meatless.
Recently, Gwyneth Paltrow became a convert. She announced the launch of a Meat Free Monday movement in the U.K in her GOOP newsletter. Sir Paul McCartney, a vegetarian for over 30 years, penned the rationale. He cites a United Nations report issued in 2006, “which stated that the livestock industry as a whole was responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the whole of the transport sector put together.” He then details facts from the report, including the harmful effects of methane and nitrous oxide, two main gases produced by the livestock industry, and the amount of water and land the industry consumes. It is a compelling argument. On a lighter note, the newsletter includes a few recipes from famed London restaurant Mr. Chow and a list of vegetarian cookbooks.
One day a week: of oatmeal with berries, or a whole wheat pita stuffed with a scrambled egg and veggies for breakfast; lentil soup with a crusty roll and a piece of cheese, or pasta with marinara sauce and a green salad for lunch; and a hearty spinach salad with canned tuna and chickpeas, or vegetarian chili for dinner.
Feel better, look better, do better. What a difference a day makes.
In a post on The Epicurean, titled “Two Web Sites Sharing Big, Bold, Innovative Ideas,” I discussed TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. The TED2010 Conference has just wrapped up in California where it was announced that chef Jamie Oliver is this year’s TEDPrize Winner. As the winner, he receives $100,000 and gets to make “One Wish to Change the World,” which the TED community then works together to support and help make come true. Jamie Oliver’s wish: “I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” TED has already posted the video of Jamie Oliver’s compelling talk in which he “makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food.” Watch it.
This is serious business. The TEDPrize is awarded to an “exceptional individual” who stands out among hundreds of other exceptional individuals and who has a wish that’s “big enough to change the world.” That this year’s prize has gone to an individual who is passionately fighting to bring our attention to what we’re eating and what we’re feeding our children, and who is taking concrete action to change our habits, well it says something. It says we’ve got a problem, and if we don’t do something about it, soon, it will only get much worse. We have an obesity rate and incidence of diabetes at historical highs, both of which have far-reaching consequences. As Jamie Oliver explains in his TED talk: today’s children are destined to have a shorter life span than their parents; the majority of the people in this country will die of diet-related diseases; and the costs of these diseases amount to 10% of America’s annual health care bill ($150 billion), a number which is set to double in ten years. And it’s not just America. Jamie Oliver’s food crusade began in England and he acknowledges that many other countries are not far behind. Cleverly, he suggests that if America takes the lead to address the problem, these other countries will follow.
Let me start by saying that I am most certainly not the world’s greatest cook. My brother is a better cook than me (of which I am both proud and mildly embarrassed). I cook a few things well. And I cook slowly, much to the chagrin of one ex-boyfriend. But when I do cook, I enjoy it (you can’t eat out or take in every night). I love food. I love good food. I’ve gotta cook.
I grew up in a house where cooking was a daily activity, with the exception of Friday, which was “pizza night,” and Monday, which was “stew night.” I still do not consider stew “cooking” or edible, but that’s my issue. Sunday’s roast, however, well that was another story … I loved that.
It never dawned on me that people, a large number of people, simply do not know how to do it. Do not know how to scramble an egg or cook some pasta and top it with some tomato sauce (even out of a jar) or broil a pork chop and steam some carrots. This is in no way meant as a criticism. I find it confounding because to me cooking is a basic life skill that every adult would naturally possess, like knowing how to swim. How could you not?
And that is the question … how can one survive and not know how to cook? Of course the answer is that it’s all too easy in a world full of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s should be the exception not the rule) and prepared food (if you don’t recognize the ingredients, as Michael Pollan says, it’s probably not food).
What I’ve not known how to cook, I know my mother does, or my friend Mary. So I pick up the telephone in some emergency state or another (my sauce isn’t thickening or my pie crust is crumbling, what do I do?) and get an answer. Today, the Internet is almost as good – do you know how many recipes there are out there, for free? What I find hard to grasp is not knowing to even ask the question. For all of the information that’s available, the message doesn’t seem to have gotten through.
Almost as important as the food we eat is manner in which we eat it. I believe something is lacking in our culture in which food has become cheap, fast, disposable. The sensual nature of food, the rituals created around the preparation and eating of food, are disappearing. I find that to be a sad thing.
So here’s something radical. Maybe it’s time to bring back the old high school course, Home Economics, and not just for teenage girls … guys need to eat too. When I attended high school, it was deemed an easy course – one to take to balance the rigors of Algebra and History – but that was because so many of us already knew how to boil and mash the potatoes, cook the broccoli, and bake chocolate chip cookies “from scratch,” not to mention sew a straight seam on a sewing machine and crochet a hat or two. You could get through the class “with your eyes closed.” And not only bring it back, but change the perception of it to something of real value. Teach the basics of nutrition (the fruit and vegetable aisle is a good thing, you’ll like it) and how to read food labels (any bad stuff in the top four, put it back on the shelf). Teach the pleasure of cooking and eating real food. Make it mandatory. That would do it. It wouldn’t solve all of our problems when it comes to food and weight, but it would be a start. As Jamie Oliver said towards the end of his talk:
Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single American child leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their lives … life skills.