Health and Nutrition


One of the great emerging stories in American food is the comeback of the school lunch.  We’re waking up to the idea that our just-add-water starches aren’t working and we need to serve “real food” once again.  Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama rolled out her Chefs Move to Schools Campaign, a visionary plan for our best culinary talent to work with school kitchens.  It’s part of her broader Let’s Move! effort that has the goal of “solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.”  (Read: THIS generation.)  It’s an incredible news story; you’ll find full details here through the blog, ObamaFoodORama.

Yet there are stories told by reporters — and then there are sparks of fire ignited by friends.  Soon after the event, my friend Cathy Conway of Avalon Catering in Atlanta, GA, was tagged in these photos from Mary Moore of The Cook’s Warehouse.  How inspiring to see someone I have long admired — and cooked with in her kitchen years ago! — in the middle of it all.  In response to the photos, Cathy wrote:

“…Ready to dive deeper in my commitment to Grady High School [in Atlanta]…I feel like I can influence these young adults. Teach them: the pleasure of sharing at the table; the taste of a vegetable from the garden and quickly prepared in the pan; the importance of local; the power of voting with food dollars; the influence in their choices…”.

How wonderful to see this local movement happening — a local movement that is happening everywhere.  Congratulations, chefs!  Can’t wait to hear more.

Sea of Green and White

Mary Moore, Cathy Conway and Barbara Petit in the White House Garden

The First Lady with White House Chef Sam Kass

Years ago on a road trip, my friend and I pulled into a gas station late night.  We had been driving nonstop for hours.  It was deeply dark and most places were closed.  Now we were hungry and weary.

It was a scene for Edward Hopper to paint:  One man attending a brightly-lit station on a road with few visitors.  The only movement was a slowly-rotating hot dog machine in the corner.  There, moving up and down in a steady circle, was one scraggly hot dog.  Somewhere I heard the faint sound of Rosemary Clooney singing, “I Stayed Too Long at the Fair.”

So imagine the surprise when a recent stop at the WaWa in New Jersey had something new.  Take a look at the fruit stand below.  This is one the best illustrations of Americans’ changing attitudes towards food that I’ve seen.  The WaWa station isn’t in an urban center — it’s along a road where a variety of people stop by all day and night.

Now if we could start building these kind of options around local producers, then we’d have real roadside dining.  For example, when people talk of Italy, they often say, “You can pull over to a shack and have one of best meals of your life.”  What if travelers on our highways (and in our airports) started to say the same of the U.S.?  Readers, have you seen anything similar to this in your travels?

Fresh Fruit "Stand" at the Gas Station

Really? Along side the highway?

I Hear They Call This "Good Food Quickly" (Seinfeld)

I've Never Seen This View And Thought, "Delicious!" But Now...

Remember this photo taken a few weeks ago on February 25th?

You May Recall...

Now take a look at the latest stage of life for this vegetable bed.  Yes, a beginning is born!  Over at the Bellevue Garden, we have been clearing away the old, dead bits and turning over the soil.  Here we planted greens and beans with more to come.  The scallions mark the water lines of the sprinklers, so those stay.  (Ahem, lesson learned.)

Well, We've Only Just Begun...

It’s all possible because of the expertise and elbow grease of the head gardener, Jimmy.  Here he puts in the first seeds of 2010.  The garden crew and community can’t wait to see what it all becomes.  Happy Springtime, dear readers.

Fresh Dirt and New Seeds

On a recent walk with my good friend, urban environmentalist Kate Zidar, our boots made cracking noises on the ice underfoot. I can’t wait to hear the soft sounds of loose dirt come springtime.

Despite the cold, the community of people who want to change food in America is gathering. Some say it’s a fad, but I know this movement has staying power. One way we’ll dig deep for the long haul is through the work of visionaries like Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard programs. In these programs, increasing in size and number every year, students plant gardens to learn where food comes from and how it grows.

There’s another common and untapped place for good food and nutrition: the hospital. Here we have people often in the most dire health of their lives. Yet, when it comes time to build them up nutritionally, we serve enriched white bread slices, individually wrapped in plastic.

Yes, it’s true that most hospitals are private businesses, whereas schools are often public. Regardless, food is elemental to our health, and no where is that more important than in a hospital. This summer we will create an edible garden at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. We plan to grow greens and other vegetables as part of the Bellevue Sobriety Garden. For years, the garden has been a place of peace and quiet for hospital outpatients in recovery from addiction. Soon it will also be a place of urban agriculture, both by and for the hospital community. Here are photos of what the space looked like a few days ago – want to help us create what it will look like this summer?

Entryway

Long view

Come sunshine, these will be vegetable beds

Long View, Looking Back

Hang in there, Piggy! Not too much longer...

Recently, before an audience of hundreds at the New York Botanical Garden, Josh Viertel of Slow Food USA, quoted a frightful statistic:  Currently in the African-American and Latino communities of the U.S., children age 9 and under have a 50% chance of developing diabetes.

Fifty percent.  One in two.  Heads or tails.

Diabetes and obesity are tightly linked and a lot has been said about the “cheap calorie.”  In the American food system, it’s less expensive to eat at McDonald’s than it is to go to the farmer’s market and make a stir-fry.  We also know that one’s diet is a main contributor to statistics like the 50/50 one quoted above.

This summer many Americans are talking about our health care system.  I believe if we want to improve health care, it’s important that we also change the way we produce and consume our food.

But before we explore the macro view of American health, I have a simple question:  WHY are processed foods bad for us?

In his book, Organic Inc., author Samuel Fromartz offers an explanation.  As I read and write more for Groundswell, I find my learning curve is a line straight up.  Can I admit to you that I’ve never known the role of the pancreas before?  Here’s the passage from Fromartz’s book:

Page 15:  “…A diet high in refined foods…[is]…the engine of a boom-bust cycle of satiation and hunger that leads to weight gain.  The body easily digests these foods, spiking blood sugar levels and pushing the pancreas into overdrive to produce insulin and channel the excess sugar to muscles, organs, or fat.  By working so hard, the insulin eventually depletes blood sugar, causing energy to flag and hunger to arise, leading to a new cycle of consumption and depletion.”

Ronald Eyes The Word - Macy's Parade Eve - Thanksgiving 2007

Ronald Eyes The Word - Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Eve