Kids are like sponges, am I right? So they don’t stop absorbing their environment when they leave the classroom for the cafeteria. Unfortunately, the message that children must be sopping up in cafeterias across the U.S. is that time, convenience–and money–are more highly valued than health.

So, yet another obstacle in feeding kids healthy food: there are no kitchens in the schools. Over the last few decades, as parents gradually replaced hot meals at home with Hot Pockets, so did school systems. Check out Kim Severson’s piece in today’s NY Times Dining & Wine section:

Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking


Veggie Rehab

August 17, 2009


Obesity and over-crowded prisons. Both big problems.

This NY Times piece (article link below) got me thinking about a new course for rehabilitation and correction programs in this country. An approach that could possibly tackle the bulging waistlines issue as well. At Renewal Farm in Garrison, NY, recovering addicts are growing over 1200 pounds of food annually for a local country club (in exchange for land); but, what if they were growing for local schools and other community non-profits?

The dollars spent on rehabilitating these individuals could come back to the community in the form of healthy meals for children and seniors. And program participants could receive culinary job training. Does anyone know of other programs where recovering addicts or inmates are growing food for the communities in which they live?

Two Acres of Hope for Recovering Addicts

Find a Farmer, Fast!

March 25, 2009

It’s the one April deadline that doesn’t elicit panic…your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) sign-up! Most farmers will hold informational sessions around this time, so click the link below to locate the nearest CSA by zipcode.

Find your local farmer!

For those of you unfamiliar with CSAs, I’ve included a thorough description below, from CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food. Supporters cover a farm’s yearly operating budget by purchasing a share of the season’s harvest. CSA members make a commitment to support the farm throughout the season, and assume the costs, risks and bounty of growing food along with the farmer or grower. Members help pay for seeds, fertilizer, water, equipment maintenance, labor, etc. In return, the farm provides, to the best of its ability, a healthy supply of seasonal fresh produce throughout the growing season. Becoming a member creates a responsible relationship between people and the food they eat, the land on which it is grown and those who grow it.

Joining a CSA makes sense economically, ecologically and nutritionally:

  • CSA keeps food dollars in the local community and contributes to the maintenance and establishment of regional food production.
  • With a “guaranteed market” for their produce, farmers can invest their time in doing the best job they can rather than looking for buyers.
  • CSA supports the biodiversity of a given area and the diversity of agriculture through the preservation of small farms producing a wide variety of crops.
  • CSA creates a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land.
  • CSA puts “the farmers face on food” and increases understanding of how, where, and by whom our food is grown.
  • CSA delivers locally-grown food shortly after it is harvested so there is less nutrient loss than when food travels long distances. Also naturally-ripened food tastes delicious.

FYI: Most farm shares run about 24 weeks, from late spring to late fall, with a weekly pick-up of fresh (sometimes organic, always local) produce. Some CSAs source other food items from neighboring farms, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs and honey. As members of the Washington Square CSA last season, our farmer hailed from upstate NY, so maple syrup was an additional goodie on the list. As soon-to-be-members of our local Brooklyn CSA, we will be carrying home organic flower bouquets in addition to vegetables, fruit and eggs.

victory-garden2Obamas to Plant White House Vegetable Garden

Michelle Obama is pulling on her Wellies tomorrow to break soil on the White House vegetable garden. Thank you Mrs. Obama for putting nutritious, fresh, local food in the national spotlight! (And thank you to the Obama’s former personal chef, Sam Kass, now on the White House kitchen staff and an advocate for local and sustainable food).

Now I just need some land to till…and until that happens, I’ll begin with some box planters on the stoop…thinking herbs, tomatoes and strawberries. Here’s a sampling of what will be sprouting in Washington: cilantro, tomatillos, hot peppers; red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic lettuces; spinach, chard, collards and black kale; berries; herbs including anise hyssop and Thai basil; two beehives for honey.

Before you start planting your garden (or stoop or window box), consider buying seeds from a certified organic seed provider such as Seeds of Change ( By planting heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables (or purchasing from a farmers market or CSA) you are doing your part to help preserve agricultural diversity. A few stats to consider:

  • Almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 are now extinct.
  • Twelve plant crops account for more than 3/4 of the food consumed in the world, and just three–rice, wheat and maize–are relied on for more than half of the world’s food.
  • As crop varieties decrease (reducing the genetic diversity of these plant species), existing crops become increasingly susceptible to devastation by disease and pests.

Now go get your hands dirty.

A cafeteria line at IKEA

A cafeteria line at IKEA: the boy chooses chicken finger, fries AND a side of macaroni and cheese

Oh, school lunch. While I ate (and didn’t eat) my last institutional meal years ago, the image of gluttony and junk is forever grease-blotched in my mind. In high school, lunch for many was pepperoni pizza covered in ranch dressing with a side of gravy-laden french fries, topped off with soda and stacks of par-baked chocolate chip cookies. Back then I had enough sense to avoid the cafeteria fare–albeit for the sake of looking fit in a leotard. But I knew my Mom’s sack lunch was healthier and often shook my head disapprovingly at those boys with the fries. To this day, if I see anyone eat fries by the forkful I am transported back to those lunch tables and visions of oily pubescent faces. Eeew.

Today it makes me cringe that someone thought it was a good idea to serve junk to growing teens. When I see images of that same junk being served to elementary-aged children, it gets me boiling mad. With all of the published nutrition research and public health experts lobbying for policy change, it is ridiculous that our government supports the serving of crap on a styrofoam tray.

I firmly believe that kids will “get” nutrition, for a lifetime,  if we (nutritionists, teachers, parents, taxpayers) get them to know and taste good food. Food introduced to them as a vegetable garden, a mock restaurant, a science experiment, a cultural exchange, a pick-and-chop exercise, a meal with family, and yes, a nutritious homemade lunch at school. Sadly, the message of enjoying food is not  reaching most of our country’s children. Even in schools boasting gardens and farm-to-table curriculum, the cafeteria still serves up packaged, processed foods and USDA commodities (aka big industry left-overs). So how are kids supposed to make the connection between food, enjoyment and health?

This year a new administration will reevaluate the National School Lunch Program. Perhaps I am hopeful that there might be some CHANGE. I want to share the following links sent to me by a prominent nutrition educator in NYC, Fern Gale Estrow. The first is a video about big industry’s influence on deciding what is served to children for lunch. (If you are wondering why kids are still drinking soda with their nuggets and mozzarella sticks, take a look!)

The second link is an article from this week’s NY Times, No Lunch Left Behind, by Alice Waters and Katrina Heron…“The National School Lunch Program, costing around $9 billion a year, has turned out to be a poor investment. It should be redesigned to make our children healthier.”

In the Times article, notice the mention of the Berkeley school district. This public school district yanked chef Anne Cooper from her chef position at an exclusive Hamptons, NY private school to revamp their entire lunch program. Her story is one of success and inspiration and told in more detail in her book, Lunch Lessons, which I highly recommend. Start local, do something!

The Food Lobby Goes to School

No Lunch Left Behind