Monthly Archives: March 2011

Everyday struggles

Sometimes I live in a bubble. A bubble where sixth, seventh, and eighth grade boys viciously attack a salad bar, a bubble where the chef and faculty work in harmonious efficiencies to prepare for the up coming school garden where the kids will learn about growing herbs, squashes, take great pride in it, and then allow the cooks to use it in the meals they prepare.

And then the bubble pops and I read about how difficult it is to get salad bars into schools, how peas (and green beans!) won’t count as green vegetables by the government, how big potato lobbyist are attacking the USDA because they want to reduce the amount of starch in school meals… and the list goes on. We are often failing to see the bigger picture of health in this country.

Everyday in school food there is a struggle. Whether it’s the above ridiculousness of big ag, or kids missing breakfast because Mom works 7097890902478 jobs and slept 10 minutes over her alarm, or the faculty is not willing to get behind the chef’s food, or tensions occur in food costs because the cost of wheat is going up globally….everyday there is a struggle of some kind. That’s life, right?!

But every once in while you get a glimpse of hope that progress is being made; that we really are getting more kids to eat better, that we are increasing time spent cooking with students and their families, and that maybe, just maybe, we are making food a bigger part of people’s lives. Last week I got hit with a lot of hope and I wanted to share it with you.

I plan the school menus about one month ahead of time. This ensures the requirements are met, planning for seasonal produce can be ordered and planned for, vacations and field trips are scheduled, and of course, so the menus can be checked to ensure we meet government reimburse regulations. In planning for April’s menus I met with my lead contact at the school (we meet each month) to access what the kids are eating, why they eat it, and what new items we should try. It’s the most interesting part of my job; food anthropology.

Pupusas. “Can you make pupusas for us?” Faculty member asks me.
“Can you give me your recipe?” I said.
“Si,” she says.

Jackpot.

And just like that, the food service handler/ part time teacher/ and part time staff supervisor at one school tells me about how her mother made pupusas growing up and how she was going to begin a monthly cooking club at school. I left the meeting calm, happy, and with a recipe in my hand that conveyed so much to someone. I was glowing knowing that the more I spoke to people one on one about food and it’s importance in their lives, the more they wanted to talk more about it too.

Food connects us all. And on days when bureaucracy, red tape, and personalities get in the way, it’s imperative to relish days like this one. These are the days when we see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize how delicious good health can be.

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Food Justice: Author Event and Discussion, April 6

Featuring Robert Gottlieb, co-author of Food Justice, and D.C. food justice advocate Louise Thundercloud. Organized by D.C. Farm to School, Bread for the City, Slow Food D.C. and Centro Ashé.

Wednesday, April 6th
6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Bread for the City
1525 7th Street Northwest

In today’s food system, farm workers face difficult and hazardous conditions, low-income neighborhoods lack supermarkets but abound in fast-food restaurants and liquor stores, food products emphasize convenience rather than wholesomeness, and the international reach of American fast-food franchises has been a major contributor to an epidemic of “globesity.” To combat these inequities and excesses, a movement for food justice has emerged in recent years seeking to transform the food system from seed to table. In Food Justice, Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi tell the story of this emerging movement.

What does food justice mean for D.C. residents? What opportunities and challenges exist in our city? Bread for the City, D.C. Farm to School Network, Slow Food D.C., and Centro Ashé are hosting Robert Gottlieb, Louise Thundercloud, and others involved in food justice advocacy in D.C., for this discussion. Join Bread for the City for a tour of its rooftop garden at 6. Discussion begins at 6:30.

The event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP to aburket_at_breadforthecity.org (Replace _at_ with @) or call (202) 386-7006.

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food bus

March 31 happy hour: Let’s reach 201 pledges at Lounge 201!

WHAT: Happy hour to benefit DC’s first mobile farmers’ market
WHEN: Thursday, 31 March from 5-8pm
WHERE: Lounge 201 (201 Massachusetts Avenue, NE), near Union Station/Capitol Hill

ON TAP:

  • Complimentary appetizers featuring local, sustainable beef from Arcadia’s friends at White House Meats
  • Special cocktails made with local spirits

Come and learn about Arcadia’s Mobile Market, bring your friends, and don’t forget a credit card to make a secure online donation to our Kickstarter campaign on one of the on-site laptops. In addition, Lounge 201 has generously agreed to donate a percentage of happy hour sales to support the mobile market.

HELP US GET THIS FOOD BUS ON THE ROAD!
Arcadia’s goal is to raise enough to purchase and retrofit a 25-foot school bus, convert it to run on biofuel, and have the whole shebang up and making market stops and school visits around Washington, DC in early summer 2011. The Mobile Market will be where food is needed — in low-income neighborhoods known as “food deserts” — bringing healthy, local food to the places people naturally gather. And we need YOU to help make it happen!

IT’S ALL OR NOTHING
We need the community to pledge $15,000 by Earth Day (April 22), or no money changes hands and it gets a lot harder for us to get healthy food to folks who need it. Together, we can make this happen!

GIVE WHAT YOU CAN, TELL YOUR FRIENDS
Get yourself a hip bumper sticker for just a $25 donation. Or be the envy of all of your friends as you point out your name artfully painted on the side of the mobile market, which you earned with a $1000 donation.*

JOIN OUR FRESH FOOD REVOLUTION!
*DC Greens is the fiscal sponsor of Arcadia and the Mobile Market. Your donation to DC Greens is fully tax deductible less the fair market value of any goods received.

If you can’t make the event, but still want to contribute, please go to www.arcadiafood.org.

For questions about this event or Arcadia’s Mobile Market, please contact ibti(at)arcadiafood.org.

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“Pig Business” Documentary Highlights Industrial Farming Abuses

The U.S. premiere of the documentary film Pig Business played to a full house at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center on March 9th.  The event was sponsored by the Center for Food Safety and co-sponsored by Slow Food DC and about a dozen other food and environmental advocacy groups.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is featured in the documentary, kicked off the event with a powerful speech. Also putting in appearances at the event were Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who served as master-of-ceremonies and panel moderator; Tracy Worchester, the film’s director; and Dr. Michael Greger, Humane Society of the United States, Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety, and Kathy Ozer (National Family Farm Coalition, all of whom spoke as part of a panel after the screening.

The documentary focuses primarily on the brass-knuckles business practices of Virginia-based Smithfield Farms, which is coming close to monopolizing pork production in both the United States and Europe.  The film details how pork producers are going down the same sorry, ruinous trail carved out years ago by chicken processors.

Smithfield and other pork producers employ what are termed “industrial farming methods,” but this is a far too gentle and antiseptic term for what actually occurs.  The pigs are continuously confined and subject to abuse, a situation graphically displayed in the film.  These scenes provoked one of the event’s panelists to recall Ghandi’s words that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  By this standard, our collective mortal souls here in the U.S. are all in some considerable peril.

Industrial farming would clearly be on shaky moral ground if the treatment of the animals were the only problem. Unfortunately, for all of us, this is only the beginning of the litany of abuses these methods entail:

  • The concentration of some many animals, each of whom produces daily ten times the amount of waste a human does, in the small confinement areas results in horrendous environmental damage to our waterways and lands and ultimately poses a threat to human health and safety.  This danger is epitomized by a nauseating stench that sickens people for miles around these confinement facilities.
  • Rural communities are being emptied out and a way of life destroyed along with the individual farmer’s ability to compete in the face of monopoly power.  Smithfield and other producers offer a few farmers a contract where they raise pigs in these specially-designed confinement facilities for a set price.  The price is so low that other farmers can’t possibly match it when raising animals using humane and environmentally-sound animal husbandry practices.  It is estimated that in one region of North Carolina, only 2,000 pig farmers remain in an area that once supported over 20,000.
  • The abuse extends to the exploitation of workers at the pork processing plants who suffer numerous serious injuries, such as the loss of fingers and hands.  This comes from working with super-sharp knives on “disassembly” lines moving at stressfully high speeds in extremely hot or extremely cold conditions.  These workers are often undocumented and thus unwilling to come forward publically with complaints or join a union to seek better working conditions.
  • The high food-safety risks coming from these plants where workers, operating under these constant “speed-up” line pressures, are sometimes unable to completely and thoroughly remove fecal matter that can contaminate meat.

Of course, consumers rarely see or understand these problems. What they do see are the pork products packaged in convenient, uniform cuts and are “cheap” when considering only the price per pound and not the other externalized costs of meat raised and processed this way.

As Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., stated passionately, Smithfield is able to get away with all this because it systematically break laws, including anti-trust, environmental, worker protection, and food safety to name the major forms of laws.  The law breaking started with the corruption of the state government in North Carolina. With this foothold, the company forced down the price of pork nationally, making other major pork-producing states like Iowa get in line – or else.  Smithfield has followed a similar strategy in Europe, starting with Poland.

Pig Business speaks directly to the concerns of the Slow Food movement.  As the movement philosophy states, we need to see ourselves as “co-producers  — an eater who is informed about where and how their food is produced and actively supports local producers, therefore becoming part of  the production process.

The premiere also represented the first formal effort of Slow Food DC’s policy, advocacy and outreach committee to represent our organization and be a voice for our values in the community.  Committee members in attendance were Patrick Parnell, committee chair, along with Julianne Tootel, and myself (William “Bud” Wurtz). If you want to stand up for Slow Food values in a way that makes a difference, please consider joining with us.

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String Beans are Not Green

55% of DC residents are obese. 40% of families in DC with kids experience food hardships. Obesity costs DC 400 million dollars a year. These are staggering stats that I was made aware of on Monday at the Healthy School’s Act seminar.

Each day the staff of DC Central Kitchen’s Fresh Start Catering works to feed thousands of students in 9 schools across the district with locally sourced, seasonal, made from scratch meals with the hopes of slowly eradicating hunger and obesity in this city.

Feedings kids, as most of you know, can be very challenging. They are bamboozled by billions of dollars in marketing campaigns to get them to eat more sugars and fats from monopolies in processed convenience foods. It’s no wonder getting a kid to eat a carrot or a pear is a mile stone these days. We are honestly fighting ourselves in the battle to stop being fat and lazy.

I remember the first time I heard that this was the first generation to have a life expectancy LESS than their parents. That shook me. I don’t have kids but I know I want them one day. And at this rate, not because I am just a chef, but because I care about what my kid eats, I’m sure I’ll be a stringent parent seeking out schools with legit food services….or my kid(s) are getting home schooled.

In the fight against hunger and obesity in this country we have seen, especially this year, a large campaign from many political sectors as well as from the grassroots level to. Cities and small towns everywhere in this country, from L.A. to Chicago to NYC are finding ways to slowly make changes in making their school meals healthier. Chefs, food service providers, the White House, are all working steadily to increase access to healthy foods for our children and we are seeing a lot of change. These changes, top down are tangible in the schools DCCK is providing food services for. And though we now are mandated to offer whole grains, to provide a different kind of fruit each day for lunch, and even mandated to include a bean each week for lunch, there are still many areas that we, as a democracy, need to figure out how to fix.

“Green beans don’t count as a dark green vegetable but the romaine lettuce will,” our nutritionist tells me.

This is what I’m talking about. From my day to day work with schools, kids, parents, government officials, these are the micro areas we are seeing that need to be worked out. How can we tell a kid that the school wont get money back from the government if the food service providers use green beans for their lunch….because they aren’t…dark green enough….” At some point we took our eye off the ball. Local legislation at this point is the key to slowly implementing change in schools, along with parents vocalizing how pissed off they are.

Did I mention that romaine lettuce DOES count as a dark green vegetable?!

In the U.S. we spend about 9% of our annual income on food for our families where European countries and others spend about 30-40%….because they consider food a priority, an investment in the health of their families. No one is asking you or expecting you to spend 30% of your money on scallops and leafy arugula from the farmer’s market. But we need to rethink the way we priorities food in this country, with our schools and thus, our families. We need to realize what makes us feel good, what makes us savor life again….and you can do that all with the purchase of some discounted bruised apples and pears that are at the peak of their flavor at the local Giant or Stop and Shop.

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Slow Food U: Bread, the Ultimate Slow Food, April 21

Slow Food U: “Bread, the Ultimate Slow Food”
Lecture and Potluck, Thu, April 21, 6:30-8:30 pm
Pyramid Atlantic, 8230 Georgia Avenue (three blocks from Silver Spring metro).

Update 4/3: This event is FULL. Thank you for your interest.

Join us for a lecture on bread by expert baker Rod Teel, who is on the management team for the Upper Crust Bakery in North Silver Spring, known for its artisanal European-style breads. Rod will speak about his experiences as a professional baker, and give us a demo on the secret to making great homemade bread (“the best way to knead is very different from what most people might do at home”). For the potluck, we will get a chance to sample several different varieties of breads that Rod bakes, so please bring along cheese, toppings, or anything else that goes along with bread, to share with other attendees. (Wine and non-alcoholic beverages also appreciated!)

This event is free, but space is limited and an RSVP is required: send an e-mail with names of attendees to rsvpsuri_at_slowfooddc.org (replace _at_ with @). (Our last event, the Norton grape wine lecture, attracted a capacity audience, so please RSVP early.)

Rod Teel baked his first loaf of bread at age 16. It wasn’t very good. Over the next 42 years the quality of his efforts improved greatly. While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, Africa and subsequently through a long career as a Captain for American Airlines, his interest in breads and the art of bread baking continued. His travels give him the opportunity to experience many different types of breads and interact with bakers around the world. He joined the Upper Crust Bakery management team in early 2007 after retiring from flying. Upper Crust Bakery provides most of the breads sold by Whole Foods Markets in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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Spiced Up Indian, April 3rd

On Sunday, April 3, starting at 12 pm, executive chef/owner Sudhir Chef of Bethesda’s Passage to India and Rockville’s Spice Xing invites Slow Food members and friends to learn a few Indian cooking basics at Spice Xing. He will teach attendees how to prepare four different regional dishes, and give people a chance to go into the kitchen to see how tandoori bread is made and baked.

After class, everyone is invited to sit down to an Indian feast.

Cost for Slow Food members, $35 per person; for nonmembers, $40 per person. The price does not include drinks. No limit on numbers welcome to sign up. As the chef says, “The more the merrier!”

Spice Xing, 100-B Gibbs Street
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 610-0303
Metro: Red Line, Rockville Station

In order to register to the class go to:
http://spicedupsfdc.eventbrite.com

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What’s the Buzz?

March 1st is the start of meteorological spring, and the recent warm weather has given us hints of what’s to come.

Cherry Blossom Pollinator 1It was during a warm sunny day just a few days ago that I saw my first honeybee of the season! And I hope it won’t be a rare occurrence. As most of you probably know, honeybees are still suffering from unexplained colony collapse disorder, putting at risk the pollination of roughly 30% of our crops.

Soon everything will be blooming, including Washington’s cherry trees (March 23-April 4 say current predictions). And while those cherry trees don’t produce food for us, numerous orchards in the Washington foodshed do, along with many, many more crops that rely on bees for fertilization. Bees are an essential part of our food system, and without them we’d be in big trouble.

I hope you will consider signing Slow Food USA’s petition to help save the bees from colony collapse disorder.  It’s a plea to the head of the EPA to make good on a promise to look into whether pesticides are an underlying cause. Our apian friends do so much for us. it’s time to do something in return. Please check out the Slow Food USA’s blog for more information.

Oh, and the picture is from Flickr user Microecos used under a creative commons licence. The bee I saw was too busy to pose for pictures.

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