Hi friends! I’m writing today from New York, where I’ve spent the past day and a half learning about food and public health at the annual James Beard Food Conference. I’ve met some of my favorite food heroes, connected with amazing folks in the food movement, and thought a lot about how we can make the American food system healthier and more equitable.
photo credit: james beard foundation (Left to Right: Jane Black, Michael Pollan, Sam Kass)
There were so many amazing panelists and speakers crammed into the past 36 hours, that I’m honestly a little overwhelmed at where to begin. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been feverishly live tweeting, while taking healthy doses of time to just sit and listen. Check out my tweets from the conference here!
A large portion of yesterday’s line up focused on the health issues related to sugar consumption. We watched clips from the new film Fed Up, and discussed sugar consumption in relation to obesity and diabetes with Laurie David, executive producer of the film, Dr. Robert Lustig, who is a prominent researcher of this issue, as well as Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and NYU Professor and Corby Kummer, Senior Editor of the Atlantic. I told you it was an all-star cast, right?
What surprised me the most about the conference, in a good way, was that the James Beard Foundation was honest and transparent about all of their initiatives, and their funding and sponsorships were in line with what they preach. Good, healthy food for people and for the planet. Unlike the last food conference I attended in D.C. where the corporate sponsors were Walmart and Monsanto.
The conference also surprised me in the multi-faceted approaches to food and health, the inclusion of diverse communities as well as a strong emphasis on equity in the food system. My introduction to the food movement has always come from a place of justice and equity since working with issues of urban farming and food access. The food system is f’d up because we can’t feed our communities healthy and affordable food. I’m really happy that conversation was pushed to the forefront of the dialogue, instead of as an after-thought.
photo credit: james beard foundation (Left to Right: Mitchell, VP of JBF and Mark Bittman)
We heard from Architectural designers from Harvard, who are re-inventing the way we think about space and food, we heard from the big shots like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, we also got to hear a whole lot from doctors, who are often missing from the conversation. Doctors of all kinds spoke out at the James Beard conference, and wanted to partner with food folks. I would be remiss to not mention the recent launch of Tulane University’s culinary program specifically designed for medical students. So go check that out.
I think what I’m getting at is that the James Beard Food Conference really went above and beyond my expectations. I’ve always revered the Foundation for their recognition of chefs and good food, but JBF really proved themselves a leader in the food movement.
I’m going to share a couple more posts from the conference in the coming days, but I wanted to check in and let you know where I’ve been. Next stop is Sacramento to visit U.C. Davis Agriculture Program, and then a lovely Halloween weekend with my girlfriends in the Bay Area!
Thanks so much to the James Beard Foundation for a wonderful and thought provoking conference!
This week’s round up of food news includes restaurant calorie counts, debates over school lunch and coming this Spring a new app, Carrot. It’s dope.
I remember a friend telling me that as a child she and her sister would be rewarded with celery. They LOVED celery, and only received them on their best behavior. I love this article by Mark Bittman on how to ingrain healthy eating to your kids.
Every since Michelle Obama came out with her Let’s Move Campaign, school lunch has been a hot topic nationally. Here’s a detailed article about school lunches – a long read, but definitely worthwhile.
Restaurant calorie cutbacks should be reducing obesity, right? This article explains how it actually hasn’t made a dent. Yikes.
It’s been an especially busy week for me, and for food in the news. This past week I attended the annual Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Feeding America anti-hunger policy conference in Washington D.C. The conference had over 850 anti-hunger advocates from around the country in attendance for a 3 day snow-filled weekend. The conference was not only informative, but it was really inspiring to see what others in the field are doing. I was especially impressed with a food bank in Maine that purchases directly from Maine farmers as a way to support their local farm economy, provide farm fresh food to their clients, and also look into ways of preserving the harvest (it’s not sunny San Diego over there!)
All in all, between the sessions, meeting interesting folks and exploring D.C. a bit I had an amazing time there. Even the below freezing temperatures didn’t throw me off, though I’d likely want to prepare with snow boots next time!
Now on to the news! It’s been a really busy and exciting week for food this week, so let’s get to it:
Food Labels: The USDA just announced a overhaul of the federal nutrition label. Advocates have been pushing for changing in this for years, and it’s finally happening! They are getting rid of “calories from fat”, making the number larger, identifying added sugars and putting a small label on the front of packages. This is really big news, and I could not be happier that this is finally happening!
California Bans Inhumane Eggs: As you all know, I always try and eat eggs that are organic and cage free. In the sea of organic products and confusing labeling (see above), it is the one thing that I am always in staunch support of because I understand the difference so clearly. California is passing a law that all eggs need to come from chickens that have room to stand up, turn around and extend their wings. Pretty simple right? Think again, six states (Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri) are suing California. Should be an interesting legal battle.
California’s drought continues on, Obama signs legislation for a drought information system, and Californians are happy for the rain, but it makes little dent on agriculture. (yikes, its dry out here!)
Almost 500 products contain an additive that is found in…. yoga mats. Apparently it helps keep bread squishy, same as your yoga mat. Yikes. Just another reason to commit to a whole foods diet.
That’s all for now, bellpeppers. This weekend I am heading to Joshua Tree for a camping trip with my fellowship. I’m so looking forward to being out in the desert, unplug for a few days and restore and rejuvenate after a very busy week! How about you guys, any fun weekend plans? I’ll see you all here next week, for a very fun giveaway! Stay tuned!
The reason I moved out to Encinitas was not for the weather, not for surfing, not even for the year long farmers markets. The reason I moved was so that I could participate in a food justice fellowship, and specifically work toward alleviating hunger in San Diego County. I’ve shared before my work with the Hunger Advocacy Network, and I’m really excited to share with you all this initiative I’m a part of today. The Food Bloggers for the Lunchbox Fund is a one day initiative, where a bunch of your favorite food blogs are dedicating their post to a South African organization that feeds children so they are better equipped to learn in school.
Currently, 65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education. Have you ever had tried to function when you were hungry? It’s miserable, all you can think about is the pangs of hunger in your stomach and when you will eat next.
Now, imagine that feeling happening every day.
What’s great about The Lunchbox Fund is that they identify individual schools or form partnerships with locally based community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. They fund distributers to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation.
What I love about working for HAN is that we work on state level policies to address hunger in Southern California. As you all know, hunger in the U.S. looks very different than hunger in many others parts of the world. I’m happy to be in a position where we can address hunger on many levels and make the world a little bit of a better place than before.
What You Can Do
We’re asking everyone to donate just $10 to the Lunchbox Fund so that they can help feed more children in South Africa. Nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS.
I know that these online campaigns can seem a bit superficial at times, like what does your participation really mean? In the case of this campaign- it is super tangible. $10 and you’re feeding a child in need. As people who care deeply about the food we eat, where it has come from, how it was grown, and how the people and animals were treated in the process- it only seems to make sense that we extend our consciousness towards those who are not eating.
Those who are unable to share in family meals, unable to concentrate in school, or harness their greatness. We have an opportunity to make a little bit of change, and I urge all of you to consider joining me in donating just $10.
In South Africa, a country where more than 35% of the population is devastated by poverty and AIDS, The Lunchbox Fund has partnered with local businesses and entrepreneurs to provide vulnerable students with healthy meals that nourish their body and minds.
Because the meals require children to be in the classroom to receive it, they are not only receiving the nutrition their bodies are desperate for, but an education that will help each child reach their full potential. The funding we raise will go directly towards providing a daily, nourishing meal to 100 schoolchildren for an entire year! Donate here!
So the final part of this post is the food! We were all asked to contribute a blog post with the theme of lunch. I happened not have bought groceries in a few weeks, so today I’m sharing leftovers! Yes, left over spaghetti squash. Have you all had spaghetti squash before? The name is actually spot on. The consistency of this squash is exactly like spaghetti- minus all those heavy carbs. This recipe is vegan, paleo and most importantly it’s just healthy and will make you feel good! It also happens to be one of the easiest things to cook up. Let’s do this!
1 spaghetti squash
1/2 a cup of black beans
1 avocado, cubed
handful of sweet tomatoes, halved
a handful of cilantro, chopped
a handful of sprouts (or any thing else crunchy you like- pepitas would be great here!)
Notes: When simply roasted, spaghetti squash transforms from a hard-shelled vegetable into thin and crunchy noodle-like strands- hello pasta substitute! By roasting the spaghetti squash cut side down, you create a pocket of steam inside, which helps cook the squash without drying it out! -Tip from Nosh!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place on a baking sheet facing down and roast for 40 minutes or until a fork slides in and out easily. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, then shred the inside with a fork and discard the skin.
Add the squash (only use what you need, and keep the rest in the fridge for more lunch concoctions), beans, tomatoes, avocado in your bowl and top with cilantro and sprouts for a delicious, SIMPLE lunch or dinner.
The best part is that you can keep all the ingredients on hand and just assemble it when you’re ready to eat or in the morning before you rush out the door. Enjoy!
Want more Lunchbox Posts?
Check out these other blogs (bottom of the page!) donating their time and blog posts to the cause, and check out some seriously awesome lunch ideas! Happy lunching bellpeppers!
As part of my fellowship, I am working three days a week with the Hunger Advocacy Network, and being able to plan and execute this event was such a great learning opportunity, and honestly really fun! I got to work with some awesome people from Feeding America San Diego, check out a few beautiful venues in downtown San Diego, and of course bring together a truly inspiring group of people working to end food insecurity in California.
It’s pretty rare for me to share my “day job” here on the blog, but the work I’m doing now with HAN and the fellowship is so inspiring, that I thought I would share
The venue itself was absolutely gorgeous – the Children’s Museum was featuring their FEAST exhibit, all about food, where it comes from and why we all need healthy food to live healthy lives! The exhibit matched our aesthetic, and as people walked around from watching clips from A Place At the Table, they could also walk through a fake orange grove or read up on some hunger facts in California.
Senator Hueso gave a great speech on how our communities not only need food, but they need healthy food. I was impressed that he would make that distinction, as the rise of food deserts and food swamps make their way into mainstream consciousness.
All in all the event was amazing and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of such important work! I’ll be periodically sharing my work with the Hunger Advocacy Network, and if you want to learn more- feel free to comment below, email me or tweet me up!
I’m keeping it short today and just updating you on whats current in the world of food news. Some articles are a bit dated, but with this link roundup, you’ll be pretty up to date on the food news world! I’m taking it easy this weekend, setting up some drip irrigation in our new fellows’ community garden, a yoga class or two and just resting up before my big trip back home this week! So exciting! So, without further adieu…
My roommate sent me this link last week, which got me thinking about cheese. Actually, let’s be real, I was thinking about cheese before/always but this got me thinking about my obsession for fine cheeses vs. the type of cheese most Americans consume annually.
Are you a brie type of person or get me some easy mac now? What is our obsession with cheese??
Still no Farm Bill to speak of, but the deadline inches closer and closer keeping us all at the edge of our seats
Around the Web
Civil Eats, the food news blog extraordinaire is raising funds for their survival. Civil Eats has been a labor of love for the past five years- if you want to support something important this Friday head over to their Kickstarter campaign and contribute! (P.S. they have awesome prizes)
It seems I’ve been listening to a lot more NPR than usual- addicted to new podcasts, morning commutes and just a general love for public radio. This article on the what-if’s regarding GMO labeling is no different. (via NPR Salt Blog)
I started my first full week at the Hunger Advocacy Network, learning a lot about lobbying, advocacy, legislative processes, the various legislatures from San Diego County and filling my brain with lots of important facts and figures regarding hunger. What a week!
Visited multiple farmers markets this week, and enjoyed the beautiful bounty of Southern California
Unabashedly listened to this Moho playlist multiple times (thanks Mt. Holyoke for making me miss girl school)
Started crafting aka knitting and dipping my toes into jewelry making, excited to be creating things other than words
There you have it- the news this week. I know you especially liked the playlist. Listen to it, enjoy. I’m headed to LaLa land this weekend to see some friends and pick up all the stuff I left there from the summer. Any spots you recommend? Let me know in the comments! Have a great weekend everyone!
Last week in the midst of moving to California, adjusting to a new time zone and climate, orientation for my fellowship and generally all the chaos that is involved in a cross country move- I left for a 3 day conference in Tuscon, Arizona called “Closing the Hunger Gap”
The conference attendees were primarily from food banks, but the take home message among all was crystal clear: hunger is part of a larger problem, which is poverty. And the number one problem in America, is the inequality gap. But let me back up for a second and share some highlights of the conference itself.
Manzo Elementary School: A Look at Sustainable Agriculture & Education
The first day of the conference consisted of a tour around the city of Tuscon. We made four stops: a school using gardening, aquaculture, and sustainable practices as an integrated learning module; a community soup kitchen that provides residents with much needed food; a community garden of the Tuscon Food Bank and lastly- the house of a resident in Tuscon who now grows much of his own food.
Manzo was an interesting and inspiring place to be. The elementary school children showed us around the garden, the chickens, their composting system, the greenhouse and aquaculture systems they have and were able to speak at depth on each of these systems.
Since the inception of the garden, the school has recycled 6,000 pounds of food waste by composting it. They sell the food they grow at a below market price back to the community- who so desperately needs fresh produce at affordable prices. 100% of the students at Manzo participate in the gardening program, and they’ve even seen improved results in math due to the garden.
The school was truly an inspiration, and if you want to see more of their amazing work- definitely check out their page on Facebook.
Feeding America & The Quest to Stop Hunger
The CEO of Feeding America, Matt Knot, spoke at the conference and provided some interesting facts. The agencies that Feeding America works with currently feed 37 million Americans. Of that food, 50% is fruits, vegetables and protein. What I learned over the course of the conference is that food banks have a hard time promoting good nutrition since they rely heavily on donations, which often come in the form of, as Michael Pollan would say, highly processed food-like substances.
But the biggest paradox of all was this: food banks across America, while they are providing a much needed service to the hungry (roughly 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure), they are not solving the hunger gap. In fact, by continuing to take the brunt of the work, politicians continue to cut back on food assistance programs, and expect that food banks will fill in. And they do.
What Jan Poppendieck, Mark Winne and others repeatedly suggested throughout the conference was to engage communities in advocacy and public policy. The best thing food banks and their constituents can do now in addition to feeding the hungry is to devote time and energy toward changing the policies that force them to exist in the first place.
One way communities can do this is by advocating for higher minimum wages that would reflect a real living wage. Did you know that if the minimum wage from the 1970’s continued to rise with inflation that it would be at $16/hour? And that low wages and low benefits usually go hand in hand?
Jan spoke at length at the variety of inequalities that we see today, including no regulations on campaign funds, the decline of labor unions and powerful lobbying groups from big-ag.
I realize I’m throwing a lot of information at you and you may be wondering- what’s the connection to food? So let me break it down.
Low Wages –>Poverty –> Depletion of government resources –> reliance on food banks and soup kitchens, welfare, etc.
Living Wages –> Self Sufficiency
What You Can Do
Its always been helpful for me when hearing a lot of terrible information, that there is something tangible I can do to make a difference. So here’s what I got for you: start engaging your representatives in Congress. Make a phone call, write a letter, encourage your friends and family do the same. The longer we are silent, the more we can be taken advantage of when it comes to food assistance programs, minimum wage laws, and frankly everything else in our lives. I realize many people (including myself at times) are disenchanted with the political system. Unfortunately- this is what we got. So let’s try and change it, instead of being silent bystanders. Ya with me?
This week I am so excited to share this guest post by a dear friend of mine, Hilary. Hilary was one of my first friends at Mount Holyoke and really took me under her wing. I joined the Food Justice Society because of her, explored new cafe’s all around the Pioneer Valley and learned a lot from her. She is now living abroad in Brazil & we’re lucky to have her insights on the local food markets in the Amazon. I hope you enjoy and check out her new blog: Space[s] of Possibility.
Evolution of an Amazonian Feira Market
Every morning, as the first burst of the intense Amazonian sun hits at 6AM, Amilton arrives at Feira São Braz to open his little vegetable stand for the day. Amilton specializes in greens – leafy lettuce, cheiro verde packets of scallions, cilantro and spicy peppers, cucumbers, collards and whatever else he’s able to pick up along the way at the produce distribution center he stops by every morning, at around 4AM.
My friend Amilton has worked in the feiras (open air markets) for over 40 years now, and is of the fourth generation of his family to be a market vendor. After being there for so many years, Amilton’s watched what he calls “the evolution of the market” – the changes in sourcing, distribution, and culture of these feiras.
In this Amazonian capital city of Belém, nearly every neighborhood holds some sort of daily feira to sell vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and assortments of flours (there’s a surprising variety here – tapioca, mandioca, wheat, cookie, etc.) Some feiras are more informally set up clusters of stands, but others, like Feira São Braz ,are historical markets, originally established in the center of the city to sell the fresh Amazon River fish.
From the outside, Mercado São Braz is a stunning structure. Yet when you walk inside, it’s filled with a cluttered assortment of pet food, wooden furniture, used junk, flip flops, and salted shrimp stands. It can be a disappointing sight.
Out behind the main building is the feira, with rows of disheveled wood stands, dusted with a permanent layer of black filth, speckled with piles of rotting vegetable scraps, yet filled with many bright personalities like Amilton’s.
It’s the people like Amilton, and the (relatively-speaking) freshness of the food that keeps me coming back there every Monday morning of my last 6 months here in Belém. Having the opportunity to walk around, talk to all the vendors, have them pick for me the sweetest pineapple and perfect papaya for tomorrow, get fresh-caught, filleted on the spot fish – well, there’s really nothing better.
Brasil’s Transition from Farmer’s Market to Supermarket
Yet, while this outdoor food market for a visitor like me is quite a novelty, for the rest of the people in Belém,that novelty seems to have passed. Instead it’s been replaced by an admiration for the shiny, tidy, and chilled GIANT supermarkets that have opened up throughout the city over the last 20 years.
I tried shopping at the supermarkets during my first weeks here in Belém, as that’s what it seemed everyone else was doing. Yet, after a brief meltdown in the coffee section, after passing through the vegetable section only to find green papayas and green tomatoes, I knew I couldn’t continue shopping there. Everything was pre-wrapped in plastic, and worse yet, it all was nearly tasteless when I got home.
Soon after, someone explained to me that as Brazil has taken further steps into the global market, the Amazon region has become more and more critical to the whole country’s success.
Over the years, lands that were once luscious tropical forests of açaí palms and elephant ears, have become flat terrains for raising cattle, growing monocrop soy beans, and cultivating other green, tasteless fruits and vegetables. Furthermore this abundance of food coming from our Amazon is being boxed up, and either shipped abroad or to the south of Brazil, or is being sold in mass quantities to the giant supermarket chains – and ending up in the sad produce section I visited.
From all these rather undesirable experiences at the supermarket, I craved the freshness of my farm share, the personal interactions, and the variety of this incredible biodiverse region’s nourishment.
It was such a blessing to find the feira only a few blocks from my house later that week. When I found it, I just couldn’t believe more people weren’t shopping there. I really wondered, with such long lines and nearly tasteless produce, why do people keep going to these supermarkets?
At first, I assumed it was the appeal of the supermarket’s glossiness. But, after talking with a few feira vendors, I learned it’s has everything to do with the supermarkets’ payment options. When checking out at the supermarket, the first thing they ask you is “Would you like to pay in one pay installment, or in two?” This option allows people to take home the food they need to feed their large extended families before their monthly salary comes in. And when a check comes in only once a month, and you need to make sure you have enough money to make it through that month, having the payment installments is a huge draw. And so people put their taste buds and social preferences aside, and go to the supermarkets instead.
Now, unfortunately, with this convenient payment option, the little Feiras, with their “pay with no more than R$20 bill” unofficial rule, just haven’t able to keep up with the supermarkets any more.
And so what is happening for all the feira vendors out there? Well, business has gotten harder for folks like Amilton. And if you talk to anyone in the market, they’re quick to tell you that sooner, rather than later, the markets will likely be a thing of the past.
They warn of their extinction because the process is already far underway. When talking with a fruit seller the other day, he shared with me his concerns for the tidiness and safety of these markets. Being that the feiras are publicly owned spaces, the government is supposed to come to maintain them- but they almost never do. The government has also unsustainably opened the market, and gives more and more incentives not to support the feiras.
The Breakdown of Brasil’s Fiera
Today the feira is literally breaking down before this community’s eyes. It’s a difficult reality, and has been hard for these simple folks to know what do about all of it. Typically, they just do what they know how to do – sell their fruits and vegetables and to try to keep smiling through the days.
The vendors know how crucial the feira is to the health of their neighborhood. It provides natural foods. It creates community. And it creates jobs that once they are gone, it’s hard to say what opportunities these folks will find next.
The community organizer in me would love to say that these vendors could organize themselves, clean the market up, try to advance more with the times and struggle against these destructive actions of the government. But the reality is that I’m just a visitor here. All of it is a novelty, a beautiful (and delicious) experience and memory to take back home with me.
So for now, and for my final three months here, I’m going to keep coming to the feira each Monday morning to buy my papaya and pineapple, fresh fish and leafy greens. And more importantly, to share conversation and stories, and embrace and cherish those lovely relationships the feira folks and I have built as we nourish our tummies and minds together.
Hilary Pollan is finishing up her final months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Brazilian Amazon. She blogs at Space[s] of Possibility, where she writes about physical and imagined spaces that contribute good to this world. As a recent Mount Holyoke alumnae (’12), she’s entered that life phase of trying to figure out how to be a “grown up”. Upon returning to the USA, she’s looking forward to go back into community organizing education, sitting in coffee shops, and cooking with local ingredients.