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I had an awfully nice lunch yesterday, and I’d like to tell you about it. It involved two nonprofits — the mostly Caucasian conservation group Trustees of Reservations and the mostly African American community-outreach enterprise called Haley House.

The trustees had a really great idea recently to do meaningful art installations on a couple of their properties and chose one next to the Old Manse in Concord. The Old Manse is most often associated with 19th Century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a resident and saw the historic events unfold at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775.

Artist Sam Durant wanted to draw attention to the presence of slaves in the early days of Concord and launch a discussion, so he constructed a kind of big-tent meeting house, with a floor made of the kinds of materials that might have been in slave buildings.

The Trustees conferred with him on a series of “lyceums” that might bring races together at the site. They decided that at the first one, they would encourage races to break bread together and talk about food traditions.

From Haley House in Roxbury, they brought in a chef, a beautiful meal, and singer/educator/retired-nurse Fulani Haynes.

I ate a vegan burger, sweet-potato mash, very spicey collard greens and wonderful corn muffins. Also available were salad and chicken.

Haynes sang a bit and talked about the origins of Haley House, how it helps low-income people and ex-offenders and local children, teaching cooking and nutrition and gardening, among other things. She invited attendees to tell food stories from their early years, and several brave spirits stood up.

That participatory aspect of the activities helped to reduce the impression that African Americans were making entertainments for a mostly white audience (art, food, music entertainments).

I loved the whole thing and learned a lot. (For example, Grandpa Emerson had slaves living upstairs, and “the embattled farmers” who “fired the shot heard ’round the world” were able to go marching off because slaves were working the farms. I really didn’t know.)

African American artifacts are on display next door at the Old Manse. The art installation will be up until the end of October 2016.

More here.

Photos: Artist Sam Durant offers the crowd a new lens on history. The chef from Haley House keeps an eye on the African American cuisine. Fulani Haynes demonstrates how a food can become an instrument.

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At the Guardian, teacher Steve Ritz tells Matthew Jenkin about how he began growing food in a troubled South Bronx school.

“The Green Bronx Machine was an accidental success. I wound up working at a very troubled high school in New York’s South Bronx district. It had a very low graduation rate and the bulk of my kids were special educational needs, English language learners, in foster care or homeless. It was dysfunctional to say the least.

“Someone sent me a box of daffodil bulbs one day and I hid them behind a radiator – I didn’t know what they were and figured they may cause problems in class. A while later … we looked behind the radiator and there were all these flowers. The steam from the radiator forced the bulbs to grow.

“That was when I realised that collectively and collaboratively we could grow something greater. We started taking over abandoned lots and doing landscape gardening, really just to beautify our neighbourhood. … We then moved on to growing food indoors in vertical planters around the school.

“By building an ‘edible wall’ to grow fresh vegetables in our science classroom, I gave the kids a reason to come to school. …

“Remarkably the plants grew. The kids really believe that they are responsible for them and attendance has increased from 43% to 93%. Students come to school to take care of their plants – they want to see them succeed. Along the way, the kids succeed, too.” More here.

Photo: Progressive Photos  
Steve Ritz gets students involved in the natural world. Attendance has more than doubled.

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I love the idea of making use of perfectly good food that otherwise would be thrown out. Despite initial skepticism from the neighborhood where the Daily Table grocery was to open, customers are really grateful for the access and the low prices.

Taryn Luna the Boston Globe quotes the founder: ” ‘Our job at Daily Table is to provide healthy meals that are no more expensive than what people are already buying,’ said Doug Rauch, the founder of Daily Table and former president of Trader Joe’s. ‘We’re trying to reach a segment of the population that is hard to reach. It’s the working poor who are out buying food, but who can’t afford the food they should be eating.’ …

“Rauch has built relationships with suppliers to divert garbage-bound products to his shelves. He’s careful to point out that it doesn’t mean the food is ‘bad,’ expired, or unsafe to eat.

“A vendor at Haymarket, for example, donated a couple hundred pounds of summer squash he intended to throw away after the food didn’t sell. Daily Table expects to sell it for 59 cents a pound. Rauch said he has also purchased vegetables that grocery stores reject because of blemishes or other cosmetic problems that don’t affect the quality of the product.”

The Globe’s Yvonne Abraham visited after the opening: “They can’t keep the cucumber-pear-mint smoothies and salisbury steak on the shelves at Daily Table. The food emporium in Dorchester’s Four Corners has been slammed in its first week, with 300 customers a day, and three times more locals than expected signing up for free memberships.

“Everybody who works at the store — the managers wheeling out food, the white-coated kitchen staff making carrot soup behind the big picture window, the cashiers in bright T-shirts — looks exhausted, and happy.”

From the Daily Table website: “Daily Table is a not-for-profit retail store that offers our community a variety of tasty, convenient and affordable foods that will help you feel and be your best; food that will keep you moving forward, not hold you back.  We provide both ‘grab-n-go’ ready to eat meals, and a selection of produce, bread, dairy and grocery items all at prices that will put a smile on your face, and designed to fit within every budget.  Many of our items are prepared fresh daily in our own kitchen onsite. …

“There are plans to open additional stores in both the greater Boston area and additional cities across the country.

“Working together we can help reduce both the effects of poor eating habits caused by challenging economics, and the impact that wasted food and its precious resources has on our environment.”

More here.

Photo: Daily Table
Opening day in Dorchester, June 4, 2015.

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In today’s Boston Globe, Kelly Gifford wrote about a new effort to hop over the generation of adults who don’t cook and teach children how.

“Short single-file lines form beside a table with three hot plates at the Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester. …

“This is the first time the majority of the 10 girls have ever cooked an omelet — a fact that [Bill] Yosses, Sally Sampson, president and founder of ChopChop Magazine, and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation are hoping to change through a series of healthy eating classes at several New England Boys & Girls Clubs.

“The Dorchester program is part of the series, which is aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds. The weeklong program kicked off in Worcester in early July and will continue in six Boys & Girls Clubs in the Boston area and eight in New Hampshire this fall, to reach about 200 kids total. The program is funded through a $100,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim foundation.

“ ‘There is a whole generation of parents across the income and age spectrum that can’t cook, so they do takeout,’ says Harvard Pilgrim president Karen Voci. ‘So we decided to skip a generation and see if these kids could bring the skills they learned back home to their families.’ ”

The children seem to be enjoying trying new tastes and showing off what they can prepare. Read the whole article here.

Photo: Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff
Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses (standing) helps teach children to make yogurt parfaits and other healthful dishes.

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It’s not always easy for low-income people to get access to food that is healthful, and once children get accustomed to salty, fatty, sugary snacks, junk food becomes comfort food and stores see little demand for better items. But if children know what would taste good and be good for them, they are on the road to better nutrition.

That is why the folks fighting childhood obesity are enlisting the support of several hip-hop artists that young people admire.

Winnie Hu at the NY Times writes, “Adrian Harris, known as Easy A.D. to his fans, has rapped about street life in the South Bronx as a member of the Cold Crush Brothers, a group that is among the pioneers of hip-hop.

“Now Mr. Harris also raps about broccoli.

“ ‘If you think you eat healthy, say ‘”me,” ‘ Mr. Harris called out over a pounding bass that shook the gym at the Future Leaders Institute, a charter school in Harlem, on a recent morning. A photo of a cart laden with fruits and vegetables filled a screen behind him. ‘Boys and girls,’ he added, ‘there are no Doritos on that cart.’

“Mr. Harris, calling himself a ‘health M.C.,’ aims to reach children who might otherwise tune out nutrition lessons. His vegetable rap is part of a growing public health campaign that has enlisted hip-hop artists such as Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D and DMC of Run-DMC to work alongside doctors and nutritionists in fighting obesity and related illnesses in poor communities. The campaign is being rolled out this year in 18 cities.” More here.

Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Adrian Harris, also known as Easy A.D., made a pitch for healthy eating recently at the Future Leaders Institute in Harlem.
 

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Ron Finley is a man of humble ambitions. He aims to save the planet, beginning with urban gardeners. I heard an interview with him on America’s Test Kitchen as I was driving home today.

From his website: “Let’s grow this seed of urban guerrilla gardening into a school of nourishment and change. Help spread his dream of edible gardens, one city at a time. …

“In part of this effort, Ron is planning to build an urban garden in South Central LA that will serve as an example of a well-balanced, fruit-and-veggie oasis – called ‘HQ.’ Inspired by the idea of turning unused space such as parkways and vacant lots into fruitful endeavors, this garden and gathering place will be a community hub, where people learn about nutrition and join together to plant, work and unwind. HQ will create a myriad of jobs for local residents, and this plot of land will be a self-sufficient ecosystem.”

It all started, according to Ron, when he “wanted a carrot without toxic ingredients I didn’t know how to spell.” He began to plant food near his house, on a strip by a road.

“The City of Los Angeles owns the ‘parkways,’ the neglected dirt areas next to roads where Ron was planting. He was cited for gardening without a permit.”

After Ron “started a petition with fellow green activists, demanding the right to garden and grow food in his neighborhood … the city backed off.” More here.

When asked on America’s Test Kitchen if his gardens were not just about obesity and healthful eating but also about making neighborhoods more livable, Ron said he wanted to do that for the whole planet.

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Discouraging as it is to read that many children won’t eat the healthful food schools are now providing, I take heart that at least they are learning to compost.

Al Baker writes at the NY Times, “The sad voyage of fruits and vegetables from lunch lady to landfill has frustrated parents, nutritionists and environmentalists for decades. Children are still as picky and wasteful as ever, but at least there is now a happier ending — that banana-filled bin is a composting container, part of a growing effort to shrink the mountains of perfectly good food being hauled away to trash heaps every year.

“New York City’s school composting program, kicked off just two years ago by parents on the Upper West Side, is now in 230 school buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and is expected to more than double in size and reach all five boroughs in the fall, with an ultimate goal of encompassing all 1,300-plus school buildings. …

“The hope is that by building up composting in school, the city will help the environment, instill a sense of conservation in schoolchildren and, critically, save some money. The city paid $93 per ton in 2013 to dump in landfills, up from $68 in 2004. Composting saves the city $10 to $50 per ton, because the cost is offset by the sale of the end product, according to the Sanitation Department.” More here.

I tend to think kids will eventually eat something nourishing if that’s what’s available and they’re hungry. All I know is my kids eat everything now that they are grown-ups. (Still laughing that John came home from college and said, “How come you never told me I like mushrooms?”)

Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

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Once upon a time, mine workers were paid in paper chits that could be redeemed at the company store. (Remember the song “Sixteen Tons,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “I owe my soul to the company sto’ “?)

A while back I saw a story in the NY Times about refugee gardens, and there was a picture of someone using wooden coins to buy produce. It turned out that people were not being paid in wooden coins as miners were paid in paper. Instead, the City of San Diego was encouraging poor residents to pursue good nutrition by giving them wooden coins for shopping at farmers markets.

The coins were really just a footnote to Patricia Leigh Brown’s story, which focuses on a national movement to help immigrant farmers get back into the occupation they know best.

“Among the regular customers at [San Diego’s] New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads.

“New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia, resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell, Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego.”

Read how it works. (And click on the slide show to see the wooden coins. My eyes were drawn to them because my father’s favorite “good-bye” line to toddlers always was, “Don’t take any wooden nickels”!)

Photo: Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
Khadija Musame, right, with a customer from Somalia at the New Roots Farm stand in San Diego.

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There’s a new think tank at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, one that’s focused on food access.

Food access, food “deserts,” and sustainable agriculture are big issues these days, and Food Sol founder Rachel Greenberger believes that addressing the challenges must involve bringing together all the stakeholders, even agribusiness.

Greenberger refers to her strategy as the “uncommon table,” writes Kathleen Pierce in the Boston Globe. “Located at Babson’s Social Innovation Lab, the company seeks to identify how so-called food deserts — geographical areas without access to a grocery store or fresh food — are formed, and how to make healthy food sustainable for all. …

“Greenberger, a 33-year-old Babson MBA graduate who studied food-system dynamics and consumer behavior in the sustainable food movement, came up with the concept for a company similar to a think tank, but centered on action. By creating a digital map to pinpoint food-related issues, Food Sol intends to highlight pressing topics such as food deserts and fair trade, linking experts in the field with would-be entrepreneurs to ignite working relationships. …

“Food Sol intends to foster ‘a way into thinking about innovation in the food-supply chain, whether it’s creating more cooperatives or building agribusiness in Fall River,’ says Cheryl Kiser [executive director of Babson’s innovation lab]. ‘We are a laboratory where people can come and engage in conversation.’ ”

The theory is that companies will pay to engage in a food think tank like this. In fact, Kiser hopes to involve Cargill Inc., Monsanto Co. , PepsiCo , the Coca-Cola Co., and more. Read more here.

The mention of entrepreneurs who might address food issues is reminding me of two young women who recently launched shipping-container grocery stores in food deserts. Read about that in this NY Times article.

“Carrie Ferrence, 33, and Jacqueline Gjurgevich, 32, were in business school at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington State when they noticed that many local neighborhoods were ‘food deserts,’ without easy access to fresh local produce and other grocery staples.

“Their answer was StockBox Grocers, a company that repurposes old shipping containers as small grocery stores. The company won $12,500 in a local business plan competition and raised more than $20,000 online in a Kickstarter campaign to finance its first store, which opened in the Delridge neighborhood of Seattle in September.”

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I have been reading about Michelle Obama’s latest efforts to encourage good nutrition in childhood.

“Executives from Wal-Mart, Walgreens, SuperValu and other stores joined Michelle Obama at the White House on [July 21] to announce a pledge to open or expand a combined 1,500 stores in communities that have limited access to nutritious food and are designated as ‘food deserts.’

“With the pledges, secured by the Partnership for a Healthier America, which is part of Mrs. Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity, the stores aim to reach 9.5 million of the 23.5 million Americans who live in areas where finding affordable healthy foods can be difficult. In those areas, many people turn to fast food restaurants or convenience stores.” Read the New York Times article here.

On a related note, John sent me a really interesting link from photographer Mark Menjivar, who documents the insides of people’s refrigerators. He includes a one-line insight into the person whose food he is photographing. Unsurprisingly, the fridge with the least food in it belongs to a “street advertiser” who lives on a $432 fixed monthly income.

See the fascinating photo essay here.

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