28 May 2008

Old MacDonald...

...had a farm. And we went to see it. As I've mentioned before, our church is participating in a Community Supported Agriculture program, in which we partner with a local farm to support (and benefit from) their efforts at sustainable farming. This past weekend we had the opportunity to meet and visit with the people who will be growing and raising our food. Mike, of Mike and Clare's Farm, introduced us to the vegetables, and Jody and Beth, of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, acquainted us with the livestock. As we will be receiving our first box of veggies this coming Sunday, it was an opportune time to get the dish on all the farm happenings. It's amazing how seeing the way my food is grown has impacted my perspective on how and what I eat. I am not so sympathetic that I will abstain from eating the little chickies I had the pleasure of meeting, but it does make me feel good to know that they are being treated humanely and raised healthfully, and not just for their benefit, but for mine as well.

One of the things that impressed me the most was Jody and Beth's attitude toward partnering with other farms. When asked if they hoped to be completely sustainable at some point in the future, meaning that they would be completely self-sufficient, they answered no. Their desire, they explained, was to educate and work with other farmers to achieve greater advances in sustainable farming together. They can't (and would rather not) do it alone, and by sharing knowledge and resources, they (and others) will be able to expand their operations. Everyone wins. I appreciate this perspective, and, for me, it highlights the difference between sustainability and a monopolizing self-sufficiency.

Here are
some pictures of the farm. We'll keep you posted as we dive into the world of kale, cows and cabbage!

19 May 2008

Food for Thought

By Alfred Lubrano | The Philadelphia Inquirer

9:04 AM CDT, May 19, 2008

PHILADELPHIA - Some of the fattest people in America are among the poorest.

And with food prices rising, the problem is likely to get worse.

Tianna Gaines, who describes herself as impoverished and obese, knows this. At 5-foot-3 and 242 pounds, she lives on public assistance and eats junk food because it's cheap and more readily available in her neighborhood than carrots and apples.

Besides, said Gaines, 28, and a mother of three, "I don't have the money for Bally's fitness clubs. And I can't run here. They shoot you."

More poor people may suffer Gaines' fate, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicting food prices will be up 4.5 percent throughout the year, due to high fuel costs, weather problems, and the growing diversion of corn crops to make ethanol. Globally, prices will rise nearly 50 percent, according to the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

"The food crisis will make obesity and attendant diabetes even more rampant," said University of Washington epidemiologist Adam Drewnowski. "Fruits, vegetables and fish are becoming luxury goods completely out of reach of many people. Consumption of cheap food will only grow.

"Obesity is the toxic consequence of a failing economy."

While more people from every economic background are becoming obese around the world, the poor are still outpacing the better-off.

A recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that women in poverty were roughly 50 percent more likely to be obese than those with higher socioeconomic status.

In U.S. households making less than $15,000 a year, 31 percent of the women are obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In households with more than $50,000 annually, 17 percent are obese.

University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist Shiriki Kumanyika and other investigators found that poor 15-to-17-year-olds — black or white, male or female — were 50 percent more likely to carry excessive poundage than non-poor teens.

And a study by Drewnowski last year showed that obesity rates in poor Seattle neighborhoods were 600 percent greater than in rich areas.

Poor people frequently live in "food deserts" — neighborhoods with few supermarkets. They rely on corner stores and convenience marts for groceries, said Carey Morgan, director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

These are great places to buy chips and soda, not so good for asparagus.

Concentrating on filling their stomachs, poor, hungry people go for high-fat, high-sugar foods. "They're not thinking about health — just getting through the day," said Mariana Chilton, a hunger expert at the Drexel University School of Public Health, and principal investigator for the Philadelphia GROW Project, which deals with nutrition and physical development among poor children.

Derek Felton, a community organizer with the Coalition Against Hunger and a former poor, obese person, agreed.

"I was the oldest of seven, with a lifetime of no breakfasts to eat," said Felton, who is 5-foot-9 and went from 247 pounds to 185. "When we had the chance to eat, we ate white bread to feel full."

All that corner-store processed food is relatively inexpensive — artificially so. Researchers say that many junk foods contain high-fructose corn syrup, made from government-subsidized corn crops. Federal help keeps the cost of syrup-containing foods such as sodas, fries and even burgers down. Drewnowski said that healthful, unsubsidized foods like spinach cost five times more per calorie to produce, thus driving up the price.

Food stamps are supposed to help. But Chilton's research shows that the allotments families in Philadelphia receive are not accounting for higher food prices.

As a result, families often run out of food stamps by the second or third week of the month, Chilton said.

The hunger can be excruciating, said Gaines, who lets her three children under age 4 eat whatever food is left after the stamps are gone.

It makes her all the more voracious at the beginning of each month, when the new stamps arrive.

"You go without eating, then gorge," Gaines said. "Then you go to sleep with a full stomach. That's how the weight picks up."

It works that way for lots of people. And with the current food inflation, even cheap foods are getting more expensive.

"What choices can poor people afford now?" asked Stella Volpe, a nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing. "Will their diets get even worse, and will hard times contribute to more obesity?"

Interventions to improve the eating habits of the poor in Philadelphia have "failed miserably," according to Terri Lipman, a colleague of Volpe's at the nursing school.

"We've told kids to eat fruit and walk," she said. But fruits are scarce and walking in poor neighborhoods can be dangerous, Lipman added.

Current school programs, like dance aerobics, are making some inroads toward health, she said. And Students Run Philly Style, which teaches poor kids to run in supervised settings, is creating good results, said Heather McDanel, director of the National Nursing Centers Consortium project, which works with Students Run.

"BMIs are down and kids' self-esteem is up," she said.

Still, experts say that if food prices continue to explode, even the better-off will seek more fast-food meals.

"Bad, cheap foods may become an even greater cultural mainstay," Volpe said, "with the middle class going for less expensive food. And becoming more obese."

from chicagotribune.com

09 May 2008

First Slice

Our friend, Ryan, told us about First Slice and so we checked it out a few weekends ago. More than just a great little cafe with a wide variety of delicious foods, First Slice is a self-funding "community supported kitchen" that uses its proceeds to provide restaurant quality meals to those in need.

First Slice was founded by chef Mary Ellen Diaz, who, after working several years in the high-powered restaurant industry, decided to reassess her goals and as a result, created an innovative way to combine her knowlegde of food with her desire to bring dignity to the disenfranchised. She values pure, wholesome, comforting foods, using local organic ingredients. First Slice is funded by community subscribers who receive three prepared, gourmet meals a week. For every one subscription, First Slice is able to provide meals for 20 homeless persons in Chicago every month. And the coolest part? The homeless receive the exact same high-quality, nourishing meals that the subscribers do.

So, for those of you in Chicago, I recommend you check it out. It's on Ravenswood at Montrose, in the Lillstreet Art Center. Other ways to get involved:

to the shareholder program.
Volunteer in the kitchen to serve meals to men, women and children.
Donate to support First Slice.

05 May 2008

Two Minutes

Saturday's Derby was not what we anticipated.

Sarah and I had done our homework: Big Brown, Colonel John and Pyro were the favorites. Big Brown had only won three races prior to Saturday, but they were all on dirt tracks. There would be one filly racing, Eight Belles. We even found out that all 20 horses came from the same bloodline. We conjured up a (mostly) Southern meal to celebrate, complete with Mint Juleps and
everything. Four o'clock rolled around and we turned on the TV, unveiled the appetizers and thoroughly immersed ourselves in the drama-laden pre-race coverage. By 5:00, we had placed our bets (figuratively speaking), made our commentaries and finished our appetizers. We held our breath and waited.

There is a reason they say that the Derby is the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. For those 2 minutes, those horses are all that matter. You've met the trainers, owners and jockeys. You've heard about the horses' challenges and victories; you know who has a chance and who has the long odds. You've picked your favorite and you watch as it runs with all it has along the final stretch, hurtling toward that wreath of roses. For those 2 minutes, I'm convinced that anyone can be a horse racing fan.

We watched. We watched as Big Brown pulled from behind in the fourth turn to gain a wide lead in the final stretch. We watched with pride as Eight Belles (toward whom we were most partial) maintained a steady 2nd place. We watched as Big Brown won, clinching his first victory in pursuit of the Triple Crown. And we watched as the camera panned over to a collapsed Eight Belles and then discovered, to our great dismay, that she had broken both front ankles and had to be immediately euthanized. Within 2 minutes, she had gone from potential victory to ultimate defeat.

And so, perhaps it is only appropriate that the mint in our juleps was a bit wilted and our biscuits were rather flat. We still had a great feast in honor of the Derby and in anticipation of a potential Triple Crown winner. One down, two to go Big Brown. We'll be cheering for you, but we won't forget our sweet Eight Belles.