Category Archives: Fast Food

Introducing The Snap Blog…Our New Home!

Hello Readers,

I’m guessing by now that at least some of you may have thought I fell off the face of the earth. Close.

Instead, about six months ago I jumped feet first into my own ProFood venture – Sugarsnap located in Burlington, Vermont’s Intervale. Candidly, I had no idea how consuming this transition was going to be and expected to continue writing on a regular basis.

Well, after putting together a comprehensive business plan and private placement memorandum, I am happy to report that we have nearly completed our initial fund raising, and will soon accelerate our expansion plans. These changes are allowing me to start breathing again about the critical issues addressed at Every Kitchen Table.

The exciting part is that I am now partnering with some great people that have their own stories to tell. So, with this post I am formally merging Every Kitchen Table into The Snap Blog, the official blog of Sugarsnap.

You will once again see me posting on a regular basis, and will get the added benefit of reading the well-informed thoughts of my Sugarsnap partners. It may take us a couple months to hit our stride, but rest assured we will and the content will be great.

See you on The Snap Blog!

Cheers,

Rob Smart (a.k.a., @Jambutter)

P.S. You can also follow Sugarsnap on Twitter and Facebook.

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10 Things We Should Teach Every Kid about Food

Food is essential to our survival. It impacts our health and wellbeing. It has the power to bring people together.

Food can be manipulated in many ways, from cooking to processing to using it as fuel. It provides tremendous opportunities to create value, and, as such, food is big business.

Much of the food we eat starts as a simple seed, or one that has been genetically manipulated to achieve some desired objective. From there, food can be growing in any number of ways, from conventional to organic and beyond, before it finds its way to our plates.

Food touches nearly every aspect of live, so it is essential that we understand it in the fullest context possible to ensure we, as consumers, make well-informed, everyday decisions. Unfortunately, for many of us our days of being educated and/or changing our ways are mostly behind us.

That is why we must focus on our children by finding creative ways to reintroduce food in its broadest sense into their everyday activities, starting with school, in order to close the knowledge gap between farm and plate.

Here are the 10 things I would integrate into our children’s educational curriculum to give them a fighting chance at making the joys of sustainable food central in their lives.

  1. The Food We Eat – Since most kids have little knowledge of where the food they eat comes from, we start with an understanding of what we eat as a society. Showing them a simple breakdown of consumer food expenditures, e.g., 25% on fast food, will give them a sense of our food priorities. As kids mature, discussions about how our food choices impact other thing would evolve into a new Sustainable Economics (SE) track in middle and high schools. Sustainable Economics, in my mind, is the replacement for the traditional Home Economics, which carries too much baggage. As you will read below, SE shows up in a number of places.
  2. Farming in America & Abroad – If you are active in discussions regarding sustainable food, you have repeatedly heard about the knowledge gap that has grown over the years between consumers and where their food comes from. Ideally, kids at a young age should take field trips to diverse, working farms to see first-hand what goes on day after day on a farm. From there the discussion should turn to the history of farming in America, current trends, how farms are financed, what they grow/raise and so on. Along the way, kids should also be introduced to the idea of farming as a career, something that I can never recall hearing during my childhood.
  3. Plant Biology – Since kids love getting dirty, this might be one of the more popular topics during the elementary school years – playing in the dirt (soil). In addition to studying soil and its different compositions, every kid should witness firsthand the magic contained within a simple seed. Watching seeds germinate and grow into plants, bear fruit, die and return to the soil will help them understand one of the more important circles of life. With more basic science under their belts, attention can be turned to heirloom, hybrid and genetically modified seeds to expand their understanding of ways man manipulates seeds and why, as well as fertilizers and pesticides and their impacts on the water we drink, air we breathe and food we eat.
  4. Gardening – While understanding larger-scale farming operations is important, kids should also be taught the possibilities of human-scale gardening, something they can practice throughout their lives. This topic represents a cornerstone of my proposed Sustainable Economics curriculum since it gives kids the power to control where some of their food comes from, whether that food is used at school or taken home.
  5. Cooking – Another cornerstone of Sustainable Economics would be instruction on cooking, something that should be required just like physical education given the importance it plays in our health and wellbeing. Topics that can be superficially explored at the younger ages before more in-depth dives in middle and high schools might include techniques, tools, recipes, flavors, sensory experiences, chemistry, seasonal menus and more.
  6. Composting – Food waste is created throughout the food cycle, so teaching kids about the importance of composting is a final cornerstone of Sustainable Economics. Using Will Allen of Growing Power as an example, kids should be encouraged to embrace composting soil, dig their hands in it and get to know worms and other creatures working hard to break down our food waste. They should also learn the proper ways to use compost to help nourish the soil and help certain plants grow stronger and produce more tasty food.
  7. Industrial Food System – Moving into middle school, the emphasis on getting their hands dirty and familiarizing themselves with kitchens and cooking should be gradually replaced with expanding their understanding of food systems, i.e., how food is grown, processed and delivered to consumers. America’s industrialized food system could be nicely integrated into macro and micro economic studies, covering such topics as economies of scale, regional to global economies, industry consolidation, monopolies, process uniformity, etc. Kids should also be taught to contrast this dominate food system with historic systems, as well as (re)emerging regional food economies.
  8. Food Advertising – The food industry spends tens of billions of dollars every year promoting its food products. The level of sophistication used in food advertisements and marketing methodologies cannot be understated. Nor can its effectiveness at influencing choices people make about what, when and where they eat. Developing classroom exercises to help kids understand advertising techniques would go a long way toward ensuring that this highly targeted demographic learns to read between the lines.
  9. Government Programs – While it may seem a little dry on the surface, studying the changing role of our government in the food system could be turned into some pretty entertaining and impactful materials. Just look at some of the more popular food documentaries that have come out in the last couple of years, especially ones like King Corn. It may be difficult for kids to think about ways to influence government programs, but without a base of knowledge they won’t even bother trying.
  10. Food Entrepreneurship – When it comes to innovations in food, especially with regard to sustainable food, I have a strong bias toward teaching kids about the Pro Food framework I developed. Pro Food focuses primarily on regional food economies, so kids should also be exposed to entrepreneurs that are working to change the larger industrial food system mentioned above, since it will likely continue to be the primary source of food during their lifetimes. Like farming, there are many career opportunities in and around the food we eat, so it is important that we encourage young people to consider careers in sustainable food.

In the end, knowledge is power, and giving successive generations the power to demand fresh, environmentally sustainable and tasty food offers a glimmer of hope for the many advocates in the trenches today working to revolutionize our food systems.

Of course, like so many other things, getting sustainable food into school curriculums may be very difficult given many entrenched and powerful interests. The good news is that everything on this list can be adapted to our home lives. It will take a commitment of time, energy and probably a little money, but the results will be priceless.

Every Kitchen Table is a proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and The Kathleen Show’s Prevention not Prescription initiatives.

10 Joys of Eating Local

Yesterday, my family finished a week of opening our eyes to something we thought we understood pretty well, but were humbled by reality – eating local food.

You see, for the last four years we have been making conscious choices about how we spend our food dollars, and, as a result, firmly believed that what we were doing was great for our regional food economy. We joined a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. We shopped regularly at our local food cooperative. We even grew a large family garden this year.

As it turns out our actions, while definitely important and pointed in the right direction, were much further from being classified as “localvore” than we realized. Because of that this week’s Eat Local Challenge turned out to be more “stressful” than expected.

Yet, I remain very proud of the job my family did, from my four year old daughter to my very patient wife, who thankfully has a gift of making just about anything taste great.

With that in mind, I am wrapping up our first Eat Local Challenge with 10 Joys we took from this eye-opening experience. We are already building on these joys and expect to leverage them again next year when we once again engage in the Challenge.

  1. Common Family Goal – When was the last time you can recall your family sharing a common objective for an entire week, an objective that you talked about every day? It’s hard to imagine too many things bringing people together more effectively than food, whether preparing a meal together or sitting down around a table to share the bounty. Last week’s Eat Local Challenge did just that for us.  Even better, as a family that takes its food pretty seriously, we spent most of the time trying to understand how far eating local could take us, where it worked well, what was missing, etc. An invaluable experience on so many fronts.
  2. Breakfast Together – It’s funny how something like eating local for a week can force a family to spend more time around its kitchen table. With three distinct morning schedules (i.e., people eat at different times) and many of our standard breakfast options (bagels, cereal, toast) were off the table due to a lack of localness, we resorted to preparing breakfast nearly every day. This meant that to “get it while it’s hot,” everyone needed to be in the kitchen ready at the same time, ready to eat. A nice bonus, although there were definitely some gorgy kids!
  3. Food Found – Prior to this week, we never thought twice about reaching for the olive oil or all-purpose flour; and we reach quite often it turns out. Forced to reconsider these commonly used ingredients, we were happy to discover several Vermont-made alternatives, e.g., Rainville Farms Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil and a wonderful array of flours from Gleason Grains and Butterworks Farms. Our pantry has made room for these newcomers, which I expect will retain their popularity from last week. Having said that, there are many more needed; an opportunity for the numerous food entrepreneurs tucked away throughout the region.
  4. Vermont Wine & Cheese – OK, so we’re not perfect. We didn’t give up wine for the challenge, but we did look for and bought only red wines made by Vermont wineries that grew their own grapes, including Boyden Valley Winery (our favorite VT winery), Shelburne Vineyard, East Shore Vineyard (really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc) and North Branch Vineyards (first experience drinking a Marechal Foch – liked it!). Of course, what wine drinking opportunity would be complete without artisan cheese to go with it? Thank God for Vermont cheese makers! They are arguably some of the best in the world, as everything we tasted was absolutely wonderful, especially Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar and Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue (my personal favorite).
  5. Making Something Out of Nothing – What I’m really getting at is how in the course of a single week my family learned ways to make something we were accustom to preparing out of different sets of ingredients. Improvisation is hard enough as it is for most people, but throwing a local requirement on top of that makes it all the more challenge. As my 11 year old said as we were finishing up our last Challenge dinner, “We made things different, but they still tasted good. It’s great to know we can make things with different stuff.” Another great lesson learned.
  6. A Teenager’s Perspective – What would an Eat Local Challenge be without the tension hovering around a teenager trying to carve out his or her own path? Peaceful? Less stressful? Perhaps. But what I found rewarding was watching my teenage daughter test new boundaries of her independence by objecting to something she didn’t think was all that important; this despite my active involvement in the overall Eat Local Challenge. It was admittedly frustrating, but also required compromise, both important parts of raising a strong, independent child.
  7. A Budding Chef’s Perspective – My 11 year old daughter loves to cook. She has been doing so for years, and has become quite good and is very helpful to have around in a busy kitchen. Perhaps that is why she was more aware than anyone in our household regarding local foods. She was also the one most dedicated to following the rules. To put this in perspective imagine someone who loves good food heading to the school cafeteria with brown bag in hand (all local stuff) where her friends offer her Positive Pie pizza or homemade cake with homemade icing. It wasn’t easy, but she not only did it, she also hip-checked me on occasion to make sure I stayed on course.
  8. Bradley’s Beat – Within moments of announcing that I was going to be officially blogging about the Eat Local Challenge, you could see my son’s wheels turning. You see, he’s an aspiring newspaper man, having started his own weekly (in home) newspaper when he was eight years old – The Plainfield Press. In fact, he had already written a piece for my Every Kitchen Table blog titled O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s, which describes his vision for sustainable fast food. It received a lot of praise from my readers, so I was thrilled when he wanted to write about the Eat Local Challenge, just like his dad! His Eating Local – A 10 Year Old’s Perspective post did a great job setting things up for the week.
  9. From the Mouths of Babes – If you’ve ever had children, then you know how funny they can be, especially when they are young. With that in mind, imagine a cute little four year old at Hunger Mountain Co-op shopping with her mom during the middle of the Eat Local Challenge. She asks for something, which her mom tells her she can’t have because it’s not local. After a couple requests, it starts to settle in that a lot of what she wants she can’t have. For the balance of the shopping trip she adapts. She points to something and instead of asking for it simply says “It’s not local. We can’t have it.” Makes me think that a generation of similarly enlightened kids has the power to change just about anything!
  10. Seeing Opportunities – As a budding food entrepreneur, what really jumped out to me this week is just how limited consumer choices are when shopping for food. Yes, I know, today’s supermarkets carry over 45,000 products on their shelves, so how can I suggest there are not lots of choices.  It’s simple, really. The next time you go shopping try to determine which of the products you want to buy comes from within 100 miles. Make it 500 miles if you want. The point is that you can’t typically determine such things with the exception of a well-managed, local-oriented produce department. As our food system has become increasingly consolidated and centralized, consumer-friendly information has disappeared, as has the overall transparency of knowing where our food comes from. Building transparent, regional food systems has the potential to disrupt the status quo in important ways, so it’s time to get to work!

There was a more to the Eat Local Challenge than I could possibly capture here, but I hope that after reading this, along with my previous blog posts, you and your family will join us next year to experience similar things for yourself.

If you participated this year, I hope your experience was equally joyful (along with whatever other emotions you felt) for you and that you will be that much more prepared for the next Eat Local Challenge.

Bon appétit!

Related Posts:

  • Day 1 – Refrigerator & Pantry Stocked for Local Eating Challenge
  • Day 2 – Wrapping Our Heads around Eating Local
  • Day 3 – Thinking “Eat Local” Season v. Single Week
  • Day 4 – Seeing Shades of Local Food
  • Day 5 – Downsides to Eating Local?
  • Day 6 – From Pizza Night to Crazy Saturday Schedule

Every Kitchen Table is proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday series.

O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s

The following post is a tribute to my nine year old son.

On Father’s Day this year he gave me his plan for a new “fast food” chain to replace McDonald’s.  Maybe living in the same house with a dad that has just a drop of sustainable food on his mind inspired him, but I think it mostly had to do with the creative force that is childhood.

Here is his plan in its entirety:

O’donalds – the organic Mcdonalds

The first O’donalds would open in Burlington, Vermont. It would use only local and organic food, and would not use high fructose corn syrup. The items on the menu would come and go depending on the season. It would only acept food from local farmers within 100 miles. It would only purchase cheese from companies that didn’t use RBGH. It would have soups and salads year round, and sandwiches too. It would sell soda’s that did not contain high fructose corn syrup. Organic drinks replace Coke’s, and Dr.Pepper. Organic root beer would be sold.

Our restaurants will open in cities, such as New York City and Boston. Food will not be shipped from across the country, or will it be frozen and then reheated.

Our key word is organic. We will have panini sandwiches that are made out of homemade bread and pesto. Our soups and pastas will be delicious. We will have chocolate-chip, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies for dessert.

Now lets look at the building design. It would be a medium-sized building, with glass windows and booths with neon green seats and white tables. A shiny chandiler would be on the ceiling. Also, you could eat outside!

The pesto would be a yummy lemon balm pesto, and O’Donalds would have a huge garden within a 100 mile radius. We would have sundaes with organic root beer, homemade vanilla ice cream with a bit of Vermont whipped cream. Yum.

Whether its my son or daughters (have three), or yours, we should be engaging them in discussions about where our food comes from, as well as how it is grown, processed and sold. When time (and patience) permits, sit down to find a yummy recipe to make for dinner, take them shopping and talk about making choices (e.g., conventional or organic produce), and work together preparing and cooking meals.

This has been the standard practice in our home since we had our first child over 13 years ago. Clearly, the things we talk about, the things we value, and the actions we take are sinking in.

Rob Smart is a food entrepreneur focusing on regional food systems and consumer retail experiences. He blogs on alternative food systems at Every Kitchen Table and Civil Eats (guest blogger), and micro-blogs on Twitter as Jambutter.

Disney Garden: A Figment of Our Imagination

Living in central Vermont, with its population of less than 100,000 people spread among many small towns, has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, until this weekend, I had never heard of Imagination Farms, the company selected by The Walt Disney Company to market the Disney Garden brand of fresh produce (hat tip to Ethicurean).

It got me thinking about why a massive worldwide entertainment company like Disney would get into a line of business like produce. After all, it’s really difficult to mark up produce, especially as you add companies between farms and consumers, and even harder when one of those companies is one of the world’s premium brands. I decided to dig a little deeper.

I found very little. Disney makes no mention of Disney Garden or Imagination Farms in its 2008 SEC 10-K filing, and Imagination Farms hasn’t had a press release since mid 2008. So, I pieced together what I was able to find in hopes of drawing an intelligent conclusion regarding Disney’s strategy.  Here are some highlights of what I was able to uncover:

  • Disney is the #1 family lifestyle brand, #1 brand in entertainment, #1 brand for families with children under 12, and #7 overall brand in terms of its value, which is calculated to be worth over $26 billion dollars.
  • Consumer Products has been Disney’s fastest growing business segment for the last two years: 26% growth in ’08 (v. 7% overall) and 9% in ’09 (v. 5% overall). Revenue in 2008 was $2,875 million, led by Hannah Montana and High School Musical brands, and accounted for less than 8% of total revenues.
  • Consumer Products gross margins were approximately 25%, second to Disney’s Media Networks (30%), and substantially higher than Parks & Resorts (16%) and Studio Entertainment (15%).
  • Imagination Farms (I-Farms) buys and packages organic and conventional grown fruits and vegetables from farms and co-packers in North and South America. A co-packer is a company that manufactures and packages foods for other companies to market and distribute. Co-packers work under contract with the hiring company to manufacture food as though the products were manufactured directly by the hiring company.
  • Disney Garden packaging encourages kids to visit the I-Farms web site, where they are asked to provide demographic and eating information, download collections pages for collecting stickers on fruits and vegetables, and engage in Disney-branded activities, among other things.
  • According to I-Farms, “Children age 4 to 12 are definitely consumers and influence over $30 billion dollars in consumer spending…of which food and beverage is the number one category.”
  • Packaged Facts reports that U.S. sales of licensed food and beverage products aimed at kids in the 3 to 11 age range rose by 10% in 2006, to $746 million (source).
  • Disney had a 10-year exclusive pact with McDonald’s — valued at $2 to $3 billion in promotional value and royalties — that expired in 2006.  At the time, executives at both companies indicated they will continue working together on a project-by-project basis.

From a purely business perspective, Disney may be trying to back fill its Happy Meal revenue stream.  But what seems more plausible is that Disney Garden is mostly about its public relations value in promoting Disney entertainment properties, while countering years of being associated with fast food. After all, Disney is not branding highly-processed foods, which would provide them with better margins than produce. What that leaves is a product line that will be hard pressed to match Disney’s Consumer Products gross margins (25%).

It also gives Disney thousands of mini billboards in 18 of the top 20 mass and grocery retailers across America where it can effectively promote Disney’s more valuable business segments, especially its characters, films and TV shows.

Is this a smart business strategy? Sure. Is it good for specialty crop farmers? Not in my opinion, since it will likely take shelf space away from sustainable, organic and local produce in conventional food retailers, which means less sales and profits for small to medium sized farms. It also keeps farmers in the background, as I-Farms and Disney Garden dominate packaging, displays, and associated web properties. Which brings up an interesting point.  There is no Disney Garden. Like many of Disney’s characters, it only lives in our imagination.

What we need to see more of is brand credit going to the real heroes (not Disney characters) that work hard day in and day out to sustainably grow fruits and vegetables for our enjoyment. Of course, I’m talking about farmers.  One way we might accomplish this is by having a handful of the leading agents representing chefs, who have seen their stock rise substantially over the last decade, take on farmers as clients.  Who knows, maybe Disney will end up creating a family-friendly version of Jerry Maquire (1997 Best Picture award nominee) that replaces professional athletes with world-class organic farmers.

Perhaps I’m dreaming, but if there is one thing Disney has taught me over the years, it’s that dreams can come true.

 

Related Posts:

 

7 More Innovative Sustainable Food Ventures

After a great response to my “10 Innovative Sustainable Food Retailers” post nearly three weeks ago, and a number of suggestions of people, organizations and companies doing equally important work, I am following up with seven more role-model ventures that deserve attention.

Claire’s Restaurant (Hardwick, VT)

Claire’s was launched in May 2008 by four partners with the help of numerous investments from the Hardwick and surrounding communities, in what is best described as a community supported restaurant (CSR). Around 50 community members put in $1,000 each in return for discounted meals they will receive over four years. What they invested in was a restaurant truly committed to local and sustainable food, which is evidenced by the restaurant purchasing 79% of its food from farms in the Northeast corner of Vermont through its first winter, a significant feat given Claire’s location in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The innovative and seasonal menu, which quickly adapts to what’s available, has won the hearts and stomachs of those lucky enough to have eaten at Claire’s. For more, check out a great interview with Chef Steven Obronovich on Zachary Cohen’s Farm to Table blog.

Jasper Hill Farm (Greensboro, VT)

Just down the road from Claire’s Restaurant, you will find Jasper Hill Farm, a small family farm making arguably one of the best blue cheeses on the planet – Bayley Hazen Blue. They took over the farm in 1998 and settled on making farmstead cheese as the most viable business model. Good thing! After five years of study and preparation they purchased 15 Ayrshire heifers in July 2002 and got to making cheese. What sets Jasper Hill apart as a sustainable food venture is the $3.2-million cheese cave it built to finish its cheeses, as well as those of other cheesemakers, including Cabot Creamery’s award-winning Clothbound Cheddar. Jasper Hill offers local dairy farms a turnkey solution for aging that will add considerable value to those producer’s end product. Everyone wins. By making it easier and more cost effective for dairy farms making high-quality cheese, Jasper Hill hopes to help more farms come online and/or make a good living around value-added products.  Blur your eyes and imagine similar cheese caves and services throughout New England and beyond. Yum!

The Farmer’s Kitchen (Hollywood, CA)

This soon-to-be-opened community kitchen is serving as an extension of the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, and will offer commercial teaching, processing, and retail kitchen for the sale of prepared foods, value-added products, and farm-fresh produce.  The purpose behind this sustainable food venture is to link California’s small farmers with the urban (Los Angeles) population by extending the presence of the Hollywood Farmers’ Market through the entire week.  Given the need of fresh produce and healthy meals in urban areas, especially lower income sections, the potential of this model in other large cities is exciting.  Income from the Farmer’s Kitchen will support nutrition education programs and provide job training in food preparation for Hollywood’s low-income residents.

Green Go Food (Seattle, WA)

Along similar lines as The Farmer’s Kitchen, but on a smaller scale and slightly different angle, Green Go started out in April 2008 working with the Neighborhood Farmers Markets, a community-based organization developed in response to growing popularity of farmers markets in the Seattle area. What Green Go does is utilize food from “our local farm heroes” to prepare and serve healthy fast food at farmers markets. Very cool, especially since it provides tasty proof that utilizing local produce can yield great results. Their goal is to acquire a kitchen and storefront, with a longer term vision of a “Taco Truck style” venue (need to find out more about this; please let me know if you have more information). By creating community “hot spots” for local, sustainable foods, they are increasing retail access to sustainable food in the Seattle region.  Next step?  How about mobile sustainable food venues rolling through town like yesteryear’s ice cream truck?

Bushel & Peck’s Local Market (Beloit, WI)

The first sentence on their web site states, “Experience grocery shopping like it used to be!”  That’s a great start, so I dug deeper.  By purchasing local, certified organic and fair trade foods from Bushel & Peck, they are helping you help support farmers and processors that have chosen sustainable agriculture as their approach.  It is so great to see such innovations in the retail experience that consumers in Beloit, Wisconsin are offered in this significantly smaller than average grocer (6000 square feet with full kitchen and old fashioned lunch counter).  What gives this new venture even more credibility is the fact that its founders, Rich Horbaczewski and Jackie Gennett, are also farmers that practice what they preach.

Happy Girl Kitchen (Watsonville, CA)

This find is thanks to Todd Gonzales (a.k.a., Newlandarcher on Twitter), a UC Berkeley student working on agriculture and food systems.  This is his descprition.  Todd & Jordan Champagne, who cut their teeth at Fully Belly Farms, realized their farmer neighbors needed an outlet for what they were producing. The most common complaint among farmers with whom I work: inadequate & insufficient retail outlets/wholesalers for their yields.  The solution: the revival of the dying art of food preservation. But HGK has taken its efforts further by initiating a series of entertaining workshops to teach people how to pickle, can, and ferment. They are using their existing channels (farmers’ markets) to promote the workshops and empowering people to engage with their food. Thanks, Todd.  On a related note, please check out Three Stone Kitchen, a community supported kitchen in Berkeley that was in the original “10 Innovative Sustainable Food Retailers” list.

Lost Arts Kitchen (Portland, OR)

Last, but not least, is Portland’s Lost Arts Kitchen.  While this one-woman show is significantly limited in the impact it can have today, Chris Musser is the real deal and offers a breadth and depth of perspective that we can all learn from.  Read more in my April 22 post.

 

As always, I encourage everyone to comment on any of these venture, and, more important, to recognize those people, organizations and companies that I have missed.  It is my belief that the more we raise these innovators up and learn from there efforts, the faster we will develop an alternative food system capable of making a real difference in sustainable food.

Related Information and Links:

1.8 Million Years of Cooking

Today’s New York Times includes a short, but fascinating interview, “A Conversation with Richard Wrangham: From Studying Chimps, a Theory on Cooking.”

What caught my attention was his theory, which he apparently expands on in his upcoming book, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” that cooking, rather than tool making and meat eating, was the main factor in man’s early evolution.

How Cooking Made Us Human (Richard Wrangham)

How Cooking Made Us Human (Richard Wrangham)

…our large brain and the shape of our bodies are the product of a rich diet that was only available to us after we began cooking our foods. It was cooking that provided our bodies with more energy than we’d previously obtained as foraging animals eating raw food.

Studying modern chimpanzees, he noticed that much of the chimps diet consisted of “extremely fibrous foods,” which required a lot of time sitting around chewing.  According to Mr. Wrangham, once early humans learned to cook, their evolution accelerated since their diet was now “richer, healthier and required less eating time.”

Sounds like fast food has been around a lot longer than I thought.  Perhaps Eric Schlosser needs to write a prequel to Fast Food Nation.

There are clearly differences between earlier fast (“less eating time”) food and today’s highly efficient and arguably unsustainable cousin is community.

…once you had communal fires and cooking and a higher-calorie diet, the social world of our ancestors changed, too. Once individuals were drawn to a specific attractive location that had a fire, they spent a lot of time around it together. This was clearly a very different system from wandering around chimpanzee-style, sleeping wherever you wanted, always able to leave a group if there was any kind of social conflict.

Now compare these community oriented, almost slow food type eating experiences with today’s fast food diet:

[Author asked if today’s man has adapted to McDonald’s, pizza]  I think we’re adapted to our diet. It’s that our lifestyle is not. We’re adapted in the sense that our bodies are designed to maximize the amount of energy we get from our foods. So we are very good at selecting the foods that produce a lot of energy. However, we take in far more than we need. That’s not adaptive.

What really amazes me is that today’ man, with our vast technologies and industries, can’t figure out how to get families to spend a lot of time together eating richer, healthier food.  Is it possible that our industrial food system doesn’t care about such things?  Regardless, what is the significance of American’s either eating out or eating prepared meals nearly half the time?  Is this putting the species at risk of devolving?

OK, so I’m having a little fun with this. There are serious problems in our food system and I believe that reversing our migration away from our kitchens and being able to cook sustainable foods has the potential to be the “main factor” in improving our health and the health of our planet, building stronger regional economies, and strengthening our families.

A tall order, but far better than the typical response of throwing technology at the problem.

Related Information and Links: