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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted in Cooking, Eating, Fast Food, Food, Food Systems, Gardening
Tagged Children, Community, Consumer Food Expenditures, Cooking, Curriculum, Eating, Education, Farmers, Farms, Fast Food, Food, Food Marketing, Food Retail, GMO, Home Cooking, Industrial Food, Innovation, Organic, Pro Food, School, School Lunch, Schools, Sustainable
Day 2 of Eat Local Challenge Series
My family has been eating healthy food for as far back as I can remember. By healthy, I mean using fresh ingredients, with some preserved foods, mostly done so by food processors, to prepare home cooked meals.
Coming into this week’s Eat Local Challenge 2009, we figured it wouldn’t be a big stretch for us to add “local” to our routine, especially since we participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program at Wellspring Farm in Marshfield and have a large vegetable garden of our own.
What we are finding out is all the things we have been taking for granted, including many commonly used ingredients that are difficult, if not impossible to source from within 100 miles: sugar, flour, coffee, exotic spices, baking powder, baking soda, citrus fruits and juices, and so on.
Granted, we are using the Marco Polo Rule to allow the use of some of these food products, as well as five “wild card” foods, so we aren’t going cold turkey. But what if we, as a family or as a region, truly had to make such adjustments? How would we make that work? It’s hard to imagine given how accustom we have become to getting what we want when we want it.
Yesterday, my 11 year old daughter asked why more Vermont farmers and processors don’t find ways to create the products we import, e.g., grapes and raisins. Great question. The answer can be quite complex, and depends quite a bit on one’s perspective. For example, in a household with two working adults, time is a severely limiting factor, which is at least part of the reason why nearly half of the money American’s spend on food is spent eating out. Of that, nearly half is spent on fast food. In other words, even if Vermont farmers produced more of the ingredients needed, this group of consumers would not likely become regular customers.
On the other hand, if those farmers were able to sell such products to Vermont’s restaurants and institutions, e.g., UVM and Fletcher Allen, in significantly greater quantities, then those same consumers would indirectly be supporting those farmers with their “away from home” food expenditures, assuming they ate out at Vermont-owned restaurants versus national chains or fast food joints.
My point? Vermont, like any other region, has significant upside potential in supporting local farmers, dairies, ranchers and processors through consumer food expenditures for at home and away from home consumption. Taking a week out of our year to understand the subtleties and challenges of eating local has already opened our eyes to how we can better do our part.
Today’s Localvore Meals
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs (Savage Gardens in North Hero), Vermont Maple Sausage (Vermont Smoke and Cure in South Barre), strawberries (Taste of the North, St. Lawrence Valley, Quebec), and Cold Hollow Cider Mill apple cider…to grogy this AM to remember to add peppers and chives from our garden and some wonderful Vermont-made cheese, but did get to sit down with entire family from breakfast on a school day, which was quite the treat
- Lunch: Vermont Soy Maple Ginger Tofu, Cabot Sharp Cheddar Cheese, homemade “local” muffins, hard boiled eggs (Savage Gardens), and lemon and regular cucumbers and carrots from our garden and Wellspring Farm (13-Year-Old Exception: U-32 cafeteria…no luck yet on getting her to take a lunch, although we will keep trying)
- Dinner (Previous Night): Savory Vegetables in Polenta Crust (recipe in From the Cook’s Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden) – utilized great local ingredients, e.g., Butterworks Farm cornmeal, Rainville Family Farm organic sunflower oil and red bell peppers, onion, garlic, zucchini, basil and oregano from our garden; salad made from our garden and Wellspring Farm CSA produce; Monument Farm milk
- Wild Cards: French Roast Coffee (Fresh Coffee Now in Burlington), baking powder (muffins)
- Exceptions: (1) 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar in last night’s dinner; (2) raw cane sugar for coffee (were going to try out maple syrup, but ran out over weekend; will be buying syrup and maple sugar to test out…stay tuned)
- Market Opportunities: following items might be ripe for Vermont food entrepreneurs – localvore breads (know Red Hen has some, but were sold out; couldn’t find any at Hunger Mt. Co-op in Montpelier), localvore dry pastas, raisins (my daughter will be your best customer), kid-tested peanut butter substitute
Posted in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Cooking, Eating, Farmers Markets, Food Retail, Food Systems, Gardening, Supermarkets
Tagged Burlington, Community, Community Supported Agriculture, Consumer Food Expenditures, Eat Local, Eating, Farmers, Farms, Fast Food, Food Retail, Home Cooking, Industrial Food, Local, Localvore, Real Food, Retail, Supermarkets, Vermont, VT
Sara Franklin is the Capacity Building Coordinator at WHY Hunger, a NYC-based non-profit that advocates for and works to build the capacity of the grassroots movement towards sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has been a farmer, freelance food and agriculture writer, and worked with various ag- and hunger-related non-profits. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
President Obama’s plans to reform the healthcare system in U.S. have taken over the headlines in the past several weeks. Doctors, economists, insurance executives, public health experts—all of them are being afforded the chance add their two cents on how to fix our broken healthcare system. The voices that are strikingly absent, though, are those of the agricultural community. What, you may ask, does agriculture have to do with overhauling the healthcare system? My answer– everything.
My awakening to the connection between agriculture, social justice, and health came during a semester abroad in South Africa. There, during a stint in a public hospital in a small city surrounded by rural territories, I watched as HIV-positive mothers waited for hours each month—some having traveled two days in packed vans—to receive a free box of nutrient-dense foods from the government. Those mothers were, without exception, Black and poor. Few of them had access to land as their families did before apartheid, and thus their ability to provide good food for themselves and their families had been systematically stripped from them. Today, with the AIDS epidemic spreading like wildfire across the country, the poor’s labor force—and thus earned income—has fallen sharply, making it difficult to afford food at market. As malnutrition and acute hunger have become more common among poor populations in South Africa, HIV and Tuberculosis spread faster and faster, as both diseases are easily passed to those with compromised immune systems from inadequate nutrition.
What does South Africa’s social and medical plight have anything do with with healthcare in America? We’re a first world country, after all. Indeed, and although our labor force may not be dwindling from HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis as South Africa’s is, we have our own epidemics to deal with, foremost among them obesity and all the diseases it brings with it such as Type II Diabetes and severe heart problems. America’s children are strung out on high fructose corn syrup—concealed in nearly every food in our supermarkets—and thus cannot concentrate in school or develop properly, making it difficult for them to succeed academically and, subsequently, in the job market. According to study after study (or firsthand experience from spending an hour in any public emergency room), the groups most affected by diet-related health problems are the poor and non-White.
Eva Salber, one of the pioneers of the community health movement once wrote, “diseases resulting from societal inequities can’t be cured by medical care alone—no matter its excellence.” One of the most blaring inequities in our society today lies beyond lack of access to medical treatment in the inaccessibility of the means by which to prevent ill-health in the first place: good food.
The effects of our broken food system affect all of us, even the small percentage of Americans who choose—and can afford—to eat a healthy, safe diet. Treating chronic diseases is a major drain on our healthcare system an tax dollars, as is true in South Africa, and even equitable and accessible medical care for all will not provide a silver bullet fix to our population’s deteriorating health. If we are ever to enact lasting change on our health as a population, we all need healthy food to be accessible and affordable. Not the kind of healthy food that announces itself as such with a flashy label on a vacuum-packed wrapper, but the kind that comes from an ecologically and economically sound agricultural system, one that produces vegetables, fruits, grains, and animal products, not simply commodities to be processed into food products.We–individually and collectively– need real food to attain health.
America has watched, somewhat wide-eyed and dumbfounded, as a modern “back to the land” movement has emerged. Wealthy White college students, the ones have traditionally vied for summer internships in law, medicine, and finance—are increasingly swapping suits for dirty jeans and a spot on a farm crew for the summer. The number of farmers markets has exploded. And even among the most underserved communities in the country, the number of community-gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations, and community kitchens are growing faster than summer zucchini. But we can’t allow the movement towards systematic change in our food system to stop there. Without policy in place to support a new generation of farmers who have economic incentives to grow food for consumption rather than producing commodity crops (i.e. soy beans, corn, and wheat) for the corporate processing industry, and until we can make procuring farmland in rural areas and greenspace in densely populated communities less cost prohibitive, we will never be able to produce the amount of healthy food we need to support a healthy population.
We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the merits of publicly- versus privately-funded healthcare. We can ration medical services or not. The quality versus quantity debate as it relates to medical care can rage on for years. And we can calculate the potential cost of every permutation we come up with. But unless we begin to address root causes of ill health in this country—hunger, poverty, social injustice, and an agricultural system that feeds corporate greed rather than the citizens of this country—the costly burden on our health and thus our medical system will never diminish. President Obama and members of Congress, take a hint from the First Lady and her wildly popular garden and invite the farmers to the table. Our nation’s health depends on it.
Sara B. Franklin
Food Justice Advocate, Organic Grower, Writer
WHY Hunger, Capacity Building Coordinator
Breaking Ground: Musings from a Novice Farmer
Posted in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Cooking, Eating, Farmers Markets, Food, Food Retail, Food Systems
Tagged Community, Community Supported Agriculture, Consumer Food Expenditures, Cooking, Eating, Farmers, Farms, Fast Food, Food, Food Marketing, Food Retail, HFCS, Home Cooking, Industrial Food, Real Food, Retail, Sustainable