Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Lunch ladies" (and Men) Go To Boot Camp. No Chicken Nuggets Allowed.

August 26, 2010|Mary MacVean
SANTA MARIA, CALIF. — The people making lunch in this big commercial kitchen are pros; some of them serve thousands of diners a day. But they're not all comfortable using a knife to peel a butternut squash or chop fresh parsley.

They work in school cafeterias, "lunch ladies" who are not all women and who would like to be seen more as lunch teachers contributing to the overall education of the children who eat their food.

They have been trained in food safety but not always in cooking. Too often, they say, their job has been to heat frozen chicken nuggets or packaged burritos, or to distribute canned fruit, sometimes to the children of people growing and picking fresh produce.

So two dozen cafeteria employees from Santa Barbara County schools are spending a week this summer in a culinary boot camp, learning to cook pork roasts and chicken, vegetables and casseroles they can serve in their schools -- food that tastes good, comes in under budget and meets federal requirements.

The boot camp "drill sergeants" -- Cook for America founders Andrea Martin and Kate Adamick -- also discuss politics and child psychology, nutrition and marketing. They teach time management, culinary math, knife skills, the history of school food and menu planning. Get rid of flavored milk and stop serving cinnamon rolls for breakfast, they say.

"I'm totally impressed," says Cathy Kelly, one of the people taking part in the boot camp in a central kitchen of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.

Kelly, who works in the Lompoc Unified School District, and her colleague Debbie Frank say their secondary schools are cooking food from scratch but the elementary schools need more kitchen equipment. Much of the food comes frozen and is reheated, including pizzas and burritos, Kelly says.

"It's pretty bad when we don't want to eat it," Kelly says. "When our hamburgers come, I can't stand the smell. I would like to serve something I'm proud of."

The boot camp is one of several efforts around the country to get more produce and whole grains and more freshly cooked food onto school lunch trays.

Read the complete story in the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Muppets' Military Mission

It's a Muppet family picnic in the park, but Elmo is sad and confused: His Uncle Jack won't be there, because he's dead, and Elmo can't quite grasp that he's never coming back. For Elmo's moptop cousin Jesse, it's hard to even talk about the loss: Jack was her dad.

The story line may seem highly unusual for "Sesame Street," but when Elmo and friends aren't on their day job being cute, colorful and cuddly, they've taken on another mission: helping children of military families struggling with loss, grief and fear.

With some deep-pocketed sponsors like Wal-Mart, Sesame Workshop has been steadily expanding a program called "Talk, Listen, Connect" aimed at kids of all ages, including the youngest and most vulnerable. More than two million U.S. children have been affected directly by a parent's military wartime deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan; 40% of these children are younger than 5 years old.

According to the Defense Department, in the past 8½ years more than 12,000 military children have experienced the death of a parent. Research shows that even the toll of military deployments is steep; a study last year by the Rand Corp. found that children in military families were more likely to report anxiety than children in the general population, and that the longer a parent had been deployed in the previous three years, the more likely their children were to have difficulties in school and at home.

The Sesame programs offer free books, websites and other resources to cope with every conceivable question and issue that might arise for children, as well as videos that mix familiar Muppet characters with footage of real kids and parents talking about their own experiences. The first two installments, launched between 2006 and 2008, dealt with deployments, redeployments, and parents who come back with a combat-related injury or posttraumatic stress disorder; in one, the Muppet Rosita's father is in a wheelchair.

A new program helps children dealing with the worst-case scenario: a parent who doesn't return at all. Over the past few months, Sesame Workshop has distributed more than one million "When Families Grieve" multimedia kits to support groups and families. The program has received the blessing of top military brass; Adm. Mike Mullen got on stage with Jesse, Rosita and Elmo for a Pentagon screening of a "When Families Grieve" special hosted by CBS's Katie Couric that aired April 14 on PBS.

Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, says the initial inspiration came from a story he read on a train five years ago about a family that lost its home because it fell behind on mortgage payments while the father was deployed in Iraq. "I just was so sick of seeing all these 'support the troops' posters when we were allowing things like this to happen," he says. The needs of military families also struck a chord with Sesame Workshop Executive Vice President Sherrie Westin, whose brother is an Army reserve officer now serving in Afghanistan.

Talking to support groups, Sesame officials learned that military families often had little help in communicating with children about the realities of war. "A lot of military support programs are more for the parents, but kids really relate to Elmo and 'Sesame Street,'" says Heidi Malkowski, who works at McGuire Air Force Base as the secretary to the 305th Medical Group Commander. Before her husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Malkowski, was deployed to Yongsan Air Base in Korea last year, the couple watched the video about deployment with their three boys, ages 3, 10 and 13.

Though the two eldest children were more sophisticated than the average Muppet target audience, "all of them benefited," says Ms. Malkowski. "It gave them a feel for what was going to happen, and that it was OK to have feelings about it and talk about any problems they were having with it." Since the family doesn't live on a military base and the children attend public schools, "there isn't the same connection that you'd have on a military base with other kids going through the same thing," she adds.

Read the rest of the story in the Wall Street Journal.

Monday, August 23, 2010

San Francisco Targets Kids' Meals, Restaurant Industry Reacts

While San Francisco’s proposal to restrict the use of toys and other “incentives” in the sale of restaurant kids’ meals may not see formal hearings until next month, agitation within some foodservice industry quarters is already running high.

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar and two colleagues submitted this month a draft ordinance that in many ways mirrors a law in nearby Santa Clara County, restricting marketing through children’s meals that do not meet specified nutritional guidelines.

The Santa Clara measure, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, as well as the new San Francisco proposal, are each based on the premise that childhood obesity can be reduced by prohibiting restaurants from offering free toys, online gaming time or other incentives along with meals marketed toward children.
While the Santa Clara measure targets thresholds for total calories, calories from fat, trans fats, sodium and sugar, the San Francisco proposal requires that all qualified meals include a half-cup of fruit and three-quarters of a cup of vegetables.

“They’ve taken a bad idea and made it worse,” California Restaurant Association spokesman Daniel Conway said.  He noted that the industry serves what customers want, and that many chains have voluntarily increased offerings of fruit slices, low-fat yogurts, grilled foods and bottled waters in recent years in response to such consumer demands.

“This proposal has gotten the attention of the industry,” Conway continued. “We can’t help but speculate that these proposals are largely driven by the desires of individual politicians to have their names in lights. We remain skeptical about the effectiveness of a proposal like this to have any kind of meaningful impact on childhood obesity and it is clear, based on comments on websites and listening to the radio that many adults, and parents in particular, find the approach to be offensive.”

A statement by three San Francisco supervisors said: “This legislation is aimed at promoting healthy eating habits and to address issues related to childhood obesity. Fast-food restaurants target children and youth by offering toys and other incentive items. The Healthy Meal Incentive legislation would encourage restaurants to provide healthier meal options.”

The Santa Clara measure, because it covers just the unincorporated areas of that county, impacts a relatively small number of restaurants — some estimates put the number at a dozen or fewer.

The San Francisco proposal would impact a greater number of restaurants. According to restaurant websites, Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s and Taco Bell, alone, operate about 48 locations in the city. The proposal also may be of greater interest to the restaurant industry because it represents an escalation in the strategy of restricting the use of incentives to sell kids meals that don’t meet sponsors’ nutritional expectations.

The local Golden Gate Restaurant Association said it has concerns about the San Francisco proposal.
“We are opposed to the continuing over regulation of the restaurant industry,” GGRA executive director Kevin Westlye said. He said his group is “currently evaluating the toy ban [proposal] and political landscape before proceeding.”

Proposed restrictions on the use of toys or incentives in the sale of restaurant foods to children may soon arise in other cities and states.

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle stated that Ken Yeager, the Santa Clara County supervisor who proposed that jurisdiction’s kids meal law, has received inquiries about the legislative strategy from officials in Chicago, New York City and Orange County, Calif. An e-mail to Yeager’s office seeking confirmation of such inquiries was not returned by press time.

McDonald’s, perhaps the world’s best known purveyor of kids meals and the operator of at least 19 restaurants within San Francisco, according to its website, declined to comment on the proposed San Francisco law.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain of more than 14,000 U.S. restaurants and another 18,000 in other countries, suggested that trade groups representing the entire industry, such as the CRA, were a more appropriate source of feedback on legislation. Recent changes to McDonald’s menu offerings have included apple slices, 1-percent fat milk and water options.

Comment or not, McDonald’s, and any restaurant peer that offers free toys or other incentives when selling kids meals, will find operations and marketing more complicated in San Francisco if the measure passes.

Read the rest of the story here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Joy, and Freedom, of Cooking

Culinary skills prove transformational for inmates

 BILLERICA — With a laundry list of assault and battery and armed robbery convictions on his criminal record, Brian Moquin, 47, had lost hope.
Moquin came to the Middlesex County House of Correction last year after serving seven years in state prison, where he accumulated more than 80 disciplinary reports and assaulted a prison guard.
With his history of violence and substance abuse, he barely made the cut for the House of Correction’s experimental culinary arts training program in March.
But Moquin, who is scheduled to be released Thursday, surpassed all expectations and was recently offered a job at the Outback Steakhouse in Lowell.
“I was somebody I didn’t like, a monster,’’ Moquin said. “For 30 years, I’ve been a burden to my parents, to my community. Now I want to be an asset.’’
Four years ago, Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola piloted a 12-week cooking course accredited through Shawsheen Valley Vocational Technical High School in Billerica. Distressed by high recidivism rates at the House of Correction — almost half of inmates released in 2004 were reconvicted within three years — DiPaola recognized the need to equip inmates with the necessary skills to reenter the workforce.
“Life, like your food, is only as good as what you put into it,’’ DiPaola said. “We wanted to try and transform the negative energy they have when they come in into positive energy.’’
More than 120 inmates, most of whom were convicted of drug-related offenses and serve 2 1/2 years or less, have since graduated from the culinary program. Armed with 12 college credit hours and a ServSafe certificate, a food safety training credential required of most restaurant employees, many have found work-release positions at chain restaurants.
Not enough data are available yet to track reconvictions, but DiPaola estimated a recidivism rate of 10 percent for program graduates. A 2008 study conducted by Northeastern University’s Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research found that Middlesex House of Correction inmates enrolled in programs had a 37 percent reconviction rate within three years of release in 2004 compared to 50 percent reconviction rate for inmates not enrolled in programs.
Known to the inmates as The Deputy, William Bourgeois, a former chef, leads cooking classes with a firm hand and paternal encouragement.
Fighting is not tolerated, and accountability — which Bourgeois defines as their ability to “own up to their mistakes’’ — is drilled into daily instruction.
Cooking utensils are counted before and after class. Knives are tethered to the table, and the inmates are searched before leaving the kitchen.
“I tell them to call me for anything except bail money,’’ said Bourgeois, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

Read the rest of the story here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

In Massachusetts, a Prescription for Produce

The farm stand is becoming the new apothecary, dispensing apples — not to mention artichokes, asparagus and arugula — to fill a novel kind of prescription.

Doctors at three health centers in Massachusetts have begun advising patients to eat “prescription produce” from local farmers’ markets, in an effort to fight obesity in children of low-income families. Now they will give coupons amounting to $1 a day for each member of a patient’s family to promote healthy meals.

“A lot of these kids have a very limited range of fruits and vegetables that are acceptable and familiar to them. Potentially, they will try more,” said Dr. Suki Tepperberg, a family physician at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, one of the program sites. “The goal is to get them to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving a day.”

The effort may also help farmers’ markets compete with fast-food restaurants selling dollar value meals. Farmers’ markets do more than $1 billion in annual sales in the United States, according to the Agriculture Department.

Massachusetts was one of the first states to promote these markets as hubs of preventive health. In the 1980s, for example, the state began issuing coupons for farmers’ markets to low-income women who were pregnant or breast-feeding or for young children at risk for malnourishment. Thirty-six states now have such farmers' market nutrition programs aimed at women and young children.

 Thomas M. Menino, the mayor of Boston, said he believed the new children’s program, in which doctors write vegetable "prescriptions" to be filled at farmers’ markets, was the first of its kind. Doctors will track participants to determine how the program affects their eating patterns and to monitor health indicators like weight and body mass index, he said.

“When I go to work in the morning, I see kids standing at the bus stop eating chips and drinking a soda,” Mr. Menino said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I hope this will help them change their eating habits and lead to a healthier lifestyle.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The World Bean Kitchen: Passport to Flavor

You don't have to get on a plane to taste one of the glories of Brazilian cooking ... or a bubbling cassoulet from Southwest France ... or a Tuscan soup that tastes like somebody's grandmother made it. Beans can take you there. 

In the CIA's "The World Bean Kitchen," sponsored by Northarvest Bean Growers Associations, professionals can discover new ideas for using beans to entice the "almost vegetarian" diner, and gain inspiration from the many countries where beans are revered. 

Enjoy this free online course now.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Dozen Eggs for $8? Michael Pollan Explains the Math of Buying Local

 Michael Pollan, author of "Omnivore's Dilemma" and other popular books, has become a figurehead for the local-food movement, which advocates buying in-season produce from nearby farms.

Proponents say such food is healthier and that the way it is grown and shipped is better for the environment. But it often is more expensive. Mr. Pollan says the real problem is that subsidies keep the prices of some, largely mass-produced foods artificially low.

Still, he tries to strike a middle ground between advocate and realist. In his Berkeley living room, the 55-year-old Mr. Pollan discussed where he shops for food and why paying $8 for a dozen eggs is a good thing:

WSJ: Do Bay Area residents eat and shop for food differently from people elsewhere?

Mr. Pollan: The food movement really began on the West Coast, and you can make an argument it began in the Bay Area. There is a much higher level of consciousness here about where food comes from, about eating seasonally and locally, than there is in the rest of the country.  But we have certain advantages that few other places in the country have. We can eat from the farmer's market 50 weeks of the year—the only reason they close is to get a break Christmas and New Year's.

WSJ: What do you attribute the greater enthusiasm to?

Mr. Pollan: A consumer who is willing to pay more for better food. That's a matter of consciousness and a palate that has been educated by the chefs locally. Paying $3.90 for a Frog Hollow Peach, there are a lot of people here willing to do it. I don't know if you can find a more expensive peach in America. My little rule, "Pay more, eat less," is followed by a lot of people in the Bay area.

WSJ: Where do you shop for food?

Mr. Pollan: I shop at the farmer's market on Thursdays. I shop at Monterey Market, and I shop at Berkley Bowl. Those are the big three, and then I'll get household cleaning products, cereal, things like that at Safeway.

WSJ: How do you suggest people in New York or other places with a long winter eat seasonally?

Mr. Pollan: In much of the country eating seasonally in winter is challenging, though there are options people overlook. A salad of grated root vegetables, for example, is a refreshing change from lettuce, and far more nutritious. But it all depends on how hard-core you want to be. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Read the rest of the Wall Street Journal's interview with Michael Pollan here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why Are Food Allergies On the Rise in the West?

This is an excerpt from an article on suggesting the reason may be that we live in an environment that is TOO CLEAN:

It seems like more and more children in the U.S. are developing food allergies, and there's data to back that up. The number of kids with food allergies went up 18 percent from 1997 to 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 3 million children younger than 18 had a food or digestive allergy in 2007, the CDC said.

 Scientists are still trying to figure out why food allergies seem to be on the rise, especially in industrialized countries such as the United States. Are children not getting exposed to enough bacteria? Should they eat common allergens such as nuts and shellfish at an earlier age?

 A recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that visits to the emergency room at Children's Hospital Boston for allergic reactions more than doubled from 2001 to 2006. Although this is just one hospital, the findings reflect a rise in food allergies seen in national reports, said Dr. Susie Rudders, lead author and pediatric allergist-immunologist in Providence, Rhode Island.

 Researchers took a look at thousands of cases in the emergency department. They did not rely on the diagnosis given at that time, but made their own determination about whether an allergic reaction had occurred based on symptoms such as hives. That means the rise in reactions probably did not have to do with an increased awareness among doctors, Rudders said.

This also suggests that previous reported numbers of allergy-related hospital visits are underestimates, Rudders said. For all adults and children in the U.S., there are 30,000 ER visits because of food allergies each year. But that is based on a report that is about 10 years old, and this figure is likely higher now, Rudders said.

 Doctors in other parts of the country have also noticed an increase in children coming in with severe food allergies. Dr. Ronald Ferdman at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles said his hospital has seen a rise of these cases, based on anecdotal evidence.

 Dr. Joseph Zorc at the Children's Hospital at Philadelphia cautioned that there may have been situational factors that influenced the Boston hospital's experience -- for example, if another hospital in the area stopped taking cases, resulting in more people at Children's Hospital Boston.  But he agreed that food allergies are causing more significant reactions in U.S. emergency departments in general.

 One theory is that the Western diet has made people more susceptible to developing allergies and other illnesses.

 A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compared the gut bacteria from 15 children in Florence, Italy, with gut bacteria in 14 children in a rural African village in Burkina Faso. They found that the variety of flora in these two groups was substantially different.

 The children in the African village live in a community that produces its own food. The study authors say this is closer to how humans ate 10,000 years ago. Their diet is mostly vegetarian. By contrast, the local diet of European children contains more sugar, animal fat and calorie-dense foods. The study authors posit that these factors result in less biodiversity in the organisms found inside the gut of European children.

 The decrease in richness of gut bacteria in Westerners may have something to do with the rise in allergies in industrialized countries, said Dr. Paolo Lionetti of the department of pediatrics at Meyer Children Hospital at the University of Florence. Sanitation measures and vaccines in the West may have controlled infectious disease, but they decreased exposure to a variety of bacteria may have opened the door to these other ailments.

 "In a place where you can die [from] infectious diseases, but you don't get allergy, obesity, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, the flora is different," Lionetti said.

 This study only looked at a small number of children, but the findings support the widespread notion of the "hygiene hypothesis" -- the idea that cases of allergies are increasing in number and severity because children grow up in environments that are simply too clean.

Read the entire article here.