Thursday, November 26, 2009

Food Fight

My current line of work involves visiting high schools and talking about university admissions and programs. While most of my high school visits entail a classroom presentation in front of students or discussion with a guidance counselor, I sometimes get the opportunity to meet students in the cafeteria during lunch room sessions. It's places like these where I get really passionate about holistic health and food quality.

This semester I surveyed several school food menus. They included:

French fries
Pepperoni and cheese pizza
Chicken caesar and ham/cheese salads
Coldcuts/sandwich station
Chicken fingers
Cheese sauce
Soft pretzels
Juice and fruit drinks

Some of the schools also had an adjoining snack bar for chips and candy. There may have been fruit but I really can't remember. I sure hope there was something remotely healthy!

This set-up and menu reminded me of my high school's offerings...10 years ago! Soft pretzels were uber affordable and, to my limited judgement in food choices, were not going to make me fat. I consumed them regularly for lunch, not yet realizing that there was more to the health equation than just calories. Laffy Taffys topped off the "meal." I'm a little nauseas just thinking about it.

As I sat in the cafeterias I wondered how the students felt after eating the "food" they purchased. Did they feel energized? Did they feel irritable? With record cases of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, I wondered how such products could be so widely distributed. Yes, students can choose to eat or not eat these foods. They can pack lunch. But when virtually all food being sold in a school lunch program are nutritionally deficient what message is being sent to the consumers of that food?

How many of us would seriously choose a piece of fruit or salad over a cornucopia of processed foods? From what I saw there were few healthy food options in site. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Two Angry Moms is a documentary that explores this very issue. It highlights the importance of a school's role in promoting healthy eating initiatives. Wholesome bagged lunches appear to be no match for the temptations available in schools. School food reform is essential to helping youth with good eating habits and preventing diet-related illnesses.

Two Angry Moms has a website with a variety of links on food politics, health, and revolutionary school lunch programs. I also stumbled upon the Real Food Challenge, an inspiring organization comprised of college students who are reforming food services in higher education. Check them out!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eat Well Everywhere

This Fall I blogged about my frustration in maintaining healthy eating habits while on the road and away from home (see "Ms. Crabby" 9/27/09). I had not a clue as to how many healthy food options would be available at my travel destination. Were there area restaurants and nearby stores serving organic, wholesome and local foods?

I prepared as much food as I could beforehand but eventually ran out of my homemade juices and meals. Now you might be wondering why I didn't use the "I'm on vacation card." I was on work assignment and this fact was all the more reason to take better care with healthier food choices.

Had I discovered the Eat Well Guide prior to this trip I would have planned accordingly. The Guide stores a list of restaurants, farms, co-ops, bakeries, organizations, and stores that provide local and sustainable foods. There's no excuse for not cultivating good health while away from home, whether the trip is to last a weekend or several weeks. The Eat Well Guide has you covered!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Corporations in the Kitchen

In my neck of the woods the day has been a rainy one. You know what that means. Perfect excuse to lounge around and movie-watch. I knew that when I decided on Food, Inc., a documentary released in June 2009, I was in for more educational than entertaining fulfilment. Food, Inc. examines the U.S. food supply, it's quality, it's sources, and it's impact on consumer health, consumer rights, the environment, animals, and small business owners. The documentary addressed key issues facing consumers today. Here were a few:

1) Factory farmed meat can be dangerous and the corporations that mass produce meat can legally keep consumers in the dark on food safety.

2) The U.S. food supply is not as diverse as people may think. We have thousands and thousands of "food" products and yet a handful of multinational corporations run the show that provides these products.

3) Genetically modified foods can be found in 90% of processed foods and don't require a warning.

4) Key players in the FDA, USDA and even the Supreme Court had past employment with corporations whose investments placed profit over consumer health and safety. Such game players are now influencing policies that profoundly effect consumer rights and undermine food safety, human health, and farmer's rights.

5) Government subsidies keep junk food costs low and more affordable than nutrient dense fruits and vegetables.

6) The USDA does not have the authority to close down production sites with continuous food safety violations. A congressional bill to be named "Kevin's Law" would have given USDA such authority but it never made it to the House for a vote. Kevin was a 2 year old boy who died from ecoli in his hamburger. The company that produced this meat knew about the ecoli but waited over two weeks to recall it.

7) Food Libel laws (a.k.a. veggie libel laws) exist in 13 states to protect corporate interests and intimidate consumers who might otherwise speak out about or even remotely insinuate that their product poses a threat. Think Oprah vs. the beef industry.

The list goes on.

I found these issues to be disturbing and infuriating and yet, at the same time, the documentary was enlightening, informative, and empowering. Food, Inc. shared the story of a Virginia farmer producing meat the old-fashioned way. Cows were eating grass, chickens grazed freely, and pigs embraced what he called their "pigness." The animals were well-cared for and free of antibiotics, hormones and chemicals. And people appreciated this respect for their health so much that they invested in his business. It proved that food production for meat eaters could be health-centered, consumer-centered, and profitable.

There were many other take-aways from this movie - implications for school lunch programs, worker's rights, consumer environmental foot-prints, and a list of things people can do today to improve the food supply and their health. Food, Inc. is a documentary everyone should see and pass on.

Ok, now It's time to catch my entertaining movie of the evening :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Any Given Sunday

I found heaven today and it couldn't have come at a better time. After working 12 hour days this week I vowed for a work-free weekend (after completing a Saturday morning presentation). I headed for Manhattan to catch up with gal pal Nirali and her beau Ambrish.

On Saturday night we celebrated a belated Diwali with saris, garba, and dandia. It brought back great memories from Diwalis past! Did I mention that dandia provides a great workout?

Sunday brought about another enlightening experience. I had been itching for months to visit Pure Food and Wine restaurant to delve further into raw foods exploration. As far as raw foods go I've experimented with juices, ice kream, "cheese" and other snacks. I figured it was time to take the next step and if I could fall in love with high-quality raw dishes it might jumpstart more complex culinary adventures. It turned out that the restaurant was opening later in the evening. Thankfully, One Lucky Duck, the take out option via PFW, was open!

Nirali, Ambrish and I had a hard time picking just one item off the menu. We ended up choosing the following super fabulous raw/organic shakes:

* Banana Nut (we all agreed this was our favorite of the three)
* Avocolada
* Blue Sunset

Check out the link above for ingredients and more tasty treats.

We walked off the smoothies on the way to the uber yummy Hummus Place for fresh chickpeas, pita, and falafels.

We finished the meal off with some orgasmic treats: One Lucky Duck's moon pie, mallomar, and tiramisu. All were incredibly divine. I think Nirali's moon pie selection was the most decadent although you can't go wrong with the others. Unfortunately I carried the desserts around NYC for much of the day and some of them got tossed around a bit. I lost the opportunity to take pictures of them while they were still intact and presentable but found another blog post with pictures of these luscious desserts.

I also purchased the high-in-demand cheesy quacker crackers. Having loaded up on raw foods treats I decided to pace myself and try them another day. More on them later (probably tomorrow :).

All in all it was one of the best weekends ever - fabulous friends, spirited Diwali, amazing Fall weather in a great city and superb raw foods!