Gastronomy Course Spotlight: US Food Policy and Culture

DSC00854

US Food Policy and Culture has been my absolute favorite course in the Gastronomy program, and I’m a little afraid that it can’t be topped. Topics that we covered in class included the Farm Bill, the National School Lunch Program, organics, GMOs, obesity, hunger, local foods, and so much more, all with a focus on U.S. Food Policy. I have always had an interest in these topics, but it was very valuable to learn the intricacies of how various branches of the government regulate them, as well as the role that private intuitions or non profit organizations play. As a Dietitian with a strong interest in US Food Policy, I was also extremely pleased that this course introduced me to a multitude of organizations working to make good food available to all.

Ellen MesserEllen Messer taught the course, and is the same instructor that I took Food Policy and Food Systems with last semester. It was structured similarly to her previous course, with biweekly short assignments, a commodity paper midterm, and a final. Dr. Messer’s passion for eliminating hunger came across in this course as well, but it hit much closer to home as we focused on the US rather than looking at food issues internationally.

I am a huge Marion Nestle fan, so I was excited that her Food Politics book was a major contributor to the course, in addition to a chapter from What to Eat. Another great resource was Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight, a great introduction to the Farm Bill. For those of you that would like to learn more about US Food Policy, I highly recommend starting with Marion Nestle’s book. But all of the books I read for the course were excellent, and you should read them all if you get the chance. Not pictured is The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, a book that was also recommended in Ellen Messer’s international course last semester.

Image via Tufts

– Kelly

Janet Poppendieck on School Lunch

“We have made serving lunch to children in school really complicated and inconvenient.” – Janet Poppendieck

This week, scholar, activist, and sociology professor Janet Poppendieck visited BU for a lecture titled Universal Free School Meals: An Idea Whose Time Has Come. I am embarrassed to admit that when I first saw the advertisement for this lecture, I interpreted it to mean that Poppendieck thought that the time was up for school lunch, and that school lunch was perhaps a fruitless pursuit.

Thankfully, I read Poppendieck’s new book, Free For All: Fixing School Food in America, and quickly discovered that I was wrong.  Poppendieck’s central argument is that a universal free lunch would help to alleviate many of the ills associated with school food, and she gives well-researched examples of why this may be.

Admittedly, the book started off as a repetition of things that I already knew about the school lunch program. School food today is often frozen and prepackaged. Menu choices are often carnival foods such as fries and pizza. The history of the school lunch program as a commodity program has allowed it to become this way.

However, Poppendieck’s discussion of the problems with means testing and the tiered eligibility system in chapter 7 introduced a new wave of thought to me. Poppendieck argues that the 3-tiered system breeds resentment and cheating, and also creates problems that interfere with the purpose of the program. To this point, I knew that students in the reduced price category oftentimes do not have enough money to pay even the reduced price. However, I was surprised to learn that 21% of families with very low food insecurity (formerly known as food security with hunger) have incomes too high to qualify for free or reduced price lunches. This shocking statistic is surely the sign of a broken system.

fruitandveggie

Fruit & Veggie set up (typical of what I saw in Austin Independent School District)

While universal free lunch might sound fine and dandy, the biggest question I had was about how a multibillion-dollar program like that would get funded. Luckily, Poppendieck did address the financial issue. “There is no such thing as a free lunch, but how we pay for it is a social choice,” she said to the audience. While her book, written at the peak of the economic downturn, mostly focused on federal funding programs, Poppendeick’s lecture included evidence that states can also play an important role. She gave recent case studies of universal free programs in both Vermont and West Virginia, and also discussed the effects of recent legislation, such as the Community Eligibility Option under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.

cfisd

Balanced salad from Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District

Poppendieck also emphasized the importance of integrating the lunch hour into the school day as a way to promote better health and a place to learn social skills and etiquette. “The cafeteria is our largest classroom,” Poppendieck said, quoting an educator from Vermont. Chapter 8 of Poppendeick’s book also gives several inspiring examples of schools that are using the lunch hour as a learning tool and a jumping off point for hands on education.

oatmealprovo

Oatmeal sundae bar in Provo

Whether or not you think that universal free is the right direction to go (I’m still on the fence about the whole funding issue), I highly recommend Janet Poppendieck’s book. It is a great summary of all of the factors affecting the school lunch program today, and gives an excellent history of how it came to be for those that are interested but don’t have much experience with the program. After being fortunate to converse with Poppendieck both before and after the lecture (and get my book signed!), I am now interested in reading her other two books: Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement and Breadlines Knee Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression.

Images via UCPress, CSPI Pinterest Page

To learn more about the challenges facing the lunch program, as well as the progress that has been made, see my previous post about school lunch.

– Kelly

Behind the Scenes: New England Maple Syrup Production

DSC00563

Maple syrup is an iconic product of New England foodways, so I was especially excited to go on the BU sustainability field trip to Mass Audubon Ipswich River Nature Reserve last weekend. This FREE field trip was open to all BU students and included a guided tour of the maple sugaring process, followed by a pancake breakfast on the property. The tour was entirely outdoors, so we did some hiking through the snow as our guide showed us how to get from sap to syrup. Ever wonder how maple syrup is made? It’s a fairly straightforward process, but extremely labor intensive.

Maple Forest

How Maple Syrup is Made:

The first step is to tap the tree, which simply means drilling a hole and attaching a spout for the sap to drip and collect into a bucket. The number of taps in a tree depends upon its size, and even the oldest, largest trees at Ipswich River Reserve do not have more than 4 taps, so as not to compromise the tree or sap production. Trees have to have reached a certain size before they can be tapped (about 10 inches in diameter) and are often at least 40 years old. The metal buckets that collect the sap are emptied about every 6-8 hours, depending on weather conditions.

Maple Tree Tap

The sap itself looks and tastes like water (yes, we tasted it!), and is only about 1% sugar. It takes about 86 gallons of sap (at a 1% sugar concentration) to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. No wonder it is so expensive! But how does the sap get turned into delicious maple syrup? All you need is heat.

Heating up the maple sap in the sugar shack

After the buckets of sap are collected, they are brought to the “sugar shack” to be heated up. As you can probably tell, the sugar shack is a steamy little cabin that houses the machinery. The sap is simply poured into a tank where it is heated up to just above boiling, so that the water evaporates out. Nothing is added to the sap. It is simply a matter of evaporation. Once the liquid reaches the desired temperature, you have maple syrup! No additives needed.

Maple Syrup: How its made!

After leaving the sugar shack, we were greeted with a sample cup of freshly made maple syrup. Things got even sweeter as we went into the barn for all you care to eat pancake breakfast. It was the perfect way to warm up and refuel after a chilly hike through the maple forest on a cold February day. Before leaving, I was sure to purchase my own bottle of locally produced maple syrup from the gift shop. After learning about how much work it is to produce, I have a much greater appreciation for it!

Flapjack Fling

Different Grades of Maple Syrup:

You may be wondering what the difference is between the different grades of maple syrup. The lighter syrups (Grade A: light and medium amber) are made earlier in the season, and the darker syrups (dark amber and Grade B) are made later in the season. The difference is simply due to the temperature outside. Before my field trip, I always assumed that Grade A was superior. After all, that is how it works at school, as well as in the grading of other food products, such as eggs. But in the world of maple syrup, that is not always the case. Grade B maple syrup has a more distinctively “maple” flavor, and is often called cooking syrup for this reason. So the grading scale is purely a matter of taste preference.

Maple Grading Regulations

For those of you that would like to learn more:

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Anthropology

BU Gastronomy

I came to the Gastronomy program to understand people’s relationship with food from a new perspective, and, little did I know at the time, Food Anthropology was the perfect place for me to start. Food Anthropology is one of the 4 required core classes for the Gastronomy program, along with Introduction to Food: Theory and Methodology, History of Food, and Food and the Senses.

Coming from a rigid science background, I was suspicious that Food Anthropology was just fluff. Sure, anthropology involves data collection and analysis. But studying the culture of how people eat… is that really academic?

caroleI was in for a treat. My class was led by Professor Carole Counihan, an entertaining and well established anthropologist with an extensive background in Italian food culture, among other things. Our main assignment was to complete an ethnographic research project of a food place using participant observation, interviewing, and a literature review. The project was shaped through class discussions over various landmark food studies literature, where ideas, theories, and processes could be taken back to our own research.

My favorite part of the class was the readings. The various ethnographies of restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, and other food spaces provided valuable insight on why people choose to eat what they do. I learned about the various emotions, traditions, and functions associated with food for people across a variety of cultures and time periods, and I am a better Dietitian because of it. If any of you are interested in Food Anthropology, Counihan’s Food and Culture Reader just came out with a 3rd edition.

Image via Amazon

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Policy and Food Systems

BU Gastronomy

I marched into the Gastronomy program with my eyes on the Food Policy concentration, so I was eager to begin the Food Policy and Food Systems class my very first semester (Fall 2012). Being an avid reader of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and even Barbara Kingsolver, I am very interested in how basic principles of human nutrition can be applied when addressing the current challenges of the food industry.

Ellen MesserThe class was intimidating at first. Ellen Messer is a quirky and cheerful anthropologist with a wealth of knowledge on international food policy and human rights. She speaks quickly in a matter-of-fact manner, and sometimes passed out class outlines which were several pages long, single spaced, and in size 10 font. But that’s just the world of policy. Several pages long, single spaced, and size 10 font.

The topics covered in our course included the pro’s and con’s of biotechnology, the issue of world hunger, the external costs of meat consumption, monoculture vs. biodiversity, organics and integrated pest management, the role of NGO’s, eating patterns from around the world, obesity and nutrition, and the role of biofuels. Forget what you think you may know about GMO’s, world hunger, or organics. Our class looked at each issue from every angle imaginable. While I may not have a solution for world hunger, I am definitely a more educated consumer.

The focus was much more international than I had originally expected, and that was one of the main challenges. However, because globalization binds us so closely with other nations, it was interesting to see the consequences of our consumption patterns. The main project for this class was to research food policy issues of a foreign nation, including a staple crop and an export crop, as well as research how these factors influence the food security of the nation. We then presented our findings to our classmates in a panel.

Ultimately, I want to help make nutritious foods more accessible, and I believe that learning to navigate the agricultural and industrial concerns of the food industry is a great place to start. There are many complex issues regarding American agriculture and the subsidization of various foods, and it is my goal to further study these relationships (such as in Ellen Messer’s US Food Policy class, next semester) in order to brainstorm ways to help make food systems more conducive to healthy eating.

If you are at all interested in these issues, I highly recommend reading The End of Food, by Paul Roberts.

Image via Tufts

-Kelly

Hands-on Educational Highlights of the Fall Semester

Jacques Pepin

My first semester of graduate school has come to a close. Despite the wealth of knowledge that I gained from my courses, some of my favorite educational experiences occurred outside of the classroom. Between special lectures at BU, trips for work, and events hosted by the Gastronomy Students Association and the Massachusetts Dietetic Association, I have been able to get a well-rounded understanding of food and nutrition. So without further ado, here is a list of my favorite hands-on educational experiences from this past semester.

AD Makepeace Cranberry Bog

  • Getting oriented to my food studies program by taking a GPS tour of Boston’s foodie hotspots (including the Fenway Victory Gardens and a vegetarian food truck), followed by beers and appetizers at Meadhall
  • Learning about local New England foodways by touring a cranberry bog and visiting an apple orchard (see this post)
  • Attending a panel on the Dietitians role in sustainability, which included a presentation by Barton Seaver (National Geographic Fellow and Washington DC Chef), as well as a representative from Farm Aid, a hospital sustainability coordinator, and a chef/Dietitian at Johnson and Wales University.
  • Taking a trip to Sysco for work, and getting to taste-test new vegetarian recipes for the dining halls. Getting paid to eat? Yes, please!
  • Attending a workshop at Harvard Common Press on food writing, where I got to mingle with the editor of Edible Boston, as well as learn about the ins and outs of cookbook publishing. Did I mention that the brunch spread was from Flour Bakery? Yum! (read here to learn more about the event)
  • Getting to see Jaques Pepin, the co-founder of my program, speak at BU. He also signed my cookbook! To learn more about the event, read here and here.
  • Taking the Cheese 101 Class at Formaggio Kitchen with the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. The class included 8 cheese and condiment pairings, 4 wine tastings, and a cave tour!

Cheese 101 at Formaggio Kitchen

Cheese 101 at Formaggio Kitchen

– Kelly

Gastronomy in New York City

On Friday my roommate and I took a day trip to New York City as an early birthday celebration. Although seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and holiday decorations was the main motivation for the trip, I also got to experience food and culture in the city.

Our Global Kitchen, NYC

The American Museum of Natural History has a special exhibit through August 12, 2013 called Our Global Kitchen. I first read about it on Marion Nestle’s blog last week, and was very excited that this exhibit would coincide with my trip! The exhibit was perfect to see after finishing my first semester in the BU Gastronomy program, but even my roommate was fascinated by the displays. The topics were very relevant to my Food Culture and Food Systems class, and included information on: the pro’s and con’s of biotechnology, the issue of world hunger, the external costs of meat consumption, monoculture vs. biodiversity, organics and integrated pest management, eating patterns from around the world, obesity and nutrition, food waste, the history of foodways, the science of cooking, and so much more! I highly recommend this exhibit, whether you are a gastronome or not. It is great information to help consumers make educated choices, and to learn about where our food comes from.

Our Global Kitchen, NYC

I also couldn’t help buying this cute T shirt!

Other Gastronomy related highlights included a grilled chicken curry sandwich with cranberry harissa chutney from Le Pain Quotidien in Central Park, as well as cupcakes from the Plaza Food Hall. Also, even though the majority of my NYC dining experiences aren’t at chain restaurants, the calorie counts on chain restaurant menus (such as Le Pain Quotidien) are great at helping make an informed purchase!

photo(57)

Are any other foodies heading to NYC anytime soon? While I didn’t go during this trip, I highly recommend checking out the Chelsea Market (see below) and Eataly. Where are your favorite places to go in New York?

Chelsea Market

– Kelly

Healthy Gift Guide Part 1: The Farmers Market Foodie

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Do you have any health conscious friends or loved ones still left to shop for? This gift guide is full of great gift ideas to inspire healthy lifestyle choices.

Part 1: The Farmers Market Foodie. These gifts are perfect for anyone that frequents farmers markets, appreciates fresh produce, or is passionate about local, sustainable food.

Healthy Gift Guide part 1: Gifts for for Farmers Market Foodies

  1. Squash Identification Dishtowel, $16. This adorable dish towel perfectly captures the spirit of fresh produce. Is anyone else reminded of page 77 of Julia Rothman’s Farm Anatomy?
  2. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, $30. The White House organic garden has quickly become a national symbol for the local food revolution. This book is the perfect gift to give your favorite locavore. And as a bonus, it also recently received praise from Marion Nestle. A win in my book!
  3. CSA Box, price varies, usually $325-$600 per growing season. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. By purchasing a CSA subscription, you are essentially purchasing a share of the farm. In return, you receive boxes with a variety of local produce on a weekly, bimonthly, monthly basis, depending on the farm. Shares often come in various sizes, and half shares are sometimes available for smaller households. I would google your city + CSA (example: Boston CSA) to find CSA options in your area. Click here for CSA options in the Boston area.
  4. edible: A Celebration of Local Foods, $30. From the makers of edible communities magazines, this is more than just a cookbook. This book highlights recipes from different culinary regions across America, as well as recognizes local food heroes. Additionally, a copy of your local edible would be the perfect addition to any local food gift basket. Edibles are produced for 70 cities across the US and Canada. To see if your community has an edible magazine, click here.
  5. Home Grown Garden Card Set (set of 8), $18. These cards perfectly capture the spirit of home gardening. They come blank, and would be the perfect vehicle to share your thanks with your local food producer.
  6. State by State Food Tote Bag, $25. This adorable tote bag is perfect for carrying home all of your locally grown goodies. The geographic touches make this pick one of my favorites!
  7. Artichoke iPhone Case, $35. This unique case will keep the spirit of your favorite market alive, even after the last harvest. Available for iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, and 5.
  8. Farmers Market 8×10 Print, $18. This cheery print is perfect for any farmers market aficionado.
  9. Farmer’s Market Cards (set of 6), $14. These beautiful watercolor cards are printed on textured linen coverstock, and the inside is blank for your own thoughts. What a lovely way to share the beauty of farmers markets!

Check back soon for part 2 of my Healthy Gift Guide. The next one is going to have a nutrition focus. Still looking for more gift ideas? Check out this awesome gift guide for Boston Foodies! These picks would be perfect for any of my classmates in the BU Gastronomy program. Happy shopping!

-Kelly

BU Sustainablility Cranberry Bog and Apple Field Trip

Today marks the first day of autumn, and I was lucky enough to spend my first autumn in New England on a field trip to a local cranberry bog and apple orchard! After browsing the BU events calendar online, I discovered this awesome (and FREE) field trip arranged by the Sustainability Coordinator of BU Dining.  Being a lover of local food and guided tours, this excursion sounded right up my alley! My roommate joined me, as she has a strong affinity for cranberries and has always wanted to visit a cranberry bog.

This FREE field trip included:

  • Pumpkin Muffins and Coffee at the George Sherman Union
  • A tour of the various cranberry bogs at A.D. Makepeace
  • A yummy box lunch from BU
  • A trip to Keith’s Farm to pick our own apples

And now for the tour…

The cranberry bog tour was even more impressive than I imagined! A.D. Makepeace is the largest cranberry bog in the world and has about 2000 acres of bogs on their land. Our chartered bus drove us to 4 different bogs on the property, including the world’s largest cranberry bog (which is 75 acres large). We got to see both dry harvest and wet harvest. The wet harvest looked just like an Ocean Spray commercial! (Not too surprising though since A.D. Makepeace is an Ocean Spray grower)

Dry harvest

Wet harvest

After the tour, we wandered around the gift shop and ate our boxed lunches at picnic tables on the property. Then we got back on the bus and went to Keith’s Farm. Nothing says fall in New England like apple picking!

My roommate and I brought home 10 apples from Keith’s Farm. At the market at AD Makepeace, I also picked up a ½ pound of fresh cranberries and a ½ pound of apple juice sweetened dried cranberries. I see lots of cranberry and apple flavored meals in my future! These recipes are catching my eye:

BU students can be notified of future sustainability events like this one here. BU Dining makes an effort to embrace the sustainable food movement by putting on educational events such as this field trip, as well as making a commitment to incorporate more sustainable food products and practices. Below are some highlights of the BU Dining sustainability initiative:

  • 28% of BU food purchases are sourced locally (within 250 miles)
  • Monday menus (“Make a Difference Monday”) are based around local, sustainable, and organic foods
  • Dining menus incorporate fair trade coffee, cage free eggs, and sustainable seafood
  • In 2011, the GSU diverted 73% of waste from the landfill by recycling and composting
  • A farmers market is held on campus Thursdays during September and October

-Kelly