Tag Archives: Advocacy

Ontop of a Potato…all covered with Cheese (read to the tune of ‘On Top of Spaghetti’)

I’d like to begin this post with a quote from the band Guster, “step on a kid he’ll grow up hating you” from their song Either Way, is a real summarization of how kids are most vulnerable to influencers and role models in the early parts of their lives.  As adults we meet people all the time who influence our life.  But the difference is, as adults we’ve already established a foundation for who we are based on the people from our childhood.  And by human nature we surround ourselves with people who are similar to us.  So the hope is by the time you are an adult you are being influenced by good people.

With that in mind, every year I volunteer as a counselor at Camp Happy Times.  This is a week long camp for kids ages four to eighteen who have survived or are going through cancer treatment.  I’m going to make a very bold statement and say that for some of these kids Cancer saved their lives.  Many come from rough neighborhoods of New Jersey and their ticket to life outside the chain link fence and cracked pavement is behind a hospital wall where they find people who care about them and instill the will to survive not only for the sake of living but for the chance to make something of themselves.  The role models at the hospitals have a different job from us camp counselors.  Our week with the kids is an insight to their social lives.  Each year my range of problem-solving skills expands.  But the real skill comes in how you build trust and negotiate with these kids so they trust you.  Which in turn will make you a role model and influencer.

The skill that was added to problem-solving file cabinet this year was a mix of body image and nutrition.  One of my food fantasies is to have an army of Top Chef constants come into the challenge of making a healthy meal out of camp food.  The food needs to be rich in vitamin c, as many of these kids are still sick,  while also delivering protein, energy and hydration.  Oh yea and it has to taste good and be fed to about 200 people.  For me each meal was a personal Top Chef challenge, to dig out some nutrition from the meals presented and also be subject to the poor eating habits of thirteen-year-old girls.   While camp is a time for these kids to let loose I felt I looming responsibility to influence their eating habits.

By the middle of the week the baked potato bar was really taking its toll on their energy levels, and they were all starting to develop little baked potato beer bellies.  It wasn’t until I explained that their friend Mr. Potato Head while rich in vitamin c and potassium was not giving them any nutrients by day three especially when topped with a man-made river of cheese whiz.  With a cliff notes version of complex carbs and high glycemic
index I explained this is why you feel exhausted by 2:00 everyday.

Other mealtime characters included salt-shaker-Sally and two-bite-Betty.  There were some kids who were trying to eat healthy by going to the salad bar.  But I just cringed at the sound of them chomping down on Iceberg lettuce swimming in Ranch dressing and Bacon-bits.  I was faced with a moral dilemma to hide the salt shaker, shove a chicken finger down a kid’s throat and begin preaching Michael Pollen style about knowing where your food comes from.

Making a healthy version of Sesame Chicken with the girls in the kitchen.

My best advice to these girls was as follows:

At the ripe old-age of thirteen your little bodies have already had some pretty toxic chemicals to deal with.  Between school lunch and mall food courts it’s not easy for you to find healthy choices.  Food will fool you into thinking it’s giving you nutrients when it’s not.  And you might not think eating a cheesy baked potato covered in Bacon-bits and a river of cheese three days in a row will matter much right now, but I promise you it will come back to visit you later.  Your body is precious, it’s already been through a lot, feed it what it deserves.

On a lighter note, here is a link to Sesame Street singing ‘On Top of Spaghetti’


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Cooking Matters

Early this month I completed a six-month Family curriculum course through City Harvest.  You may remember last year I participated in the program as a Class Manger, but this year, with my new culinary degree I was able to be the volunteer chef.

The program was for children and their parents who either belong to Hour Children Food Pantry or are residents of My Mother’s House.  Both are centers in Queens that assist people with food and guidance.

While the experience ended up being a little more than I bargained for assisting with the grocery shopping and testing recipes ahead of time, the results were heart-warming.  It was challenging finding jobs for the littlest class members and then also figuring out a task that would keep some of the older kids engaged.  Luckily the parents always volunteered to cut the onions and mince the garlic!  It was amazing to see how their skill sets developed and interest level grew.  Krystal (pictured second to my right) became an expert at thinly slicing ANYTHING, and Miranda (last one on the left) was my go-to banana masher.

If anything, I think the kids will be more inclined to  help out their parents in the kitchen, and hopefully take away some healthy options.

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From Big Screen to Big Eats

As a young girl I was always fascinated by people who had libraries in their homes, or big, extensive book shelves.  It seemed to be a mark of intelligence or being highly cultured.  You can tell so much about a person based on the books they’ve collected.  So naturally, my shelves are lined with cookbooks!  There are the classics like Larousse Gastronomique, or James Peterson’s Sauces or references like the Flavor Bible.  And then come some of the more modern books from chef’s like Mario Batali and Rick Bayless.  Wedged in at the ends are a couple no-name authors from the days of my low-carb diet and the classic In the Kitchen with Miss Piggy.  One might mock this collection as its seems antiquated to have recipe books when you can find most anything online.  But there is something about the tangible reference and stunning photography that is preserved in these books of art.  And recently, the category is getting a little lift from Hollywood!

For those of you fellow cookbook collectors out there make some room on the shelf for the latest from celebrity cookbooks.  Gwyneth Paltrow, Sheryl Crow, Eva Longoria and now rumored Matthew McConaughey are sharing their family tables with the masses.  Not surprising as it is in the nature of home-cooks to feel an overwhelming joy when they can share a meal or a recipe with friends and family.  Why celebrity cookbook writing has become an industry trend is still unresolved.  One thought is actors or musicians have a natural desire to express themselves, and writing a cookbook is just another creative outlet.  Also, returning to the kitchen has been socially acceptable and as Gwyneth Paltrow literally demonstrates, ‘in vogue’ with her recent coverage from Jeffery Steingarten, Vogue Magazine’s food editor.  People across the country are calling themselves foodies, lining up at food trucks, DVRing Top Chef and writing their own food blogs.  And if you can call Matthew McConaughey a real person, it’s likely he’s caught hold of movement as well based on his recent appearance on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show.  The celebrities that have talent in the kitchen are at an advantage to tap into this market.  What’s inspiring is most of the books have a positive social message whether it be about family, or eating responsibly.  Rather than writing a full-out biography, these celebrities have chosen to share their lives with us through something we all have in common, eating.

Gwyneth’s book, My Father’s Daughter is meant to stress the importance of togetherness at mealtime, emphasizing that cooking for your family is the ultimate expression of love.  The book pays homage to her father who imparted an appreciation and passion for food onto her.  Her father’s motto was: “Invest in what’s real. Clean as you go. Drink while you cook. Make it fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It will be what it will be.”  Her removal from reality is seen as charming.  Her kids didn’t know what soda was until they were 4-years-old, and she cooks her pizza in the wood-burning oven in the backyard.  The main challenge of cooking from her book is finding some of the obscure ingredients she mentions such as spelt flour, agave nectar, and organic duck bacon.  But it is hard not to enjoy her honest self-parody sprinkled throughout the book: “Could I use some butter and cheese and eggs in my cooking without going down some kind of hippie shame spiral? Yes. Of course I could.”

Sheryl Crow’s book is entitled, If It Makes You Healthy:  More Than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons.  The book is a collaboration with Nashville chef Chuck White who Crow had adopted as her own personal chef in 1996.  Crow was inspired to eat healthier after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and since then has taken an honest and healthy approach to eating.   The book has an ‘all-American’ feel to it as Crow reminisces about her childhood family tables and shares anecdotes of eating with her children.  The book has an apparent ‘eat responsibly’ undertone as it is organized by seasons and Chef White communicates his passion about the responsibility of raising honest animals and shopping from farmers markets.

Eva Longoria shares Mexican inspired recipes with a Texas flare in her book, Eva’s Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends.  Next to Gwyneth, it seems Eva had the most convincing to do as fans associate her with her flighty role on Desperate Housewives.  The book is a true diary of her childhood cooking, recalling the first time she made eggs and the feeling of accomplishment.  She also dedicates the book to her beloved Aunt Elsa who truly shaped her culinary destiny.  Throughout the book, Eva shares technical tips from Aunt Elsa that really prove the authenticity of this housewife.  The book jumps off the page with it’s vibrant colors and vivid photography covering the basics of garlic green beans, all the way to sweet potato empanadas, and the most talked about tortilla soup.

It will be interesting to see the direction this trend will take.  Matthew McConaughey will surely add some variety to the category if he goes through with it.  Who will be next?  Brad Pitt has been taking lessons from Jamie Oliver, anyone need to know the best way to get a family of eight to agree on the same meal?

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If Kids Grow It, They’ll Eat It!

Inspiring story from the Today Show and The New York Botanical Garden.  A summer program where 120 kids learn to grow organically.  And the best part aside from education is that the kids are more open to trying new vegetables that they themselves have grown.  Also they learn the value of organic and farm fresh.   Click link to video here

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Food Advocacy

Food Inc

click to learn more and see the trailer!

What some may say has been a long time coming, I think food advocacy is really starting to erupt, especially in New York City and California.  And traditionally it won’t be long before the coastal trends make their wave across the rest of the country.

To get you started, check out the documentary Food, Inc. from Robert Kenner.  The film’s original intent was to give American’s an inside understanding of simply ‘where does your food come from.’  By the end Kenner exposed some controversial and sensitive issues that will make you want to stand up on your chair, get your hippie hat on and start a protest!

Brutal farming conditions, diabetes and obesity, E.coli, farm worker protection, and the corn situation were some of the issues that really struck a chord with me.

The main take-away is that you have an opportunity to vote 3 times a day.  Vote to eat locally, seasonally and where appropriate-organically.  Take an active part in understanding where your meat is coming from and support your local growers.  If there is a demand they will supply and the movement will be a success.

Brands are also partnering with the film.

Stonyfield Organic yogurt was featured in the film as an example how a Wal-Mart representative was interested in stocking their brand because there was an increased consumer demand for an organic product.  Success!!  They’re advertising the film on their yogurt lids.

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Aligning with the film has presented Chipotle with an opportunity to showcase its eco-friendly “Food with integrity” philosophy. Currently, 35 percent of the beans that Chipotle uses are organically grown, and the company touts that it serves more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant worldwide.

So go vote!!  And see the film!


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