The book that I’ve been working on with my husband, food activist Nick Saul, arrived at our house the other day. The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement is a bit like our third baby. It’s been a long and interesting gestation process thinking about, researching and writing a book together and it was thrilling to see it for reals.
If you can’t wait for the book itself to launch into the world on March 19th, an excerpt is coming out in Reader’s Digest next week. In the meantime, we’ve written a piece about the challenges of food banks in the April issue of The Walrus. The online version of the essay won’t be up for a bit, but you can find one of Canada’s last great magazines on newsstands everywhere great magazines are found. Nick and I will be talking about the book and the Community Food Centre (CFC) model a lot over the next few months. Watch here for details. For more on CFCs, visit the Community Food Centres Canada website or www.andreacurtis.ca
What’s for Lunch? was created for kids, their parents and teachers to initiate discussions about food and the way it connects to so many issues that we all care about. Things like the environment, poverty, hunger, our health and the health of our communities.
But reading the book is just the beginning. I hope families and educators will use it as a bouncing-off point for more in-depth discussions. That’s why, with the help of my publisher, Red Deer Press, I’ve created a FREE Teaching Guide for use in classrooms everywhere. The guide has questions aimed at initiating talk about what kids eat around the world, teaching ideas inspired by the book’s content, blacklines for easy printout—all downloadable here. (It’s about 5 MB.)
There are curriculum connections to health and nutrition, environmental sustainability, diversity, urban/rural connections, media education and much more. From the Pizza Pie game to Untangling the Food System to a more in-depth session we call The Lottery of Life, I hope these resources will inspire teachers to bring the ideas in What’s for Lunch? into their classroom. I’d love to hear how it goes. Email me (andrea at andreacurtis dot ca) and let me know!
As I gear up for my next book to come out in mid-March (check it out here)—with all the trepidation and excitement that entails— it’s particularly nice to see blogger reviews still coming in for What’s for Lunch?
I’m also doing a number of talks and presentations about the book with both children and adults over the next few months. If you want me to come to your school or community group, you can contact me about fees and my availability.
Just this week, obesity doc Yoni Freedhoff posted a review of the book on his blog Weighty Matters. He liked What’s for Lunch? quite a bit though he had some really interesting stuff to say about how obesity is framed in the text.
A chilly view from the High Line
I spent this past weekend on a mini vacation in New York City walking and exploring and eating, as well as talking about food with school lunch and food justice (super)hero, Jan Poppendieck, who wrote the brilliant Sweet Charity? about the failures of food banking, and the more recent (and equally brilliant) Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.
The weekend was a literal smorgasbord of fun, food and inspiration. One of the surprise highlights was stumbling on the new food exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Called Our Global Kitchen, it uses multimedia, display, historical objects, diaroma and even taste tests to bring to life the complexity of our food system, the future of food (think seaweed, bugs and less meat) and the joys of eating together. There’s a chance to sit at a table with a Roman aristocrat, see an ancient Aztec marketplace and cook up various recipes on an interactive table/screen.
Curated by the Center for Biodiversity Conservation, the exhibit pulls no punches about the challenges of feeding a projected 9 billion people by 2050 or the profound problems with current industrial agricultural practices.
Considering the equivocating I seem to read in the media about this (as if it’s still sane to question climate change or the failures of the so-called green revolution to feed the world), I was delighted to see how matter of fact the exhibit is. This is science, baby.
I can’t wait to read my friend Sarah Elton’s upcoming book, Consumed: Sustainable Food for a Finite Planet for more on this subject.
(For teachers and educators who can’t make it to New York before the show closes in August, there are downloadable teaching resources for all grades that touch on issues in the food system like biodiversity, the supply chain and trade, hunger and diet-related health issues. The resources are pegged to the exhibit itself but there are lots of ideas about how to bring these topics into the classroom.)
I’ve been making school lunch for my boys for nearly a decade. I don’t like it much and have come up with many (thwarted) plans to get out of the business. They invariably involve having my children make their own meal. But that ideal bumps up against the time-strapped, space-strapped, coffee-deprived reality that is our weekday mornings. Frankly, at this moment in our busy lives, I’d rather make their lunch than create another make-work project for myself. We manage pretty well, all things considered (they eat most of the healthy food we offer in their bags and don’t complain—much).
I am learning to accept the fact that I will likely have children who expect their lunches made for them well into their college years and hope that the other opportunities we’ve created for independence, food appreciation and planning will compensate for this failure.
Despite having acknowledged this many times, despite the fact that What’s for Lunch? is a book about the politics of food rather than a how-to for busy, frustrated parents who must pack a meal for their darlings every day, I have been asked frequently since WFL was published about the secret to making a great lunch. I invariably say I don’t have the answers (see above).
But as I’ve reflected on my personal experience and all the amazing school lunches I learned about in my research, I have started to think I do have a few thoughts on the matter. Let’s call them observations rather than advice. Continue reading
photograph from What’s for Lunch? by Yvonne Duivenvoorden
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of talking to Mary Ito at CBC’s weekend morning show, Fresh Air, about What’s for Lunch? I told her about the learning curve I’ve had in my first experience writing for children. I talked about how I’ve heard in the past that if you really want to figure out if you understand something, explain it to a child. I think it’s true—have you ever tried to explain lightning or why clouds exist to a kid? Most of us will come up against the limits of our own memory/knowledge when it comes to explaining even such simple things. I don’t think it’s about dumbing down—I believe kids are much smarter and more sophisticated than many adults think—it’s more about breaking ideas down to their constituent parts, unravelling the complexity. Sometimes, it’s also about questioning the bias that you take for granted.
The subject came up because Mary asked me if I found it challenging to negotiate bias when writing a book for children. She said that the food system is political and that there are many competing voices arguing this way and that. (Not to mention billions of dollars spent by food companies to support their own interests—my words, not hers.) How did I choose to take a particular stand?
Things have been rather busy here at What’s for Lunch? Between organizing Halloween costumes and putting the veggie patch to bed, promoting WFL and finishing up the edits on the adult book about food I’m cowriting (due out March 2013), there hasn’t been a lot of time for much else. So I thought I’d reach back into the vault to bring you an older post that offered a behind-the-scenes peak into the research project that was What’s for Lunch?
People who’ve read the book will know that in the pages devoted to France’s school lunch, there is mention of the cheese course (one of 4 courses!) offered daily to French schoolchildren. Knowing kids love to talk about stinky stuff, I decided to hunt down the smelliest French cheese.
It turned out that I didn’t have to go far, since a scientist in the UK had already done the legwork.
He determined—using both human testers and something called an “electronic nose”—that Vieux Boulogne, made in northern France, is the world’s stinkiest cheese. In the same article—as well as many, many others I found—it was mentioned that it beat out another French cheese called Epoisses de Bourgogne, which the author claimed was so stinky it had been banned from public transportation! Continue reading
What’s for Lunch?
has attracted some great responses on the international front, especially in Brazil
. Yesterday, the World Food Programme’s Centre for Excellence Against Hunger
—a collaboration between the government of Brazil and the WFP that started with a focus on best practises for school feeding—published a Q& A with me about the book and what I discovered in my research about how different nations around the world approach school meals.
Below, you’ll find one of their (rather tough) questions. To read the whole interview, click here
Is the emphasis that is sometimes placed on nutritional education a luxury that only richer countries can afford? Or is it wrong to make the distinction between feeding and nurturing?
There are times of emergency when almost any food is good enough for a short period—during the heat of war, natural disaster, etc. But I think we all need to strive for something better than emergency rations devoid of taste, culture and pleasure. Children in developing nations should have all the opportunities that children elsewhere enjoy. Nutrition education is part of this. To alleviate anemia, for instance, we need to ensure children are offered food that is rich in iron, but we also need to talk to them about why it’s important, so they can pass it on to their parents and their own children as they grow older. But I also think food literacy needs to be more than just education about nutrients, micronutrients and food groups, educators should be talking with children about where food comes from, who grows it, how it’s grown, the politics of agriculture and the world of processed food. We have a deeply interconnected international food system, so these issues touch not just those in wealthy nations but people everywhere. In fact, you could easily argue that it’s the poor who benefit least in our current food system. Shouldn’t they have a chance to learn about how the system works and why? It seems to me that talking to children and helping them make the links between their food, their lives and those of people in the world around them is one of the very best way to truly transform the system so that it’s sustainable and just. I was really inspired by some groups in Peru that are working in collaboration with indigenous people to reclaim their food culture, language and traditions in part by connecting schoolchildren with elders in their communities who remember the old agricultural techniques and knowledge of plants. This is the kind of food education I’m talking about and it’s no luxury, it’s a necessity.
The school garden has been put to bed for the winter, and I find myself reflecting on the season past and beginning to think ahead to what we might do differently next year.
Sadly, here in Ontario, where the government has decided to unilaterally end bargaining with the teachers’ unions, and the teachers have responded by withdrawing their involvement in extracurricular activities (one of the only tools they have left to make their displeasure clear), there could very well not be a garden next year.
We’ve worked hard to embed it into the school’s life—supporting teachers to use the garden as a teaching tool, buying curriculum resources, etc. And it’s worked remarkably well. We have a committed and enthusiastic staff team devoted to using it for teaching purposes. In just the past few weeks, the teachers have been using the harvest in their classes, baking kale chips and making a veggie soup that had children literally pushing to the front of the line to get seconds.
But maintaining the patch is the collaborative work of parents, students and teachers, and such collaboration isn’t possible right now. We’re doing what we can while respecting the teacher’s right to withdraw their voluntary labour, but it might very well not be enough. A lot of work has to go into planning and fundraising—not to mention planting and tending—to make the garden thrive, and without parents, kids and teachers working together the whole thing could easily not happen.
It’s devastating to think that all the work we’ve put into this garden, all the momentum we’ve built over the past two years could actually grind to a halt.
I think making food literacy a part of our schools and education system is a key part of how we’re going to reverse the damage of our current food system—the diet-related health issues, the environmental degradation, the fear about food safety and unfair labour practises. Teachers are our most important resource when it comes to making food literacy a part of our children’s school life. We need to urge our provincial government to treat them with the respect they deserve and get back to negotiating in good faith.