Category Archives: School kitchens

What’s for Lunch in South Korea?

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Some great What’s for Lunch? news arrived on my doorstep when I returned from holiday this week. What’s for Lunch? is available in South Korea!

Like so many children around the world, kids in South Korea have a daily hot meal at school. Lunch is served in a metal tray with multiple compartments and always includes rice and kimchi (pickled vegetables). There’s also a protein (chicken, fish, egg, tofu, but often it’s octopus or squid!), usually served stewed or boiled, plus more veggie sides such as eggplant, radish, bean sprouts or lotus root. Soup is also offered some days.

There are some great photos of South Korean school lunches on this teacher’s Tumblr blog.

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.34.44 AM To give a sense of just how important the issue is in South Korea, a couple of years ago, the city of  Seoul held a very contentious referendum about school lunch. Some members of municipal government had the foresight to push for healthy, free school meals for all of the 800,000-plus primary and middle school kids in the city’s public schools. Of course, such a proposal is costly ($380 million a year, according to this piece in Time) and the program faced opposition from Conservative members of council, including the mayor. (There was even a brawl in council chambers over the issue!)

As I’ve argued many times before, of course, I think the economic and social benefits of school lunch are vast and far-reaching in better health and school performance, among other things. Seems citizens of Seoul agreed (though voter turnout was low) and the universal free school lunch program was passed. The mayor resigned in frustration.

I hope kids and teachers in South Korea feel as strongly as some of their policy makers and I do about the positive impact of school lunch (no brawling, please!). And I look forward to hearing what they think about the lovely hardcover, brand-spanking new Korean version of my book!

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They like it!

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 6.01.39 PMFor a writer, there’s  nothing better than hearing from a reader that they liked your book. So when I heard that a whole bunch of readers—kid readers—decided to name What’s for Lunch? their favourite English nonfiction book of the year, I was pretty excited.

Seems the librarians and students in the Riverside School Board in Quebec, near Montreal, started a new literary prize to (in their words) “promote Canadian literary culture and nurture a love of reading.” They call it Riverside Sparks and I am delighted and honoured to be one of the first recipients of this new annual award.

I am especially pleased because I know what tough critics kids can be—not to mention the notion that I might have a small part in nurturing a love of reading (one of my favourite projects). I wrote What’s for Lunch? hoping that reading about what other kids are doing would inspire children to take charge of their school lunch and the food system. Now these kids are inspiring me!

What’s for Lunch? will be available in all Riverside schools next year.

The book has also been recently recognized with the Stepping Stones Honor Award, given by the multicultural magazine of the same name. The award is intended to “promote respect for the ecological richness and cultural diversity of the world.”  And What’s for Lunch? is a longlist nominee for the 2013 Information Book Award from the Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada.

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FREE teacher’s resources

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.

cafeteria-tray.pngBut 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!

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On the blog roll

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.

final WFL coverJust 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.

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The global kitchen

A chilly view from the high line

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.

our global kitchenCurated 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.)

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Garden variety politics

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.

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What’s on The Lunch Tray?

Bettina Elias Siegel is a former lawyer, writer and host at the must-read American blog about kids and food (“in school and out”) called The Lunch Tray. She has been a fearless crusader for healthier school meals for several years, and was the brains behind the successful petition to the USDA to get rid of pink slime (fatty beef trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide and added as filler to ground beef—yuck!) in the meat served in American schools.

I always enjoy her smart and nuanced writing and thinking about kids and food issues—especially her unapologetic defense of equity in the cafeteria—but I also appreciate that she sometimes blogs about what she’s feeding her family. School food is that kind of issue: the personal really is political.

So, of course, I was honoured and delighted when Bettina asked to interview me about What’s for Lunch? Here’s an excerpt from the Q &A after the jump. To read the whole thing, please visit The Lunch Tray. In fact, visit The Lunch Tray anyway.

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Writing for children: an education

(The nice people at 49th Shelf asked me to contribute a blog post for the site, and I decided to write about the experience of publishing my first book aimed at kids. Here’s a excerpt. You can read the whole thing here.)  

 

The spot where I stare idly at my computer (or at the street below)

Like many people who have children and also write for a living, I’ve long imagined writing something that my own kids would read (and, I dared to hope, enjoy). I know they suspect I sit and stare idly at my computer screen all day long, so tangible evidence of my labour in a medium they could appreciate would be welcome. I’ve been doing this for too long to think writing a book—for children or anyone else—would actually be easy, but I did venture to hope that a kids’ book would take less time and be different in intensity from writing for adults. Kind of like hitting the refresh button between other projects.

I was wrong on almost all counts. Writing for children is hard. It’s intense. And depending on what it is you’re writing, can take just as long as any adult book.

My idea with What’s for Lunch? was to use the lens of school lunch around the world as a way to look at the complexity of the international food system. I would take this common experience kids have all over the world and through it explore tough global issues like poverty, hunger, the obesity epidemic, sustainable agriculture and fast food culture. I knew it would require a light touch, a sense of fun and careful use of language and ideas. I knew, too, that I’d have to do a lot of research. But what I found was that culling that research and bringing it into focus for children was a task requiring not just the steak knife I’m accustomed to using to make cuts, but also a machete. I would cut and filter, then cut and filter some more—honing the research down to the barest of bones, as precise and relevant as possible.

I learned, too, that the ability to move between fun anecdote and big concept is a tightrope—lean one way and the book becomes dull; the other and it’s a wackadoodle circus that fails to touch on the important issues. Add to that the fact that children’s authors need to have carefully tuned antennae for cultural bias (do the French really love stinky cheese or is that just a Gallophobe stereotype?), and the tightrope grows ever more tricky.

But even while trying to negotiate this new balancing act, there was one thing that turned out as I hoped.  Writing for children did indeed act as a mental refresh button for me—as both writer and parent. It forced me to think more carefully about what we expect of children as readers and learners. I began to realize more fully how we often fail to give kids the credit they deserve for being wise and insightful, able to grasp multiple levels of an idea at the same time.

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School lunch matters

With the recent publication of What’s for Lunch? I’ve been talking a lot about the potential for school lunch to transform schools and communities. I thought I’d try to express some of those possibilities in an easy-to-digest infographic ready for sharing. Please feel free to share, and let others know about the power of food.

Many thanks to Oliver Sutherns who designed and stick-handled the infographic from idea to reality!

Embed this image on your site:

<a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/"><img src="http://unpackingschoollunch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/school-lunch-infographic1.jpg" alt="School Lunch Matters Infographic" border="0" /></a><br />Brought to you by <a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com">Andrea Curtis</a>

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Under-cover: how book design happens

Daniel Choi is the talented young designer at Fitzhenry & Whiteside who came up with the cover concept for What’s for Lunch? I also just learned he’s a food blogger and an enthusiastic cook—the perfect person to design this book cover! I asked him a few questions about his process and he graciously answered them here.

Question: How do you start thinking about a book’s cover?

Daniel: After reading a book, I have a surge of concepts in my head that I want to get down on paper. I usually do up thumbnails and translate the ones I like into Photoshop. From there, I let my creative side take it away.

Q: What did you think about cover-wise when you first read What’s for Lunch?

Daniel: The first thing that I imagined for WFL was a lunch tray with different kinds of foods. I wanted to give the sense of choice and at the same time I wanted to show something that you wouldn’t necessarily see in your traditional lunch box.

This was one of the first designs Daniel came up with. He really wanted to use Sophie Casson’s beautiful illustrations from the book in the cover.

Q: What challenges were presented by WFL with its many constituent parts—ie. 13 different countries, miniprofiles, photo and illustration? How did you try to deal with this?

Daniel: Choosing the right image to represent the book was the most difficult part. I had such good photography to work with (by Yvonne Duivenvoorden) and wonderful illustrations (by Sophie Casson) that it was hard to pin down a single image to sum it all up. I narrowed it down by thinking about what each culture has in common: a neutral food like rice, a type of meat or even the way the food is served.

Still working with multiple images and the lunch tray concept, Daniel thought this ended up feeling too left-heavy and needed more balance. (Plus there’s a typo!)

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