We wound down a productive summer in the school garden a few weeks back with a Harvest Potluck and celebration that included fun activities like making the scarecrow above, potato and apple prints, mulching the trees and a scavenger hunt. We’d hoped to eat outside beside our still growing vegetable patch, but threat of rain had us setting up in the school gym at tables we’d dressed with kraft paper and white tablecloths, gourds and crayons.
To add to the incredible spread of goodies provided by families (plus corn and cider purchased by the school), our outstanding French/library teacher and garden advocate worked with kids in class to make roasted carrots, kale salad, beet hummus and “smashed” potatoes using garden veggies (with a little help from the farmers’ market!). We’d planned for about 100 people to turn out, and were shocked and thrilled when some 400 people from our school community filled the gym and hallways. There was some minor panic about long lines for the food and not enough seating but nothing a few hastily erected tables and a tray of warm cider and beet hummus offered to those in line didn’t resolve.
The highlight of the evening for me was when the kids brought down the house with a song about the garden they’d been practising all week long with that same French teacher. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only adult in the crowd dabbing at my eyes. The song and the entire evening showed all of us how the garden has become such an essential part of our school community—a place the kids take pride in tending, a place for both learning and celebrating, a place not just for food but for connecting with others.
(Photos by Andrea Curtis)
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.
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!
For 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.
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?