Tag Archives: community kitchens

Teaching food literacy

When you’re deeply immersed in a subject, it can sometimes seem as if everything is connected to it. I remember when I was writing my first book, Into the Blue, and every conversation I had seemed to be somehow related to the themes I was exploring. It was thrilling—a kind of revelation, as if the apparently diffuse world of ideas had somehow—conveniently—coalesced around my interests. Of course, it wasn’t exactly true in a global sense, just true for me at that time.

Right now, I’m in the middle of writing another (adult) book about food and food politics—my second book about food in 2 years—and once again it seems to me as if the ideas and themes I’m so engaged in thinking about are everywhere. So when I was asked to show how my book, What’s for Lunch? can be used as a curricular resource in Ontario schools, all I could think was how the ideas in it are connected to everything.

I don’t think I’m completely off-base, though. Food, after all, is the great connector. What you eat is directly related to your health and the health of the planet. Food is the biggest industry on earth—growing, packaging, selling, etc.— so, naturally, it’s connected to the economy, the environment and social justice.

There are endless ways that creative educators can involve food (and, of course, What’s for Lunch?!) in their curriculum. In fact, more and more people (check out FoodShare’s Meredith Hayes’ CBC interview on the subject here) are calling for “fooderacy” to become an explicit part of the school system. After all, with obesity rates rising among young people, and diet-related health problems exploding, you could argue it’s essential to the well-being of our country.

The Stop Community Food Centre has recently produced a fabulous guidebook—the basis of its Grade 5 sustainable food systems workshops—and made it available to teachers and anyone else who needs help integrating food into their curriculum.

The book was originally designed as a take-away for the Grade 5 teachers who bring their kids to The Stop’s incredible Green Barn. But it will be an excellent resource for any teacher (in Canada or elsewhere) who’s interested in developing programs around food issues. It is especially good on that hardest of subjects: how food is connected to social justice. Divided into five units, it includes suggested activities, resources and personal stories. You can request a copy of the guide by emailing general@thestop.org

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Filed under Kids and food, School gardens, School lunch

Growing chefs

One of the food predictions for 2011 I highlighted back in January was the suggestion that professional chefs would get involved in school lunch—and bring children back into the kitchen. Of course, this makes it sound as if chefs haven’t been doing this all along, which is simply not true.

In Vancouver, in fact, an organization called Growing Chefs—in which volunteer chefs are paired with elementary school classrooms—has been running since 2005.

Growing Chefs has a two-part mandate: to promote urban agriculture; and to connect kids and chefs to encourage a sustainable food system. What this means in practice is that the volunteer chefs go into the classroom over a three month period, first helping the kids grow indoor veggie gardens, then engaging them with games and activities about sustainability and nutrition, and, finally, heading into the kitchen to create delicious meals from the food they’ve grown.

The Growing Chefs site also has smart resources for growing food indoors, recipes and ideas for fun food experiments—a great way to turn little people into little chefs.

Check out "The Little Chef," a short film about small but mighty chefs and the lengths to which they'll go for carrots

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Filed under Kids and food, School gardens, School lunch

Slowing down

Day 3 of Do the Math

I thought this was going to be easier. After all, I come from a long line of frugal cooks. My paternal grandmother studied “home economics” in the 1920s, and was known to not only save small sandwich bags (the precursor to the ziploc, which she washed and hung on the line to dry), but pretty much everything else. Once, when she was looking after my brother and me while my parents were away, I  found a bowl of soggy milk-covered granola in the fridge that one of us had failed to finish—she was saving it for later. My own mother is also a master of making something out of nothing in the kitchen— I grew up on powdered skim milk and creative combinations of whatever was in the fridge served with her inimitable style.

Attempting to plug into this ancestry this week, I’ve been trying to get creative with what we were offered in the hamper, but as the days go by, it’s getting more and more difficult. Not only is our food running out, leaving us with little to get creative with, it’s incredibly monotonous (some more potatoes with your potatoes? More KD? I thought you’d never ask!).

It turns out, this isn’t easy at all.

And it isn’t about being creative or frugal. (I can’t imagine even my mother could find a way to make what we have left in our hamper interesting, tasting or, frankly, nourishing. It’s just bits and pieces, leftovers, scraps. An onion, a can of Spagghetios, a bag of those infernal apple chips.)

Lunch: "enriched macaroni product" with HFCS, enzyme-modified cheddar cheese, and MORE! Ready in 2 minutes!

This is about inadequate social assistance rates that leave thousands of our fellow citizens hungry and undernourished. This is about the lack of dignity accorded to the poor in our society. This is about shortsightedness: when someone is forced to rely consistently on the kind of food we’ve been eating this week they are likely to have health problems associated with their diet, and we all pay for that at some point (in lost productivity, in health care costs, in social disintegration).

I’m sick of the food and the little niggling headache and the stomache pains I seem to develop everyday around 3 p.m.

My husband, on the other hand, enjoyed a delicious lunch today at The Stop‘s drop-in program (something all Do the Math participants are encouraged to do):

Cheese and potato Kugel; lentils with broccoli and cauliflower; salad greens from The Stop's Green Barn greenhouse; Ace Bakery bun.

I don’t even resent him his greens (and cheese, glorious cheese!) because seeing this food just makes it more clear to me how vital programs like this drop-in lunch are for people struggling with poverty and living on social assistance. These meals at The Stop, made with love, skill and passion by trained chefs and a dedicated volunteer crew, are like a waving flag of health and dignity. They are not just delicious and healthful, they are a signal to people who use The Stop that they matter, that their health matters, that they are more than their poverty, more than their circumstances. It’s a lot of freight for a lunch to carry but according to Nick, today at least, it did its considerable job—and more.

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