Tag Archives: the family table

A trip around the blogosphere

I’m weirdly tickled by the idea of a blog tour. I know it’s old hat for most people but the idea of a virtual book tour, stopping in at various blogs, seeing the “sites,” chatting with new people, amuses and delights me. I picture myself like some steampunk traveller floating around in a hot-air balloon in an empty sky, then dropping down every once in a while to chat with a blogger who must hold tight onto the ropes, then release us the next day into the wild blue yonder (hopefully with a few new readers along for the ride!).

This week, my coauthor Nick Saul and I are off on that magical mystery tour, dropping in at various literary hotspots along the way. We are so grateful for their hospitality!

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First stop is Lost in a Great Book.  Jenn, who hails from the Creemore, ON, area, asked us some great questions about The Stop, the book and the future of Community Food Centres in Canada.

On day two, we meet the lovely Char from The Literary Word, who filled the book with post-it notes and called it “a highly addictive and wonderfully informative read.”

On day three, we stop in at Pickle Me This, the stomping grounds of writer,  editor and longtime blogger Kerry Clare. She said “The Stop is a fantastic story well told, compelling to read, and it will inspire readers to reconsider their relationships with both the food they eat and the people they live amidst.”

Day four is a stop at That Tall Girl Loves Books (this short one, too!).  Carrie did a Q&A with Nick and me, and asked us smart questions about Jamie Oliver, ideological versus logistical challenges and more. She called the book “a fantastic read. It was interesting, informative, and inspirational. Reading accounts of how everyday people made such profound changes and impacts certainly does make me want to get more involved.”

The last stop is Serendipitous Reading where Marci writes: “I urge everyone to go out and get this book. Not just because you have to but because you want to make change in your own communities….Get stubborn, get active and make your city or town better not worse.”

If you haven’t already, check out the fabulous animation CFCC produced to tell its story about the power of food.

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Growing good neighbours

This week, Crave, a web site focusing on food and health-related books, asked us to blog about our book, The Stop: How Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement coming out next week. Nick Saul and I decided to write about our experience planting a veggie patch on our city lawn—and some personal discoveries about the power of food.

urban gardenHere’s a taste of the blog post. To read the whole thing, check out Crave.

When we decided to build a raised bed vegetable garden on our small downtown Toronto front yard a few years ago, we thought mostly about the delicious tomatoes, peppers and fresh herbs we’d enjoy come harvest time. We ordered fresh soil, built a simple structure using 2x6s and some brackets and shopped for seeds at farmers’ markets. But the day the soil arrived, it was clear the harvest was the least of the pleasures involved in growing food in the city.

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Interview with Sweet Potato Chronicles

A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Ceri Marsh, one of the smart women behind Sweet Potato Chronicles, a funny, useful and great-looking website devoted to the family meal. SPC offers recipes, product reviews, ideas for how to get your kids eating healthily and one of my favourite regular features: “What’s so great about…?” (sage, bay leaves, coffee, pumpkin, etc.). Ceri asked such good questions, I wanted to include a few of them here. For the complete interview, follow the link.

Q: What do you want kids to learn about the world from What’s For Lunch?

A: I hope that children who read (or flip through!) the book will see both their differences and similarities to other kids around the world. I hope they’ll recognize the way that food connects us all. I also hope they’ll read about the kids who are taking charge of what they eat at their schools and in their homes—demanding healthy sustainably grown food, asking questions about how it’s produced and by whom—and see that they can also make a difference.

Q: How important is it for kids to have some control/input in their own meals?

A: I’ve been working with our school garden for a few years now and have seen first-hand how kids who weren’t willing to try a new vegetable (or any veg at all!) ended up eating kale pesto simply because they grew the kale themselves. And I love my own son’s enthusiasm about the knobbly little carrots and bitsy peppers we grow in our tiny urban patch. There’s no question when children have an opportunity to grow, cook, prepare or even just get involved in choosing their food, they take more chances and will eat more healthily. But it’s also more than that: when paired with talk about what all this means (to the planet and their own bodies, for instance) they start to see that even in this small way, their personal choices can have a big impact on their world.

Q: Why do you think there is such a strong interest now in what kids eat at school? Is it the Jamie Oliver effect or is there more to it?

A: There’s no question Jamie Oliver has had a huge impact on the school lunch world. But I think that the interest in school lunch is part of a more widespread engagement in food issues. You can’t turn on your computer or open a newspaper without reading about food safety scares, environmental degradation caused by factory farming, escalating food prices, small-scale farmers leaving the land because they can’t make a living, the obesity crisis. People are starting to understand that the industrial system we’ve established over the course of the last few generations is not sustainable. Interest in school lunch and talking about food with children is part of this. If we can teach our children about food and how it’s connected to all these things they care about (their environment, their health, their community and culture) they might actually have a fighting chance of truly changing this system for the better.

Q: How hard or easy is it for parents to get more involved with the issues of food in schools? I just learned my 5 year old is being given chocolate milk for a snack at her Toronto public school. What the heck?

A: It took me a long time to figure out where I fit into my kids’ school as a parent—whether it’s about academic issues, food or volunteering my time. Nobody wants to be that guy when it comes to the teachers, other parents or administrators, marching in and wagging your finger about bake sales or insisting on whole-grain pizza dough on pizza day. But parents are key participants in the school system and we need to be both clear and respectful talking to schools about our expectations, hopes and concerns. Chocolate milk might be okay as a special treat, but serving it to 5 year olds every day doesn’t sound right at all. There was a huge debate about serving chocolate milk in schools in the US last year. Chef Ann Cooper, a key school meal activist otherwise known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, calls it “sugary soda in drag.” I think schools need to think carefully about the mixed messages they send children when they talk about healthy eating in class (the food groups, nutrients, etc.) and then urge them to sell cookie dough or chocolate bars to raise money or offer them processed food or sugary drinks as incentives or snacks.

For more from the Sweet Potato Chronicles interview, click here.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School gardens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

A garden of selective amnesia

My veggie garden has been a challenge this year. The daily cat turd removal cast a poopy pall over the proceedings, and, frankly, I didn’t spend nearly enough time planning and thinking through what I’d like to grow. As a result, there are few of my favourite leafy greens and lots of tomatoes that are covered in powdery mildew. My arugula has some sort of spotty bug and the only green pepper that grew was stolen by a squirrel. I guess I’ve been lucky in years past having so few pests in my patch, and I’m now facing the reality that nature is a tough taskmistress.

Still, there are moments like eating the lunch below—with beans, cucumbers and lettuce from our garden—that conveniently make me forget all that. Mother Nature’s got her cat o’ nine tails, but I’ve got my fork.

{Photos by Andrea Curtis}

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Jam: a love story

Like many women, I am deeply ambivalent about domestic tasks. Raised by a working mother who would have spent her last $20 on a cleaner so she didn’t have to do the loathsome job of scrubbing toilets, devouring a steady diet of  feminist texts equating housework with servitude, I now vacillate wildly between enjoying things like cooking, gardening and family organizing and feeling oppressed by them. (Cleaning, I reserve for the wholely unambivalent category of Last Circle of Hell.)

But I put this all aside for making strawberry jam. When I was a kid, picking the berries (and gorging myself on them in the field) was the highlight of June. Eating the jam my mom and dad made from it was my favourite part of the day the rest of the year. Continue reading

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Changing food culture one kid at a time

This is the last part in a week-long conversation with Jeannie Marshall, author of the new book Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products.

For those of you who missed the last three parts in this series, please have a look at posts earlier in the week. Many thanks to Jeannie, who took the time to answer my questions so carefully and thoughtfully.

Today, Jeannie talks about how food culture is different in Canada and Italy and why you can’t buy community in the grocery store.

Q. Outside the Box is very much about the importance of food culture—something you’ve witnessed firsthand moving between Italy and Canada. You were recently in Canada— did you see any new evidence that Canadians are reclaiming or establishing a food culture here?

Jeannie Marshall: I was in Canada for part of April and I did see so many encouraging signs that communities are trying to build their own food cultures. The growth of farmers’ markets is a big example. People, like never before, want to know where there food comes from and they want to buy it from the producer. Industrial food production has distanced us from food for a long time, and things like farmers markets and community gardens are ways to reacquaint ourselves with the plants and animals that make up our diet. Also, farmers’ markets are sociable places. I managed to visit two while I was in Toronto and I loved them both. Of course, I had just left Rome where our farmers’ markets are full of lush green vegetables and in Toronto there were mainly root vegetables, but that reflects the reality of the growing season. I really enjoyed talking with people who were buying the ingredients for dinner and who readily explained to me how they had canned and frozen their own vegetables from the summer and fall to supplement what they could buy over the winter. Everyone was discussing with great longing and anticipation the spring peas and asparagus and what they will be doing with those later in the season. It also seemed that every restaurant I went to had a long story on the menu about the farms where their food was grown or raised. All of this is good – though, it does sometimes border on precious and I can see how that could be irritating to some.

I saw some children at the farmers’ markets, which is great, but many of them were wandering around eating the cookies and other home baked sweets, which is probably less great. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but maybe we could encourage the children to choose something for after lunch or dinner rather than letting them eat constantly.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Taking the guilt out of lunch (or dinner)

The family table in better times, photo by Andrea Curtis

The irony in the fact that I have just finished my second book related to healthy food (this one for adults—and my cowriter/husband and I are not really finished, we just submitted the first draft), while having nothing in the fridge to eat or feed our family is not lost on me. While in the throes of the final edits this past week, our family ate takeout pizza, Indian takeout, Portuguese chicken takeout and pancakes for dinner (twice). We were just too tired and preoccupied to cook. It wasn’t our finest hour at the family table.

But the truth is, struggling to get healthy food on the table every night is a reality for most families with working parents. It’s not easy to get a meal out (let alone lunch in the lunch bag) when you have no time to grocery shop or even think about the prep. (And I’m not even talking about the working families who can’t afford healthy food like we take for granted.) Luckily, life has returned to normal for us, and we’ll get back to our usual schedule and eat mostly from home this week, but I refuse to feel either self-righteous about our home-cooked meals or guilty about the rest of it.

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Filed under Kids and food, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

What’s for lunch? barbecued palm weevil larvae

Last night at dinner my seven-year-old son found a hair in his food. Cue disgust, laughter, barf sounds echoed around the table. Except the hair was mine. I’d just made dinner in a mad weeknight rush and forgotten to wear my hair net. Well, actually, I don’t ever wear a hair net, though there are some in these parts who wouldn’t mind if I did.

Now, I’m not thrilled to find hair in my food in a restaurant, but at home, it hardly seems to warrant the kind of revulsion it elicited around the family table.

Just wait until I start serving insects.

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Filed under Kids and food


For a long time, I didn’t buy or make Valentine’s cards for our kids to give out to their class. My eldest son didn’t care or ask for such things until he was older (and could do it on his own), and I always thought it was a bit silly. Why would a 5 year old send a love note to anyone but his family? And at our kids’ school, if you’re going to send a Valentine you have to send them to everyone in the class. I understand the premise (no one gets left out), but it’s always seemed like a bit of a landfill issue to me. What do you do with all those slips of paper covered in  Spiderman and Iron Man?

Our littler son, however, has been on me to do Valentine’s from his first year in kindergarten. He wants to send them and he wants to make them (bless his sweet, loving little heart). So I figure if they are going to go in the recycling bin, he may as well get a little fun out of it.  This year, we revived the lost art of the potato print. It’s not as easy as I recall to get a good print—could have been the washable paint we used—but it was fun to try. Made me think about all the good things that can come from playing with food. More on food art soon.

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The protein question

I’ve written before about my 12-year-old son who decided he’d become a vegetarian when he was 8. You have to hand it to the kid: he’s never wavered. Not for a pepperoni pizza, not for fresh smallmouth bass caught by his dad, not for gummy bears or marshmallows made with gelatin.

Luckily, he’s willing to try new things and genuinely likes beans and most vegetables. He’s even becoming interested in cooking—thanks, in large part, to the fact that his middle school has mandatory classes in cooking and baking, a rarity these days.

Lunch in a bowl: vegetarian soup for all reasons

And his decision has definitely had a huge impact on our family’s eating habits. The rest of us now eat meat only occasionally (maybe once a week), and rarely cook it at home. For the record, I don’t think everyone has to go veg, though, as most people have heard, there is growing evidence showing a plant-based diet is better for your health—not to mention the environment.

But all this growing awareness about eating less meat doesn’t stop everyone (and I mean everyone) from asking us worriedly how we get our growing (and athletic) child to eat enough protein. From now on, I will offer my standard “did you know broccoli is a great protein source?” and send them directly to Michele Simon’s scathing article: Protein propaganda: it’s what’s for dinner in Grist.

Simon points to the powerful meat lobby and its stranglehold on our collective food conscience. She argues: “One way to distract attention away from heart attacks and colon cancer is to conflate the idea of meat with a nutrient that we do in fact need: protein.”

Grist is doing an entire series called Protein Angst trying to break down the rhetoric about this incredibly controversial subject. I’ll definitely be watching it.

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Filed under Kids and food, School kitchens