Sunday, May 19, 2013

Join the Revolution - the Food Revolution!

I was asked to take part in the Dallas area's Food Revolution Day with the DFW Truck Farm co-founder and Food Revolution Day Ambassador, Donelle Simmons, over at the Texas Discovery Gardens this week on Friday. We were slated to give "real food" pep talks to invitees who came to have a real food picnic with us. The event is a spin off of the Jamie Oliver New Food Revolution show that aired a few years back where he tried to convert a school system's lunch program into something healthy, and frankly, more edible.

Well.... totally unexpected to us, a school group came up to sit at the picnic table area. I asked if they were there for the event and all looked at each other and shook their heads. Clearly, they were just on a field trip and sitting down to eat before continuing on. Several of the kids had no lunches with them though, and when I asked why not, they said that they "didn't like the school's food" with a not so shy about it look on their faces and tone in their voices. I didn't get the name of the school they were from, but it seems to be a pretty universal consensus with many school children. I just watched the film Cafeteria Man last week about another brave chef's attempt to battle the red tape of a school system's bureaucracy. 

photo by Donelle Simmons

Well then, I said to myself - I have some real food right here! I asked if they liked carrots - and they said yes, but looked at my purple heirloom carrots with a puzzled expression. So, I cut up the carrots I had brought for lunch, which revealed their orange insides and a sigh of relief (or was that confusion?), and offered to share them with the kids. I also had a few freshly picked green beans and asked if anyone had ever eaten beans fresh off the vine before. No one had, but a few quickly took me up on my offer to taste them. One by one my purple carrots were being cut up into bite sized pieces and devoured. Donelle seeing the opportunity, too, brought out some of the samples from the basket of veggies she'd picked for the event, including radishes, kohlrabi, a young garlic plant, and some broccoli. We talked about each vegetable and possible uses for them, how to enjoy them without "ranch" and why (have you ever tried to pronounce all of the ingredients on that bottle?), and the fact that you can actually use the tops of the carrots about the same way you would use parsley or to make a tasty pesto. "Really?!"

They taste tested everything we put out in front of them. It was awesome! They even conducted blind side- by-side taste tests between the purple and yellow heirloom carrots we had brought versus the little orange carrot nubs someone had from their school lunch. Hands down - the nubs were deemed "nasty"! (Their words, not mine.) Everyone agreed that the heirloom carrots tasted much better than the school issued packaged carrots - even though "baby carrots" are supposedly specifically bred to have a higher brix (sugar) rating to appeal to more people, specifically, kids.

As we were cutting things up and just sitting there talking veggies and gardening, one of the girls exclaimed "This is the best lunch I've ever had.", and I nearly cried tears of bittersweet. If I had even a thought that there would be kids there without a lunch, I'd have brought a whole bag of carrots and beans to share. All they had eaten was one little bunch of carrots and a handful of green beans, with that chopped up assortment of other things that couldn't have amounted to much of a snack for one person, much less a full meal for anyone. Anyway, Donelle and Marilyn, her mother and partner in the DFW Truck Farm, and I all agreed we could not have planned this much better - other than to have brought more food - and that this type of exchange was what the Food Revolution was all about.

The ladies that had come out specifically for the RFR event shared stories of their own food quests, gardening experiences and a few had direct contact with school kids and the "system" that doesn't seem to understand the important connection between education and nutrition. We all agreed that gardening should be part of every school's curriculum along with some basic home ec and industrial arts. Like "back in the day" when I was in school up north, and we walked uphill both ways in 2 feet of snow..... Junior High school included a semester of each class. At least when we left we knew some basic sewing (buttons, simple machine work) and how to do some basic cooking - besides putting something in a microwave oven - of which didn't exist when I was in school. And in wood shop, we made cutting boards - oh my, of WOOD? Yep - back in the day when a wood cutting board wasn't evil.

Our kids are missing out on an important link in our very survival. Sure there will always be a 24-hour drive-in window open somewhere. But those girls who were sharing a table with me the other day were just as happy to snack on some real food - and rather chose to eat nothing, than what they felt was inedible school lunches. That speaks volumes, because if they're not exposed to fast food or highly processed food, and rather are raised on real, fresh, flavorful foods, their palates won't develop for the other and their more likely to turn to it less often - if ever! I'm sure fast food chain and pharmaceutical company owners and investors don't want to hear that, but if we don't do something to break the chain of childhood diseases caused by the "nasty" food we're feeding this and future generations, we're going to have a lot more sickly people on our hands to take care of in a few decades. Don't they deserve better?

Group of grade school students experiencing real food!
Make it known through your PTA and school boards that your kids deserve to eat at least as well as the teachers and administrative staff do. Would they eat in the kids' cafeteria? If not, why not? And if not, how can that be changed? Why can't they incorporate at least some of the school grounds into a working garden? If Paul Quinn College can rip up their football field to do it, so can a grade school eliminate "lawn" somewhere kids aren't using it to play on. Take a note from Mark Painter's local school garden area over at Stonewall Jackson where the community funds much of this program - outside of the school's budget. Or check out any one in a number of the Edible Schoolyard projects around the country. There's no reason - no excuse - not to do this in every single school across the country. Start one in yours.

Eat Real Food - Naturally!

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