Category: education

Food films for your consideration

King Korn: You Are What You Eat

Photo by Flickr user elycefeliz,used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Wondering what to stream online, check out from the library, or rent at your local video store?

Thanks to HuffPost, I discovered a list of “26 Films Every Food Activist Must Watch,” compiled by Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Work.

The films include modern classics like King Corn, others still in production—like Food Chains, whose Kickstarter campaign I contributed to—and a number of movies I hadn’t heard of.

As they describe,

Food Tank has selected 26 films — both long and short — to share with you. From the importance of land rights for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to the insidious dominance of fast food in an urban community in California, each of these films can inform and inspire eaters all over the world.

For the full list with links and brief descriptions of each film, head to Food Tank’s website. Happy viewing!

Support independent reporting on the food system before time runs out!

A snapshot of the Civil Eats Kickstarter campaign as of 3 pm on Oct 17.

A snapshot of the Civil Eats Kickstarter campaign as of 2:57 pm CT on Oct 17.

I mentioned it in an earlier post, but it’s well worth giving it one more shout-out: The folks at Civil Eats are trying to raise $100K to support the fantastic work that they do. As they describe at Kickstarter,

Founded in January 2009, Civil Eats is a community resource that brings together over 100 contributors as active participants in the evolving “food movement” landscape–from Capitol Hill to Main Street.

Until now, Civil Eats has been entirely a labor of love. We have never paid ourselves, or any of our writers. Now, with your help, we’d like to take the site to the next level and make it more sustainable. If we don’t fund Civil Eats by the end of this year, it could be forced to shutter its doors.

We are seeking funding to shift Civil Eats from an all-volunteer effort to a professional enterprise in 2014 in order to produce more in-depth, original reporting and visually engaging content by paying our writers and editors a fair wage. This campaign will specifically help us create content over the next year.

In addition, funding will help us maintain our site in 2014 so that we can continue to produce some of the most groundbreaking and informative news on food today.

As of this writing, backers have pledged more than 80% of the goal. But, in keeping with the Kickstarter model, this is an all-or-none proposition, and the “project will only be funded if at least $100,000 is pledged by Friday Oct 18, 7:51pm EDT.”

So, I encourage you to head to head to Kickstarter right now and make a pledge in whatever amount you can afford. I sincerely hope they make their goal. I wouldn’t mind getting that tote bag thank-you gift for my pledge, but more than anything, I really would love for Civil Eats to flourish. Please contribute if you can, and help spread the word!

Farmers grow at CALS

Photo by TooFarNorth (Karyn Christner) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

“Growing Future Farmers,” a highly informative piece by Erik Ness for the UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), describes the challenges of finding and preparing a new generation of farmers, as well as the CALS programs that are helping to confront those challenges. One of my favorite sections is the following:

“Since 1995 [Dick] Cates has run the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers, a hands-on seminar series conducted as a joint program of the Farm and Industry Short Course and CIAS [the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems]. By focusing on business planning and pasture-based management, the school provides an accessible and sound financial approach for the beginning farmer.

“One key for new farmers, says Cates, is managed grazing. In a typical confinement feed operation you have to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry and store the feed. Then you have to take it out of storage, feed the cows, and remove and distribute the manure. It takes a lot of labor, equipment and fuel.

“Grazing advocates like to joke they hire the cows to do all that. By providing a lower capital approach, grazing allows for a farm that can reasonably be owned by a family just starting out. ‘Your business is turning sunshine into grass into milk or meat,’ says Cates. ‘You can make it as complicated as you want, but those are the essentials.'”

Among other educational programs, the story describes a new formal apprenticeship aimed at promoting managed grazing and another that seeks to help farm families with generational transfer, a process that can be difficult in the modern era. The piece also touches on the topic of urban food deserts, describing federally funded research efforts at CALS “to analyze urban food systems to identify local innovations in food production and distribution—and then expand local production.”

It’s a somewhat lengthy article but well worth the read, so check it out here.


The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on March 2, 2012.

Bringing the farm to the school cafeteria and classroom

Radish Girls

Photo by Suzie’s Farm via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Joan Fischer recently had a nice piece in grow, the magazine of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). In it, she examines many of the challenges and successes of efforts to bring fresh, local produce into schools. For example, she notes that

Children at schools with Farm to School programs consumed 40 percent more fruits and vegetables than kids at schools just starting Farm to School. Moreover, students in schools with several years of Farm to School programs were more likely to choose a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.

And Wisconsin kids need that help. Nearly a fourth of high school students are overweight or obese. “Many children consume diets in which more than 25 percent of their energy comes from sugar, and one in three high school students consumes fruit or vegetables less than once per day,” notes [CALS nutritional sciences professor Dale] Schoeller. “This diet pattern is associated with excess weight gain. A change in the diet pattern is needed, and one place to start that change is in school meal programs.”

His study of Farm to School has made him a believer in the program not as a magic bullet but as part of a long-term strategy toward better eating habits.

“This is something that needs to be done more broadly and year after year,” Schoeller says. “It’s not like getting an inoculation—something that you do once and it lasts for years. It has to be constantly reinforced until it becomes an ingrained behavior.”

Find the full article here. For more on school lunches, check out some of my earlier posts here, here, and here.

Reclaiming food-marketing tricks from the dark side


Photo by USDAgov via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yesterday NPR’s food blog, The Salt, featured a piece from Kevin Charles Redmon that reported the results of a recent scientific study on how small changes in the school lunchroom can nudge students to make healthier choices. Redmon writes,

A minor lunchroom makeover could make a big difference, says Andrew Hanks, a behavioral economist at Cornell University.

In a study published online by The Journal of Pediatrics, Hanks and his colleagues David Just and Brian Wansink, at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, demonstrate that small, simple changes in presentation and layout can have a large impact on how — and what — students eat.

Wheel the salad bar into a high-traffic area, for example, and place an attractive fruit basket next to the register. Stock juice popsicles alongside ice cream in the freezer, and have the cafeteria staff gently “up-sell” fruits and vegetables – for example, by asking, “Would you like to try an apple?”

“The whole premise behind this is that, as consumers, we have behavioral biases that lead us to make certain decisions,” Hanks tells The Salt. “If a food is more convenient to reach in a lunch line or store, “we’ll probably take that over a close substitute. If the cookies are easier to reach than the apple, you’re probably going to take the cookie.”

It’s a tantalizing idea, turning techniques of processed-food makers and marketers into tools for positive social change. Check out Redmon’s article for the details and links. Also check out a related video from one of the study’s collaborators here.

The post reminded me of the closing section of Michael Moss’s great piece in The New York Times Magazine, based on his book Salt Sugar Fat (both of which I blogged about here and here). As Moss wrote in the NYT:

When I met with [Jeffrey] Dunn, he told me not just about his years at Coke but also about his new marketing venture. In April 2010, he met with three executives from Madison Dearborn Partners, a private-equity firm based in Chicago with a wide-ranging portfolio of investments. They recently hired Dunn to run one of their newest acquisitions — a food producer in the San Joaquin Valley. As they sat in the hotel’s meeting room, the men listened to Dunn’s marketing pitch. He talked about giving the product a personality that was bold and irreverent, conveying the idea that this was the ultimate snack food. He went into detail on how he would target a special segment of the 146 million Americans who are regular snackers — mothers, children, young professionals — people, he said, who “keep their snacking ritual fresh by trying a new food product when it catches their attention.”

He explained how he would deploy strategic storytelling in the ad campaign for this snack, using a key phrase that had been developed with much calculation: “Eat ’Em Like Junk Food.” …

The snack that Dunn was proposing to sell: carrots. Plain, fresh carrots. No added sugar. No creamy sauce or dips. No salt. Just baby carrots, washed, bagged, then sold into the deadly dull produce aisle.

“We act like a snack, not a vegetable,” he told the investors. “We exploit the rules of junk food to fuel the baby-carrot conversation. We are pro-junk-food behavior but anti-junk-food establishment.”

Yes, Luke, The Force is strong in you!

If a school garden isn’t ambitious enough, how about aquaponics?

Photo of aquaponics irrigation at Growing Power by Organic Nation (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nancy Stohs of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently reported on an innovative new program at an exurban Milwaukee high school.

As she notes at the outset of her article,

The greenhouse at Waukesha West High School was built with the school in 1992. But it was never really used.

Teachers kept some plants there, but it was basically a storage room.

That all changed [January 4], when 300 tiny, 1- to 2-inch-long tilapia were ceremoniously dropped into a newly built 500-gallon tank in the renovated room at the back of the school.

If all goes well, those fish will grow to skillet-ready 1 ½-pounders in nine to 12 months, and multilevel growing beds connected to the tank will produce successful crops of vegetables.

For more, check out the full story here.

Then, like the Waukesha West faculty, find some inspiration in Will Allen’s Growing Power by, for example, heading here.

Bite! Considering the connections between people and food

University Hall at Ohio Wesleyan University. Photo by OZinOH via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

My undergrad alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University, is “examining the mutually transformative relationship between people and food.” The best thing about the semester-long speaker series—aside from its snappy title, “Bite!”—is that many of the panel discussions and lectures are being recorded and posted to YouTube for all to view.

For a sense of the range of topics covered, check out this list of recent and upcoming events:

  • Monday, September 17
    Florence Reed, President and Founder of Sustainable Harvest International
    Sustainable Farming for Food Security
  • Wednesday, September 26
    Dr. Sinan Koont, Associate Professor of Economics, Dickinson College
    Cuba Embraces Agro-Ecology
  • Monday, October 1
    Dr. Anjali Bhatia, Department of Sociology, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Dehli
    Constitution of Childhood and Youth in Fast Food Eating Out Culture: Global-Local Dynamics in India
  • Monday, October 8
    Kelly Klein, Researcher, Monsanto Company
    A Look at Midwestern Commercial Farming and How Monsanto Company’s Seed Business Contributes to Agriculture
  • Wednesday, October 10
    Jeni Britton Bauer (Owner and Founder, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams), Warren Taylor (Owner and Founder, Snowville Creamery), Michael Jones (Executive Director and Co-Founder of Local Matters), and Ben Sippel (Sippel Family Farm).
    Moderated by Tricia Wheeler (Publisher and Editor -in-Chief, Edible Columbus Magazine).
    Panel Discussion – Making Local Work in Ohio: Production, Promotion, and Entrepreneurship in the Local Food System
  • Tuesday, October 30
    Dr. Abram Kaplan, Artist & Associate Professor Environmental Studies, Denison University
    What You See is What You Get: Getting the Picture of Food and Art
  • Thursday, November 1
    Avesta Saaty, Chef
    Kurdish Roots: The Role of Food in Keeping Cultural Traditions Alive When a Nation Has No Country to Call Its Own
  • Friday, November 2
    Ben Hewitt, Author, Small-Scale Farmer
    The Future’s In the Dirt: Digging Into Regional Food Systems and Their Potential to Restore Economies, Communities, Environment, and Health
  • Tuesday, November 6
    Dr. Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition 
Chair, Department of Nutrition, Harvard University
    Diet and Health: A Progress Report
  • Wednesday, November 14
    Dr. Fabio Parasecoli, Associate Professor, Coordinator Food Studies, The New School for Public Engagement, New York
    Food, Film, and Cultural Citizenship

Head here for archived videos, and head to the main Bite! webpage for additional info like speaker bios and more.