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A reflection.

May 7, 2012

For the past few months I have been exploring the relationship between food and health as it presents itself at the FeelGood kiosk.  As the semester comes to a close, and FeelGood’s George Forman grills are set aside for the summer, I would like to reflect on the experience.

In the word cloud below, a depiction of the frequency with which words crop up on Cheddar and Change, several themes are apparent.

1) Grilled cheese: sandwiches, grilled, cheese, ingredients, bread, and cheddar.

2) People: members, customers, SGA (student government association), chef, friends, donors, and partnership.

3) Multidimensionality of health: mental, creativity, physical, education, beautiful, nutrition.

All three themes have been prevalent since the start of this adventure.  Grilled cheese I, of course, knew would come up quite a bit in an exploration of food and health at a vendor that exclusively sells cheesy sandwiches.  I anticipated  taking a look at this relationship among the different groups of people involved with FeelGood.

However, I did not expect to observe such a complex and multidimensional food-health connection at FeelGood as I did.  When I first started out, I looked for the obvious connection: nutrition.  However, I found that connection to not be very strong; and discovered that the connection extends far beyond issues of nutrition.

From my first post I explored other more complex connections including body image, stress management, cleanliness, and creativity.  Until recently, I was not consciously aware that I was establishing this multidimensional perspective of food and health at the FeelGood kiosk.

Then, at the end of March, I attended and blogged about the FeelGood Community Banquet.  At the event I had a realization.  FeelGood adopts a holistic definition of hunger.  That definition requires a holistic view of health; and one that encompasses many of the topics mentioned above that I had previously blogged about. All of the many aspects of health are wound up with food.

After that realization, I consciously considered the implications of behaviors involving food on many different aspects of health.  For instance, in my analysis of sandwich size and eating behavior, I considered not just how much we eat–physical health–but also how much we discard–environmental health.

I am grateful that I realized how many aspects of health are impacted by food.  It has shaped and will continue to shape how I look at food, both in the context of FeelGood and in my everyday life.

WP 5/8

Childhood obesity: Are school’s responsible?

April 27, 2012

Some Americans believe that schools shoulder a portion of the responsibility for childhood obesity.  Cafeterias sell a la carte snack items (chips, cookies, ice-cream sandwiches, etc.) and serve lunches which are, arguably, not nutritionally sound.  One USDA study found that kids consuming school lunch regularly were more likely to be overweight.  Additionally, those who blame schools for childhood obesity argue that nutrition and the ramifications of obesity need to be included in the academic program: what’s the point of training students to be excellent scientists if they will die young from a lifestyle-related disease?

I don’t buy it.  I don’t think it’s fair to hold schools responsible.

The National School Lunch Program–a program which subsidizes school lunches, providing them free of charge to those from low-income families and keeping them low-cost for all children–is a federal program.  If, as the USDA study suggests, school lunches are partially to blame for childhood obesity, the responsibility should be shouldered by the government and reform should be initiated there.  David Ludwig and Marion Nestle agree: they cite “establishing rigorous standards for nutrition at school” as one of the government’s key responsibilities.

Financially, change at the level of the school is unrealistic.  One healthy, whole foods-based lunch program has been successfully implemented at Abernethy Elementary School in Portland, OR.  The program ties together nutrition education, hands-on involvement for the students in the garden, and fresh, healthy meals.  The program has been a great success, but, it is a special case; it would be unlikely to work in many other schools.

The school operates on the same food budget as other schools participating in the National School Lunch Program: $1.12 to $1.20 per student.  The school’s chef admits that “given very limited time and USDA constraints, it is quite the feat to prepare the daily meal.”  This school is able to get around these challenges thanks to the voluntary help of many parents who work from home or are stay-at-home parents.  In a school district which includes more single-parent households and households in which both parents work demanding jobs, this program would likely not get off the ground.

Additionally, the sale of a la carte items oftentimes funds school activities such as field trips.  This presents a tradeoff.  What’s more important: eliminating snack foods or continuing field trips?

As I said before, responsibility for whatever degree (if any) of childhood obesity caused by school food ought to be shouldered by the government.  Outside of school, the responsibility of providing children with nutritious meals, teaching them good habits, and getting them active falls on their families.

That being said, schools certainly have an opportunity to help by implementing innovative lunch programs and incorporating healthy lifestyle education into their academic program.

WP 4/27

Weekday, weekend.

April 16, 2012

It is no secret that our eating habits change as the school week ends and the weekend begins.  A 2003 study funded by the USDA found that the consumption of fat, calories, and alcohol is, on average, higher Friday through Sunday than during the week.  Weekdays are structured while our weekend schedules are more variable, changing the timing of our meals.  Weekends often include social engagements–such as pizza night or creamees at the waterfront–that dictate our food choices.

Furthermore, for many, the weekend brings with it an alternative food mentality.  Several of my friends impose a dessert-only-on-the-weekends rule on themselves.  The Cheater’s Diet proposes taking the weekends off from healthy eating as a means of weight loss.

This pattern was evident at the FeelGood kiosk last week when we featured the ‘PB and Gender,’ a sandwich containing nutella, peanut butter, and banana slices.

I worked the same 12:45-1:45 shift at the kiosk on Wednesday and Friday and noticed a drastic difference in the orders of our customers between the two days.

On Wednesday I did not sell a single PB & Gender!  Customers claimed that it sounded “too sweet”, “too desserty”, and “like not a ‘real’ lunch.”  On Friday, they went gaga.

By Friday, any concerns over the standards of a ‘real’ lunch and any desire to make the perceived healthier choice went out the window.  The weekend had arrived.

FN 4/16

Happy National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day!

April 12, 2012

That’s right!  Today is Happy National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  I celebrated with this grilled ricotta, apple butter, spinach, and sprout sandwich on pumpernickel.  The flavor and texture combinations were outstanding.

How are you celebrating?  I suggest a grilled cheese for lunch.  And dinner.  And….dessert?  Perhaps a grilled cream cheese and jamwich?

Have a wonderful day and be sure to hop on over to New England Cheesemaking Supply Company‘s blog: FeelGood and I are featured today!

“Health” food: Inhibiting or enhancing culinary creativity?

April 8, 2012

Does cooking healthy meals, or grilling healthier sandwiches, limit our culinary creativity?  It’s a tough question to answer.  Nutritional standards are unclear and transient, and it is challenging to assess the relative healthfulness of foods.

Many characteristics influence the perceived health value of a food including its vitamin and mineral content, where and how it was grown or produced, and the presence or absence of controversial ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil, artificial sweeteners, and MSG.  The value placed on these factors varies from person to person: we all perceive a food’s healthfulness differently based on our own dietary goals.

However, certain value judgement can be made.  Few would argue that lard is healthier than spinach.

Restricting a chef to healthy foods certainly reduces her options.  Fewer ingredients=fewer possible combinations!  However, when the available ingredients are restricted, she must think out of the box.  Maybe, in providing that restriction, healthy cooking actually enhances culinary creativity?  I know that for me, becoming a vegetarian, and thus not cooking with meat products, significantly increased the creativity of my own endeavors in the kitchen!

At FeelGood’s fall retreat, two teams of members competed in an Iron Chef grilled cheese grill-off!  Each team used the same bread and cheese but were allowed to purchase “secret ingredients” from the Burlington Farmer’s Market.  While they were not strictly instructed to healthy secret ingredients, most of their options were quite healthy due to the vast amount of produce available at the Burlington Farmer’s Market in September.  Both teams created sandwiches that were delectable (I should know–I judged them!), creative, and….healthy!

White bean and basil hummus, pesto, heirloom tomatoes, and Shelburne Farms cheddar and Klinger’s Bakery multigrain wheat bread.

Caramelized onion hummus, apples, caramelized onions, cinnamon, and Shelburne Farms cheddar on Klinger’s sourdough.

The creativity of the iron chef competitors certainly did not seem to be inhibited by the absence of unhealthy ingredients.  But, who knows: perhaps they would have created even MORE creative sandwiches if additional fix-ins were made available.

FN 4/9

The Hunger Project National Leadership Conference [part 2]

April 6, 2012

Just joining? The Hunger Project National Leadership Conference [part 1]: Why THP investors rock!

Today I’d like to discuss The Hunger Project‘s newly established partnership with 1000 Days, which was introduced at the conference last weekend.  Here’s what the organization is all about.

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What:

1000 Days is a coalition of a hundred organizations working to improve nutrition worldwide by focusing on the critical first thousand days of a child’s life.

Why:

Malnutrition contributes to 1 in 3 deaths and kills 3.5 million children every year.

Malnutrition changes the architecture of a child’s brain, irreversibly stunting physical, cognitive, and emotional development.  Children who are malnourished early on in life tend to have lower IQs and increased risk for chronic disease.

Mother and child malnutrition occurs in a cycle: a malnourished woman gives birth to a low weight, malnourished baby which grows up to be a stunted, malnourished woman.

The first 1000 days of a child’s life, from in utero to two years old, is a critical period for proper nutrition.  This window of opportunity encompasses maternal nutrition during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the transition to solid food.

Improving early childhood nutrition offers the highest return on investment for improving health and development.

How:

1000 Days promotes improved early childhood nutrition by informing others of the importance of the 1000 day window and catalyzing partnerships with relevant organizations.

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As a girl interested in pursuing a career in public health with a focus on nutrition, the introduction of THP’s partnership with 1000 Days certainly caught my attention!  I am thrilled to see an organization focusing on not just on ending hunger but on ending malnutrition as well.  I can’t wait to see what this new partnership helps realize!

A lick-your-foil mentality?

April 5, 2012

According to Brian Wansink, larger package sizes contribute to us eating more than we think we are.  To demonstrate, he gave moviegoers either a medium or large popcorn.  Those given the large bucket ate more but reported eating the same amount as those given the medium bucket, suggesting that larger packages cause us to eat more without realizing it!  Wansink cites many possible reasons for this, one of which is a clean-your-plate mentality.

Does package size influence consumption at the FeelGood kiosk?  Our grilled cheese does not come in a package per se; but our bread can be seen as a package for cheese and other fix-ins.  Our bread varies in size quite a bit depending on the type and the portion of the loaf it came from.

Of the customers that stick around the kiosk to enjoy their sandwich, most of them finish, regardless of the size sandwich they received.  A clean-your-plate, or in this case lick-your-foil, mentality may be at work: eaters stop when their sandwich is gone rather than upon feeling full.

Some customers seem to be aware of the influence of package size.  Several customers have asked me for smaller bread.  Perhaps they are aware that by receiving a smaller “package,” they will likely consume less grilled cheese.  However, their true motivation could lie elsewhere: they may know that, if given a larger sandwich, they would be unable to finish it;  their request may come from a desire for less food waste rather than for cognitive control.

What does this mean for the health of our customers?  That depends on the customer!  For most, even our largest sandwiches are an appropriate portion for lunch.  And, if the sandwich is loaded with plenty of veggies and on whole wheat bread, it’s a nutritious one at that!

WP 4/5

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