Food Revolution Links

31lunchspan-1-articleLarge I just watched the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on Hulu. In one scene, Oliver goes into a 1st grade class, holds up common vegetables and asks the kids to identify them. The kids couldn't identify a cauliflower, an eggplant, a tomato, or even the humble potato. It's good TV, people.

The Times reported that 7 million people watched the show last Friday night. Marion Nestle applauds. Check out the Fed Up With Lunch blog. And here's our awesome discussion from last week.

26 thoughts on “Food Revolution Links

  1. Is an eggplant a common food for most people? We had a large garden growing up, but I doubt I could have recognized an egg plant until I was much older. (I’m not sure about cauliflower- I don’t think we grew it.)

  2. Hulu doesn’t work outside the US. 😦
    Worse than the vegetable-by-sight is the fruit-by-taste test. Amazing how many kids don’t know how a fresh strawberry tastes!

  3. Is an eggplant a common food for most people?
    I wouldn’t eat one as a kid, but I knew what they were in raw and cooked form. I think that may be an Italian thing in the U.S.

  4. “Is an eggplant a common food for most people?”
    Nope. I don’t think I even saw one until my early 20s, and I’ve only ever eaten it in Russian or Chinese cooking.

  5. Hmm. I wonder how much adjustment went into the students’ ignorance. I imagine the producers worked hard to get a group that could not identify a potato. I guess I’m feeling contrarian today, but I think this sort of thing puts the unreality in reality TV.
    To that point (being a contrarian) I also must comment on the prevalence of eggplant — I imagine this is quite a regional thing. Eggplant parm is a staple on all the menus up here (not that THAT’S healthy). Amy P. — perhaps it speaks to where you were in Russia, where I lived in Russia, eggplants were common. But I was in southern Russia and then later in the Caucasus — where eggplants are a culinary necessity.

  6. Julie G.,
    Yes, I was also thinking about how eggplant is actually cooked–it isn’t all that fantastic for you.
    Around Vladivostok, I believe people tended to make a sort of home-canned spicy eggplant salsa that they could enjoy during the winter months. In those parts, there’s some influence from Korean and Chinese cooking, and you could buy a sort of spicy shredded Korean carrot salad in the marketplaces, as well as a sort of large peppery meat dumpling from street vendors (can’t remember the name, but it was Asian). There’s a lot of cross-border traffic between the Russian Far East and Harbin, which is where they have that amazing illuminated ice sculptures.
    http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/heilongjiang/harbin/ice-and-snow-world.htm
    My sister tells me that in our hometown in rural Washington, my nephew’s 1st grade teacher did a baking project at school in conjunction with reading a book about a baking project, because a number of the kids in the class had literally never seen flour or other baking ingredients.

  7. Claudia, if you’re in Canada, ctv.ca has the latest episode for free on their site – or did last night anyway.
    I watched the show and I have a whole new understanding of the US school lunch issue (even your menu didn’t bring it home as much as the fork and knife issue did for me). I don’t know if it’s as bad here but I’m definitely going to find out.
    I know the reality show isn’t totally real, but the kids’ genuine ignorance and the principal’s reaction to simple cutlery didn’t really seem like it could be faked.
    I was reminded of when I was in Fort Worth – I was in really a nice store, clean and well lit and gorgeous in many ways. But it did strike me that the pop aisle was VAST – so. many. flavours. – but there were only 2 or 3 kinds of apples available. It’s the reverse local to me.
    Eggplant wasn’t common when I was growing up, but it is now – we got two kinds in our CSA box last year.

  8. Amy P.,
    It’s funny, I’m not surprised by the baking stuff, etc. For me, it’s just that so many books and toys for toddlers involve fruits and vegetables. I guess it’s harder to make plastic flour, instead of plastic bread! So my skepticism about the show doesn’t stem from a thought that those students must be eating great food at home (although the potato thing is doubtful), but that they have never encountered any fruit or veggie in some form!

  9. yeah, I wondered about the magic of film editing, too, Julie G. But I decided that this scene was probably true, because many kids don’t have access to any books at home or plastic pretend food. A buddy was tutoring some middle school kids in the NYC and was shocked that the kids didn’t know that paper came from trees. When Steve was teaching at BCC, he was shocked that the students couldn’t identify major land masses on a map (several thought that the Pacific Ocean was Russia). Kids are ignorant about a lot of stuff, not just food.

  10. I think we have to be careful about imagining this to be a trend. I once encountered a very funny essay, food reminiscences about growing up in the 70’s?, titled “I grew up in a house without an onion.” The author, a foodie now of some sort or another, went on to describe the salt and pepper that were the spices in his family’s cupboard.
    I’m guessing there’s been both loss & gain of cooking knowledge among children.

  11. “I’m guessing there’s been both loss & gain of cooking knowledge among children.”
    Yes, indeed. My kids have seen ginger root (which I certainly didn’t as a kid) and they eat mangoes and fresh pineapple regularly (which I also never did as a kid), but they may never have a chance to dig potatoes. I’m not totally sure they could ID a beet. (My sister and I worked for $1 an hour during the summer in our great-grandma’s garden, picking strawberries, weeding potatoes, picking currants, blueberries, raspberries, etc. and our grandparents have always had a massive conventional vegetable garden where we kids used to forage for snacks like peas, radishes and carrots when we were playing outside. Both my great-grandma and my grandparents had orchards, too, but of course home apples aren’t nearly as pretty as store apples, so those tended to go into pies.)

  12. On reflection, I think there may be a generational shift away from veggies toward fruit. On the other hand, speaking of things that I couldn’t have recognized as a kid but that my kids would (at least by taste):
    1. rosemary
    2. cilantro
    3. basil
    4. Thai basil
    5. mint
    6. garlic chives
    That’s what I usually have growing in my small patio garden, and the kids are very happy to forage from it.

  13. How many children go to the grocery store or farm stand with a parent? It’s quite possible to feed a family from processed food. A friend was recently astounded by how much prepared food was on display at a local supermarket.
    My kids played with plastic food too, but I wouldn’t say it increased their vocabulary. One kid served endless cups of coffee, and another spent all his time poking friends with the long, pointy carrot.
    I’m amused by the negative reputation many vegetables have. “What are we having for dinner?” “Cabbage rolls.” “Cabbage? Blech.” “You’ve never eaten cabbage. How do you know you won’t like it?”

  14. Thai basil tastes like licorice and has purple flowers and narrower leaves than Italian basil. Last year I bought potted Thai basil from Walmart. I’ve been occasionally doing recipes from Nancie McDermott’s Quick and Easy Thai, and she says you can substitute Italian basil or mint for Thai basil. I was surprised to see mint mentioned, but if you think about it, Italian basil does have some minty undertones.
    “I’m amused by the negative reputation many vegetables have.”
    In the case of frozen spinach and just about all canned veggies, that reputation is well earned.

  15. Thanks, Amy P. for the tip on Thai vs. other basil. This will add to my Asian cooking, and I appreciate the book suggestion.
    To all: I totally get that people don’t know stuff and that children who are lucky enough to have access to plastic veggies may not know that carrots have other properties than swordsmanship. I do wonder at the faddishness of the anti-processed food craze. It reminds me of the anti-egg mania of the 1980s and the growth of prejudice against overweight folks. As the child of a former egg farmer and someone who was once 20 pounds larger, I question the dogmatism of the sentiments I’ve seen in the media recently. (Excluding laura and the commenters from this — the treatment of the subject here has been more meta than anything, but the subject has me thinking of other stuff I’ve read recently.)
    A recent article in the NYT argued that the popular attention to health issues and obesity creates a false conception that individual behavior is the sole factor in their health problems and the dangers this thinking brings to public policy. It’s something to discuss and consider. TV has a way of simplifying truths and stylizing complex problems (see the latest version of the Milgram experiment on a fake French reality show.)
    (I say this and also disclose that I am part of the craze: every week I bake loaf bread for family sandwiches, without a breadmaker, no less, to avoid high fructose corn syrup and the high prices of the alternatives.)
    Sorry if I screwed up the NYT link.

  16. Exactly, Julie. Did you read the disgusting statement John Mackey (the owner and CEO of Whole Foods Market) made against health care reform, arguing that if only people ate the kind of stuff he sells in his stores, they wouldn’t be so unhealthy? Then he turned around and set up an “incentive” system that gives his thinner employees a better employee discount. So apparently the “unhealthiest” employees will have to pay more to get healthier by his lights.
    My three-year-old daughter couldn’t remember what “that black thing” (an eggplant) was called when we were doing the Passover shopping last weekend, but she insisted on sticking one in the cart anyway, because it was pretty.

  17. Julie G. – I kind of agree, especially when it comes to what can become very fat-shaming statements or policies. I don’t quite get why it has to be a “war on obesity” rather than a “battle for more exercise.”
    I also guess I’m old enough to remember that convenience foods were in my generation perceived as part of the march to equality. Or at least they were sold that way. Sometimes I think some of the slow-food slow-home movement is tainted with a bit of the idea that thoughtless, selfish career women just shove nuggets at children but Real Mothers(tm) stay home and raise chickens in the backyard. (Not anyone here.)
    Also there are serious market forces pushing the processed food on the market; huge corporations with big budgets. (I don’t exclude Whole Foods from that.) So in some ways I think the push on healthy food is a reaction to that kind of marketing power that’s been rolling out over certainly my lifetime.
    When it comes to school lunches in the US it seems like it’s a bit of an unholy alliance that’s sprung up – the food companies supply lesser-quality food with fewer labour costs to the schools in exchange for guaranteed purchases, and now the funding model is based on that low cost per student.

  18. I don’t know if eating healthy is a fad. My parents have been into it since 1970. We were eating pesticide-free food, since before they called it organic. My mom is second generation Italian and her family were restaurant professionals, so she always cooked fresh. But I suppose they were part of the lunatic fringe.
    I agree that the downside of this movement is stigmatizing working women and guilting the individual with out a discussion of the larger political forces at work.

  19. How were school lunches funded in our childhoods? Have costs really increased that much?
    My memory is that in general school food service was fairly local, and if not fabulous quality, was at least based on some kind of meat-starch-veg model that didn’t include fries more than once a week. Pizza day was a huge thrill for everyone.
    I was shocked to learn when I was in grad school that my university had essentially a guaranteed profit arrangement with Marriott. If Marriott couldn’t make a certain profit off student purchases, the balance would be paid from student fees to the university. I wonder whether the big-corporate outsourcing of grade school lunches has any similar aspects. The arrangement struck me as having all the worst features of capitalism and socialism.

  20. I do wonder at the faddishness of the anti-processed food craze.
    I used to eat what I suspect was a fairly normal amount of processed and semi-process (say, campbell’s soup) foods, but don’t eat very many now, mostly because my wife hates them (she’s not from the US and didn’t have them growing up) so we don’t get them. Now, when I do have them, I can taste the chemicals and preservatives, and find them to be gross.
    (uncooked) eggplants are one of the more beautiful veggies, Marya, and if you use the British name (Aubergine) they sound pretty, too. I think Aubergine would be a nice name for a girl, but my wife won’t allow it to be considered. Like Amy, I started eating them more when I lived in Russia, where they are a fairly common food, but also eat them fairly regularly in the US now.

  21. If you bake them and make eggplant caviar or caponata, or baba ghanouj, they’re quite healthy as well as delicious.
    My husband’s not a big fan though.

  22. Well, there’s eating healthy and eating healthy. There was a report on the difficulty of avoiding processed foods: i.e., foods that are at all altered and then repackaged. This means that store bought flour, yogurt, etc. are off the list. I recognize that many folks find milling their own grain for flour or doing homemade yogurt find it easy, but that takes eating healthy way beyond the scope of most people. That is what I refer to when I use the word faddish.
    Whoops — Amy P. I misread your earlier post about eggplant — I interpreted you to say that you did NOT encounter eggplant in Russian and Chinese food. My bad.

  23. Julie G.,
    No problem.
    I think “eating healthy” can be problematic (although possibly not in its current reincarnation). “Low fat” hype and a food pyramid with a base of 6-11 servings of starches was not a good idea.

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