Monday, April 29, 2013

Access to Food Access: WICked Local

USDA research on food access has shown some pretty frightening statistics.  For instance, 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in low-income areas that are more than 1 mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store.  In 2008 86% of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) redemption were redeemed at these grocery stores.   Not only is this statistic alarmingly high, but on top of that, how much of the food being purchased is promoting good health?  In a culture where more is better, many people tend to substitute cheaper unhealthy foods for nutritious fruits and vegetables that they have no idea how to even cook.
Woof, so many barriers.

As I brought up in my last post, farmers markets are a great way to make sure you are getting fresh, healthy food, though can be expensive and less accessible to those who need it most.

Many programs are available that combat these barriers such as using SNAP benefits at the farmers market, or WIC (Woman Infants Children) that provide food vouchers for those who lack the access.  But there are still issues that stand in the way.  How does one use the voucher?  Where can you use it? What vegetable is healthy and filling, and HOW THE HECK DO I COOK THIS GOLDEN RADISH? (is that even a thing?)

Media can hold an important roll in passing along information and mimicking desired behavior.  I recently came upon a video tutorial for how to use WIC food vouchers at the farmers market.  It was very easy to understand, and made a trip to the farmers market seem way less intimidating.

Though the video is slightly cheesy, the presenter does a really great job making it clear and easy to understand.  The virtual tour also makes it less intimidating by calmly showing all the exciting parts of the farmers market, and showing it in a positive frame.  Not only that, but at the end she shows how much she was able to get, and how you can prepare it simply!

It is interesting to compare this trip to the farmers market to The Barefoot Contessa's trip.  I wonder if Ina was at that farmers market? Maybe local food wouldn't seem so elegant and elitist if they framed it more like Sarimin Rivera from WIC... They could call her show WICked Local!

N/P 4/30

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bursting My Vermont Bubble

As my time at the University of Vermont quickly comes to a close, I try to appreciate all the unique factors that Vermont has to offer.  One important part of my life here in Vermont is the Locavore mentality that Vermont supports.  I came upon an article on NPR about little Vermont, and surprise surprise, it was about their ranking as top in the nation on the Locavore Index.  This article just pointed out further that Vermont makes it much easier to support this movement, though I want to do my best to bring this mentality with me wherever I end up.

I investigated this Locavore Index a little further, and found a radio segment on the Vermont Public Radio interviewing the head marketer of Strolling of the Heifers, the non-profit that created and calculated this index.  It also features listeners to chime in with thoughts and questions about the topic, which created an interesting mix of opinions.  Considering Strolling of the Heifers is a Vermont-based company there are many things to examine before accepting this ranking.  Coming from the Boston area originally, the ranking did not surprise me very much.  The effort for local is quite loud and clear in my opinion, though others had great points to bring to the table.

One Vermont farmer from Montpelier brought to attention the fact that Vermont still only supplies less than 10% of the state through local food systems.  Even at the top of the Locavore Index, what can be done to make it mean more?  The interviewee acknowledges this as an issue, but explains that it is a slow moving process and can be built through the institutions that support it.  I found this to be a very interesting point, especially as I move out of the state of Vermont, I have been able to see best practice examples of institutions like the Fletcher Allen Hospital, Farm to School, Vermont FEED, Vermont Works for Women- Fresh Food, and gazillions more that are supporting this practice.

Another caller brings in the question of why local food is more expensive, especially if the transportation and processing costs are much lower by keeping it local.  This was a thought that has lingered my mind a few times.  The answer was formed quite eloquently, and nice to hear. The term local has been used as a value-added term for the farmer allowing the farmer to request a fairer, and therefor higher price.  Another thing they mention is the scale to which farms are producing.  According to the economic model the less a farmer produces, the higher a price they must place on the product.

I really enjoyed this discussion on VPR, and though it was based in Vermont, it had diverse opinions that allowed me to think for myself about how to move forward.  It doesn't surprise me that Vermont is on the top of this movement.  With such passionate citizens conversing about this issue, and recognizing its flaws and how to fix them shows the solidarity within the state.  I look forward to seeing the index change in the coming years.  I hope to see Vermont continue to grow (no pun intended), while watching other states fight to top the charts!

NP 4/23

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Second Age of Aquarius?

Is it the end of the 'Neocaloric era'?  This is the leading question in the article I mentioned in my latest post from The Economist.  Not only is the issue of sustainability facing future economic misfortunes, but there is also a demand from a new age of consumers, damaging the 'neocaloric era'.

Perhaps Mcdonald's, Coca Cola, and other calorie dense food products were appealing to the baby boom (also known as Generation X), but a new generation (Generation Y) is emerging leading consumer demand into a possibly new direction.  The ripple effect has been labeled The Millennials, and has marketers all over the country re-evaluating their target audience.  Millennials have birth dates ranging from the late 1970's to the early 2000's.  Millennials are the first generation to grow-up most connected to internet and technology, are turned off by fast-food, and are attracted to healthier alternatives.  They are also known as the new progressive America that "places high value on social responsibility, sustainability, and local, organic, grass-fed and hormone-free dishes." according to an article written by the Public Relations Society of America.  

A serious issue facing the successful companies of Generation X, are how to keep up with this new generation.  Let's just say, it has not been easy, and has sometimes been hard to watch:

Here is a new commercial by McDonald's trying its best to appeal to Millennial's with its new healthy alternative the 'McWrap':

Not bad, though it's hard to think healthy any time I see the golden arches.  

Now compare that to the Chipotle Mexican Grill commercial:

Chipotle nailed it in terms of reaching the progressive Millennials.  One could even say "Back to the Start" is a reference encouraging this new progressive generation.

No matter what McDonald's does, they will always have a controversial reputation.  Not only that, but healthier, more sustainable fast food restaurants are gaining loyalty among Millennials, pushing others further and further away  from the top.  

What meal would you choose?

WP 4/19

Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't Forget the Farmer!

There is nothing like going back in government history by watching old presidential campaign videos.  It's interesting to see what issues were important in the past, and sometimes which issues have yet to be tackled.  I was casually browsing The Living Room Candidate from the museum of the moving image, when one ad in particular gathered my attention.  The ad that caught my eye was "Don't Forget the Farmer" produced in the 1952 campaign by Governer Adlai Stevenson running against Eisenhower.  The light-hearted cartoon, and cheerful song of "Old Macdonald" does not quite give this issue the urgency it deserves. The particular ad I am speaking of comes in at 5:20:00 in the montage of ad's from the Stevenson Campaign.

 According to the message of this ad, farmland has been on the decline since 1931!  Not only that, but farming and food systems have not been a key issue in political campaigns since this time.  It is clear that even then this was not an issue that sparked American citizens to vote for Stevenson.  Eisenhower proceeded to win the election by a landslide, which may be a reason you don't remember hearing of President Stevenson.  How long will it take for food system issues to reach political campaign highlights?

Assuming that target issues highlighted in campaigns come from economic problems, perhaps theres a chance food could be a hot topic in the next generation.  According to The Economist's report of The World in 2013 festival in New York,
"As energy and food production becomes more complex and expensive... Western society will be forced into changing its diet to a more ecologically sustainable model... the high cost of cheap food will be one of the big drivers of change"  
Not only that, but perhaps the high rates of obesity will start to correlate with the high rates of debt in this country.  We can only hope that food issues simmer their way to the political stage, and then perhaps shape what we as Americans find important.  It is amazing the influence political campaigns can have on what citizens openly fight for.  Maybe if the topic of food systems comes to the campaign agenda, people will find a true voice and opinion about it.

NP 4/15

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ina Dips her Barefoot into Local Waters

Honey vanilla pound cake with fabulous local honey from the farmers market, m√Ęche with atlantic mist cheese and apples from Mecox Dairy, garlic and lemon oil, and basil mayonnaise.  Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, always presents her recipes with the utmost elegance.  Her Food Network show along with her line of cookbooks has also been one to shed light on local food, and producers who make it.  In one episode called "Going Local", Ina challenges herself to make a full meal of local Hamptons Ingredients, while another titled "Local Food Heroes" highlighting some great local food artisans.

In the specific episode I watched called "Market Day", Ina creates a menu that is inspired by the local food producers of East Hampton, NY where she resides.  Ina does a great job marketing and romanticizing the local foods as special and exquisite.  She emphasizes the freshness and the color of the ingredients, and the loveliness of knowing where she got it.  To many people, Ina provides a elegant and exciting way to connect with local producers.

While I personally am highly attracted to the Barefoot Contessa meals, and the elegant edge of the show, I believe it could potentially do the opposite to promote the values of the local food movement.  The local food movement has had its critiques of being an elitist practice.  From my experience as a college student, I understand it is not as accessible to all as it should be.  The Barefoot Contessa's elegant and gourmet appearance does not do much to counter this argument.

As a pioneer in local food on television, I believe Ina does a wonderful job creating a vicarious warm feeling of utilizing local food and attending the local farmers market.  Though, if local food is going to be portrayed as a trend for the privileged of the world, I am not sure I can be on board.   I believe local food should be accessible to all.  There are ways to support local without getting the finest artisanal cheeses and honeys.  In fact, there are ways to grow your own local produce, or pay very little by participating in a community garden.

A fine example of the elegant life of Ina

NP 4/9

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eating till your hearts full

There is a heavy correlation between college students, and their excitement with all you can eat food settings.  In most situations, if given the opportunity to eat as much as we want, college students have no reservations. 

Every Friday night, my Ultimate Frisbee team has a pasta party potluck after our practice.  It is almost an impossible task to implement portion control to hungry college athletes given mounds and mounds of pasta.  I decided to try my best to exercise portion control for myself, as well as observe this phenomenon known as mindless eating.  Brian Winsink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, describes mindlessly eating:
“Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”
What is it that is influencing us to over-consume and throw away our inhibition?  Listening to our body is no longer a cue to stop, so what is cuing us? 
Winsink answers in an article about mindless eating that larger portions may make us eat more.  For example, he did an experiment that gave one person a large bag of popcorn, and the other a small, and found that the person given the larger portion size ate more.  He determined that if given larger portions, people are shown to consume more despite what they’re tummy is telling them. 
Another cue I recognized at our potluck was that variety might make people eat more.  Our pasta party was filled with deferent types of pasta, and we wanted the chance to try all of them.  Then when I found one I liked I helped myself to seconds.   

Most of my teammates left the pasta party feeling uncomfortably full and incapacitated for the remainder of the night.  Though, while eating we were mindless of our destined future.  Any time we do not listen to our body, chances are we are not making the healthiest decisions for our body.  Also, chances are, mindless eating does not occur in the same manner when we are given endless amounts of lettuce.  I mean for goodness sake, haven’t we all learned from the book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”?  It ends in a tornado of spaghetti.

What other cues do you think influence over-consumption?  And how do we prevent from feeling like this 'lil guy:

WP 4/5

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Daring Sail from Vermont to NYC

One question I continue to ask myself as an activist of the food system movement is: How can consumers reconnect with the food they eat and the farmers who grow it?  As the distance between farm and plate stretches further and further, so does communication between the people on either end.

I recently came across a Kickstarter project featuring a rice farmer in Ferrisburgh, Vermont planning to transport non-parashable Vermont-produced food items from Vermont's Lake Champlain all the way to New York City's Hudson Bay, all via sail boat!
Kickstarter is an online resource for innovators to display their creative projects to the public with an aim to generate funders.  The creators are able to explain the project to as much depth as they would like, and create a vivid and hopefully engaging video to spark the interest of individuals to fund their projects.

The Kickstarter project I watched was called The Vermont Sail Freight Project.  Right off the bat I was intrigued, and thought why do such an unheard of task?  Publicity?  Boredom?
The video opens with Erik Andrus, Vermont rice and beef farmer standing proud with his model sail boat named the Ceres.  Throughout the 4 minute video a local folk band plays a thematic sea chantey written specifically for the project, and perfectly composed to highlight the trips unique throwback to historic food-way transportation.  The film is composed of different scenery shots of Vermont's natural beauties, Erik, and the model boat.  The video stays consistent in its theme, and highlights the excitement and sincerity of the project.  For such an insane and seemingly inefficient task, the argument that the video provides makes it seem extremely rational.  Erik explains:
"There is no rational reason why non perishable foods need to travel at 75 miles an hour on rubber down the interstate.  We can transport 12 to 13 tons of goods without consuming a drop of gasoline 300 miles."
The video appreciates the "time honored practice" of sailboat food transport, whiles also explaining what the project represents today as a new way of business, and a new way to think systematically.   The project's message is articulately put.  Though Erik does not mention his personal beliefs as a farmer of local practices, he shares the importance of resiliency on a regional scale, and how transportation and other food chain factors are important to penetrate.  To make a paradigm shift in the food system, there is a need to spread these ideals outside the farm and consistent throughout the whole system.

This project is a very symbolic and innovative way to tackle a global issue locally, one farmer at a time.  I encourage you to look out for The Vermont Sail Freight Project for yourself.  It is nice to finally connect communication from the farmer to the consumer, and understand what the farmers growing our food believe in.  They are not just the growers of our food, but they are activists reinventing the food system from the roots.

NP 4/2