by Barbara Kreider, Moorestown Friends School
Fresh provoked me to move my ideas about eating from my kitchen to the classroom. As delivered boxed share members of Honey Brook Organic Farms, my husband and I were invited to preview Fresh on a chilly Sunday evening in February 2009 at a local movie theater. This movie enchanted us as it pushed us to think hard about where we get our food. Three things leapt out at me as we left the movie theater. First, the movie delivered a succinct and clear definition of sustainable eating, specifically that sustainable eating was good for the three p’s – people, profits and planet. Sustainable eating was not necessarily eating locally or eating organically or eating vegan. Instead, sustainable eating was flexible – and therefore complex - so that everyone and everything benefitted. Second, the interview of Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, made me sit bolt upright in my seat. A critic of monoculture farming, Dr. Pollan spoke eloquently about how economic forecasting models now predict that biodynamical farms could in fact grow enough food to feed ourselves. He argued that we should use our food budget to purchase food from farms that eschewed agricultural practices that harmed the planet. Third, the post-show discussion with Ana Joanes, producer and director of Fresh, continued and deepened the movie’s celebration of Americans who are re-inventing our food system. Ana’s obvious commitment to mobilizing the audience to find sustainable alternatives to current food practices was palpable. The clarity, practicality and hopefulness of the movie awakened in me a determination to share my interest in sustainable eating with my students.
Since my first viewing almost two years ago, I have seen Fresh several times. Family, friends and students have watched with me, and each time I am delighted and re-energized to spread this very sensible and eminently doable message of eating sustainably. This message of sustainable eating has taken various forms in my teaching, three of which are described below.
When the teaching focus is on the “people” in sustainable eating, nutrition is the topic in my classroom. Nutritious food sustains growth but not too much growth (obesity). Teaching teenagers what to eat is made easier by teaching them how to prepare food. Without a teaching kitchen, I struggled to find a way to prepare food for my class of twenty Nutrition students. I needed a cooking method that was relatively cheap, nutritious, delicious, conducive to the skills of inexperienced chefs, and completely doable in ninety minutes in a science classroom. A recipe calling for a high pressure cooker led me to purchase high pressure cookers for use in Nutrition class. These more modern versions of the stove top pressure cookers that my mom used (and hated) are electronic, programmable, and dishwasher-able. High pressure cooking defines sustainable cooking – the foods are uniquely nutritious and the cooking requires relatively little power. Using Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking under Pressure Cookbook as a starting point, we have prepared rice and beans, meat sauce over noodles, and even cheesecake. Enchanted by its simplicity and its delicious outcome, three students gave their parents high pressure cookers as holiday gifts last December. Each week we reflect on how to enhance the nutrition and sustainability of what we prepare. While we eat, we explore as a group the Let’s Move website which chronicles Mrs. Obama’s campaign to eliminate childhood obesity. At Mrs. Obama’s request, chefs nationwide have adopted schools to bring their cooking expertise to students, faculty, cafeteria, and parents. Chef Kathy Gold has adopted our school and we are anxious to watch her improvements on our high pressure recipes when she visits this year. The high pressure cooker has given us food as well as food for thought.
When the teaching focus is on the “profits” in sustainable eating, green business is the topic in my classroom. Profitability is an obvious component of the food system and a component that is sometimes omitted when food advice is offered. An internet search for local sustainable businesses harvested a wealth of business folks who were eager to speak to high school students about sustainability. Nardella, Inc., a local fruit distributor, showed us a model of the upcoming “green” fruit distribution center and told us about their relationships with farmers all over the world. John and Kira Chocolates use local school grown herbs in their gourmet candy, and the Pita Pit introduced us to the Green Restaurant Association in Philadelphia. We learned how to filet salmon (then donated the fish to a homeless shelter) when the owner of Otolith Sustainable Seafood educated us about sustainable fish marketing in an urban setting. The Fair Food Stand from Reading Terminal sent representatives to teach us about the farm-to-school initiative in which schools are partnered with local produce growers. A food marketing consultant to Campbell Soup Company taught us the principles of advertising sustainability through a presentation of ad campaigns that feature sustainability to market potato chips and soup. Our trip to Seven Stars Dairy Farm netted us delicious yogurt as well as a hands-on experience of biodynamical farming. Offering perspectives on the economic reality of the food system, these professionals provided insight into sustainable business practices as well as offering some novel career ideas to the students.
When the teaching focus is on the “planet” in sustainable eating, composting is the topic in my classroom. Methane is arguably the most important greenhouse gas as it has a relatively high global warming potential. Since most rubbish in landfills is buried, decomposition produces abundant methane. Since twenty percent of landfills are thought to be food scraps, it is safe to say that food waste in landfills contributes significantly to global warming through methane production. When food scraps are composted, however, the gas produced is largely carbon dioxide as the decomposition in well maintained compost piles is aerobic (compost is turned and therefore exposed to air). Even better, nutrient-rich compost functions as a useful soil amendment. Not one to risk midnight visitors to a backyard compost pile, I put my food scraps into a small electric kitchen composter. When I go to school, I can use the composter set up by the Science Department; its composting utility is questionable as interest in it waxes and wanes with the curriculum. When it comes to schools with a commitment to sustainability through composting, however, The Lawrenceville School wins the prize. Chef Gary Giberson has become a master composter and has retrofitted the school’s cafeteria to compost food scraps with an internal vessel composter. Along with two students, I attended the Sustainable Fare Food Summit, an annual symposium held in June at The Lawrenceville School, and learned how schools can enhance sustainability through changes in kitchen practices including composting. Composting completes the circle of sustainability from the garden to the table and back to the garden.
Like Fresh, sustainable eating in the classroom is built upon a foundation of clarity, practicality and hopefulness. At school we cook under high pressure, listen to the experiences of food professionals, and compost food scraps. The three p’s – people, profits and planet – frame the conversation about how to choose food. Sometimes that food is local, sometimes it is organic, and sometimes it is vegetables and fruits only. Conversations about food choices in a science classroom sometimes revolve around the fate of our non-human cohabitants on this planet and the state of the Earth in general. Food contamination, environmental pollution, dwindling resources, and the epidemic of obesity inform our vision of food now and our food in the future. Since we eat to live, we should eat in a manner that sustains our planet. The movie Fresh moved my manner of eating from my kitchen to my classroom.
I gratefully acknowledge the support of Judy van Tijn, a history teacher at Moorestown Friends School, in virtually every aspect of my teaching about sustainable eating. A great cook, a master teacher, an able editor, a world-class researcher, and a dear friend, Judy is always ready for a food adventure.
Websites to visit for more information
Fresh - www.freshthemovie.com
Honey Brook Organic Farms – www.honeybrookorganicfarm.com
Michael Pollan - michaelpollan.com
High pressure cooker - www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-CPC-600
High pressure cookbook - lornasass.com/home
Let’s Move - www.letsmove.gov
Chef Kathy Gold - www.inthekitchencookingschool.com
Kitchen composter - naturemill.com
Sustainable fare food summit - sustainablefare.com
Fruit distribution – Nardella, Inc.
Chocolates – www.johnandkiras.com
Fair Food Stand – www.farifoodphilly.org
Pita Pit – www.phillypitapit.com
Seafood – www.otolithonline.com
Campbell Soup - www.campbellwellness.com
Seven Stars Farm - www.sevenstarsfarm.com
Polyface Farms - www.polyfacefarms.com