Friday, August 28, 2009

What a Week - the power of the press!

So, why haven't you heard from me all week -well because we got some great press on Wednesday. Tina Firesheet's article was in the Greensboro News and Record in the Savor section. Within 48 hours I had over 40 incredible families volunteer for the project. Talk about zero to sixty in 6 seconds - this is it.

For all of you who wrote to me with your family histories, thank you for sharing. I was touched by every single one. I wanted to drop everything and scoop you all up! I think this project touches on the nerve of so many people because of a dozen different reasons, but a predominate one is that we all are overwhelmed with the food system as it is now. Not only are we bombarded with excess and cheap calories but they come laden with such long term costs to our health and our planet. I think Steve mentioned that Time magazine's cover story last week was on the state of our food system and it wasn't good news to read.

What resonated with me the most from the responses was what I really believed from the start. As a culture we have pushed cooking out of our lives. As Michael Pollan's said in his recent essay in the New York Times Supplement called Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch:

"That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it."
The piece that seems to be missing is that no one knows where to start to make change. It all seems so overwhelming. One letter from a family stated that they had an organic chicken in the freezer, but they were intimidated by it. Another wrote of how confusing going to Earth Fare is. (Not to pick on EF, but all grocery stores are a whirlwind of 30,000 choices and a navigational nightmare of marketing claims.) Throw on top of that the fact that many of us didn't grow up cooking. Taking on new skills where we may be putting ourselves out there to fail is not always fun. But the reality is that cooking failures happen to everyone, even the pros and we just need to hang in there and learn from them.
But learning from mistakes when you don't have anyone to show you where the misstep occurred is even harder. We all took driver's ed so we could be safe on the road, we went to school to master reading, writing and arithmetic and we take lessons in soccer, golf, swimming, tennis, etc. so that play is enjoyable and we feel competent on the field. Being comfortable in your own kitchen, understanding the tools of the trade and having some basic knowledge of the culinary arts is all you need. It starts with a knife and the ability to boil water. But, as with driving, we need a teacher and the television isn't a teacher - it's a box. This project will let me teach at least one family and if they, in turn, teach others and so on, we can all learn to cook.
I was surprised that I heard from so many dads. I admit, my thinking was that more women would be egging on unwilling spouses so I was shocked by the level of male support. I love it! When both parents are on board it makes change easier for everyone, no matter who speaks up first. And I love that we are reinventing the word "family". Here's to all those wonderful stay-at-home dads and cooking dads!
My friend Amy is always teasing me about not leaving my "5 mile radius of comfort" around my home, but this is why I ended up saying thanks, but no thanks to almost all those families who responded from outside Greensboro and some on the outer edges. I hate being in the car, especially since I don't own a convertible! I want to watch my own pennies with this project and since $2.50 per gallon gas is the norm now I want to stay close to home.

I also didn't include any families with medical issues that require dietary interventions. This is because, as I said earlier, I don't want to be in the role of a clinical dietitian on this project. I want to be a foodie. My philosophy of food is that real food heals, but I don't want to set out proving that here. I am not conducting classic research with this project. I am trying to create educational tools for all of us so that we can all get back to the real foods that protect our health.


I believe in real food and moderation. By this I mean that anything, good or bad, in excess is ultimately bad for you on multiple levels. Moderation and consuming only the best food that the planet can provide is the glue that can enhance human health, almost more than anything else we can do. It is why I studied nutrition and why I often dismiss nutrients. Nutrients are elements of the story, but the food is the textural body of the work. In a nutshell, I would rather eat food than nutrients!

With this project I want us to bring the whole idea of the French paradox home to American soil. The paradox is no mystery to me. Traditionally, the French have always eaten all the wrong things according to our way of thinking about nutrition and yet they are robust and healthy. The key is that they celebrate food daily by consuming fabulous, fresh and natural foods in moderation and they lead active lives, all of which leads to great health and happiness. They savor their food and make it an experience that is essential to a well rounded life. I think we have lost a lot by being on this treadmill of American life and insular leisure. Truly, aren't your most memorable moments in life things you shared with others in a relaxed atmosphere? While I enjoy writing and reading, I would still rather be in the kitchen with family and friends surrounding me.

So, after this bout of insomnia (it's 5 am and I have been up since 3:30 because I spent too much time sitting at my desk today) I will hit the farmer's market. The mayor of Greensboro, Yvonne Johnson, will be making some sort of proclamation in support of local foods - yeah! Sorry I don't have more news on this, but it was the first week of school and I was a busy girl! Then I have 4 families to interview. All very wonderful people who are willing to share this journey. Here's to finding the right people to work with. I have another 4 families in mind for a second round if no one works out on this first pass. And I fully intend to get back to the last few e-mails that I have not responded to. This has been the hardest part because I want to work with all of you! Thanks again for your support. Let's all make one small change, one bite at a time!

10 great reasons to eat local!

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