Monday, March 31, 2008

Are food bloggers unhealthy?

Are food bloggers unhealthy? I would say no, but the NYT Wednesday Food Section recently had an article on food bloggers and how their love of food and fat connotes an unhealthy life. The article's specific example is Jason Perlow, founder of eGullet, who is making life changes after an emergency hospital visit this fall. He received a diagnosis of diabetes and a prognosis of less than 5 years to live. He weighed over 400 lbs at the time.

I get where the Fat Pack coming from, but my experience is quite the opposite. Most of the food blogs I read seem to be about healthy food and healthy eating habits. I tried to find some "outrage" over this article in the blogosphere, but there was very little. Chowhound had a lively discussion, but that was all I could find. Is it a non-issue, or perhaps there's a great divide between "fat foodies" and healthy ones?

The family angle, plus my interest in local and organic food, probably tip my Internet reading to the healthy side. Even if you don't think of your own health, you want your kids to have healthy foods. The real struggle for most families is the lure of fast food and convenience foods. They might seem healthy from the packaging or the name, but many convenience foods are really over-processed and packed with hidden sugar, fat, and salt. Family dinner puts most of our meals at home, and mostly home-cooked, rather than at the high-end restaurants that many so-called foodies frequent. Still, we don't eschew any food in our family. We use plenty of butter and have bread and pasta regularly, foods that many consider "unhealthy." These are coupled with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and a moderate amount of meat, chicken, and fish. The books Real Food by Nina Planck and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan get at the core message, I think. Healthy eating means real food, not industrial food, in moderation and as part of a family meal or communal table. More reasons for family dinner!

The Fat Pack Wonders if the Party's Over 3.19.08, NYT

Chowhound's discussion, including some very relevant comments about diabetes and moderation.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Tips for Table Talk

Having conversations with your kids and your partner are one of the main highlights of family dinner. We don't have great conversations every night. Some nights it's more like a traffic jam of talk with shouts of "We need a serving spoon!", "Who wants juice?", "My dear toddler, please sit down!", "Quick! Get the paper towels!" But the dinner table is a time when we usually get to each say a sentence or two about "our day." This often leads into broader conversations or questions about the world and their place in it. My kids know that they can always catch us at dinner with questions about stuff.

Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions, suggests that you create a family dinner basket to help with conversations. Basically, it's just a box of simple ideas or questions that can be used as conversation starters. You can make your own or buy one. The Family Dinner Box of Questions gives a portion of the proceeds benefits CASA, one of the champion organizations for family dinner. More tips for getting conversations started are below.
  • Keep it easy. Talk about light subjects, not grades or chores or the day's "bad behavior." Use it as a time to compliment your child on something he or she did that day.
  • Let the kids direct the conversation. Prompt them with specific questions about a school subject or after school activity.
  • If you know your child has a story from his day (i.e., a field trip), encourage him to re-tell it for the rest of the family. Don't re-tell it for him. Encourage him to recount it, or add more details to the story.
  • Let the kids interrupt you. But try to let each of your kids have a turn talking. Sometimes that "competition" for the floor is what really gets them talking!
We recently instituted a "no TV or computer after dinner" rule, so that the kids don't run off immediately to a screen. This has definitely improved their willingness and ability to linger and have conversations at the table. Plus, they are on hand to help clear the plates and help with dishes.

(If you need the time to decompress and chat with your spouse, feel free to use the TV as a babysitter after dinner. I'm not anti-TV; I just know that TV kills conversation. So, if you want talk, nix the TV. Our TV is in a separate room, so we don't hear it or see it if we're at the table.)

Since there's no TV time after dinner, sometimes we have time for a family game. We've been playing Apples to Apples, Jr. which is so much fun. We end up talking and laughing through the whole thing. Less competitive games end up working better for us, and encourage more talking.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Round-up: Family Dinner Tips From Other Sites

Here's a quick round-up of family dinner tips I found from other web sites. The writers include medical doctors, social scientists, and a pediatric nurse (who is also a feng-shui specialist).
  • Make it a family priority.
  • Sit at the table, not the kitchen counter, not in front of the TV.
  • Parents signal the start and end of the meal.
  • Keep conservation easy: no lectures or nagging.
From: Linda Varone, RN, MA Psychology

  • Family meals are for connection and communication.
  • Healthy habits are easier to introduce at a family table.

Tips for Teens:
  • Remember, teens are in a growth stage and need better nutrition (as well as all that sleep!)
  • Don't let them "opt out" of dinner, even if they say they have homework.
  • Set rules so the focus in on the table and talking, such as "no texting or taking cell phone calls" at dinner.
From articles about Adolescence and Family Dinner, Drs. Nuemark-Sztainer and Doherty, Univ. of Minnesota and Texting Generation Gap, NYT, 03.09.08

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tips on Making Family Dinner Work, #2

Challenge: Between work schedules and kid's activities, it's just too hard to schedule family dinner.

Suggestion: Look at schedules realistically, then make a plan.
For instance: Schedule dinnertime at 7 pm, 3 nights a week (M, W, F). Schedule one weekend meal together (breakfast, lunch, dinner).
We had a lot of fights about family dinner over the years. Many arguments were started splitting hairs over when "exactly" dinner was to be served. Though I have worked full-time, part-time, and not at all during my "career" as a mom (a job in itself), I have always been in charge of scheduling dinner. I'm not always the one actually cooking it, but on weeknights, I pretty much decide what we are having and when. These days, my husband usually gets home at 6:45pm, which is great. (Yet, he still doesn't really understand that 15 minutes late, or even 5 minutes, at the end of the day can make a huge difference in moods and tempers for the rest of us.)

There was a time when his "coming home" schedule was wildly erratic. I had no idea when in the window of 6:30pm to 8pm he would be coming home. There were a lot of frayed nerves and arguing then. At some point, I just decided that dinner would be served at 7:00pm, take it or leave it. I couldn't take the "waiting" and wondering when he would get home anymore. It seemed so unfair to the kids and me. But it was also unfair to him. I was mad no matter when he got home. He always seemed "late." No one likes to be jumped on the second he or she gets home. (Unless it's with the loving cheer of "Mommy/Daddy's home," coupled with small children running into arms.)

Once I set the schedule, guess what? He changed his schedule. He wanted to be home for dinner and it was easier to do this when he knew dinner was at 7:00 pm. Not every night, of course, but many more nights he got by home by 6:45. And he knew when he should call to say he would be late; after 7:00pm would be offically late. It's obvious that once something can be put into a schedule, it can become easier to manage. Even in the crazy, work-all-the-time professions, I think that a parent can try to make a commitment to come home for dinner once or twice a week. It becomes easier if dinner is set at a particular time and can be scheduled just like any other "meeting." With a set dinner time, even the working-late parent who has an erratic schedule can have a goal to shoot for a couple of nights a week.

Weekends are also a great time to play catch-up. Try to schedule at least one weekend meal together. Some families have Sunday morning pancakes or some other big breakfast as a tradition. Or Sunday night can be a sit-down dinner night.

If the kids' schedules are the problem, you can still use the dinner time as a carrot. Teens want to have dinner together with the family, whether they act like it or not. Talk with your older kid about his or her activities and try to find 1 or 2 nights a week that can be family dinner nights. You might not be able to change track practice, but hanging out with friends can be shifted to the weekend. Your teen might appreciate the responsibility and the structure of knowing that he or she is expected home for dinner, by a certain time, a couple of times a week. If you are still in charge of the afterschool schedule for your child, cut a few activities. Your child may be relieved to have the extra breathing room. Remember, family dinner is just as important a goal as loading up on extracurriculars.

Of course, busy families have to be flexible week after week. There may be valid reasons to shift dinner time occasionally or tweak it night by night. This week might have final rehearsals for a school play or a big project at work. But excuses only go so far. There's never a perfect time to start having family dinner; you just have to get started and stick to it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tips on Making Family Dinner Work, #1

I know that making family dinner happen is not easy. I understand the challenges; I've been there. Here are some of my random thoughts on how to face one of the most typical challenges.
Challenge: Kids need to eat early; partner comes home too late for full family dinner

Suggestion: Let the kids have an early dinner, but make it a "real dinner" too.
Make it a "real dinner" with either the food or the tone (or both). Don't just serve out mac and cheese and stand over them while they eat it. Or clean up the kitchen, or the house, while they eat "kid dinner". Sit down with your kids. Talk to them. Eat some of what they are eating or a have a snack when they eat. You can have a "second dinner" with your partner later, or skip the later dinner and just sit to keep company with your spouse.

Of course, parenting is all about multi-tasking and it is "efficient" to clean up while they eat. But family dinner is not about efficient; it's about spending time together and paying attention to one another. Your kids being "picky" or refusing to eat what's served may be rooted in wanting more attention. Refusing to eat brings you to the table, doesn't it? Give them attention without focusing on the food. Try to think of "attention" as preventive medicine to avoid unwanted behaviors.

Ideally, you are only making one dinner (that's time efficient). So perhaps you are serving the kids from the communal pot and you'll eat the same with your partner when he or she comes home. Or you cook one sauce that goes over two separately cooked pots of pasta. (Get a hand-held pasta strainer, so that you can remove the pasta and save the hot water for another round of cooking.) If you must serve two dinners because of the time crunch, find ways to streamline the process.

One mom friend of mine told me that her kids eat early, but then they have dessert and talk with Dad once he gets home. They make that their time for all sitting together for a few minutes before bedtime. Another friend, whose partner can never make it to dinner because of work, told me that she tries to make dinner with her son special by lighting a small tea light candle when they are eating together. It sets a mood, and gets their attention that this is "family time." Anything can work: the idea is to create a family dinner ritual, be it with one parent or two, and to enjoy that time together every night.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Community-Grown Solutions

As spring approaches, community gardens in New York City are gearing up. That's a real local food possibility for many residents in the city. Several NYC conferences are taking place in the next few weeks that promise to tap into community resources for better local food options for kids and families. Find your local NYC garden here or read more about community gardens in the article below.

Community Gardens by Anne Schwartz, Gotham Gazette, 07.17.06. This article provides background and resources on the continued fight for community gardens.

Upcoming Conferences:
Taking Health into our Own Hands. Forum on Community Grown Solutions. Tuesday March 18, 2008, 6pm-9pm. CUNY Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Ave, NY, NY.
Register and more info here. See also Why Hunger (WHY)'s: Food Security Learning Center

GreenThumb Grown Together, 24th Annual Conference, March 15, 2008, Hostos Community College, Bronx, 450 Grand Concourse and 149th St.
featuring: NYC Garden to Cafeteria: Connecting School and Community Gardens, Green Thumb Workshop. Contact: SchoolFood, in the NYC Dept of Education.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) 2008, March 29, Teachers College Columbia University, New York.

Schools, Food and Community Conference, April 11-12, Teachers College Columbia University, New York (Pre-register at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Confessions of an Organic Milk Convert

We are recent converts to organic milk. I was a hold-out for a long time. Mainly, because I cling tightly to my working-class roots or, in other words, I'm pretty cheap. I find it an abomination to spend $5 for a half-gallon of milk, which is what organic milk retails for around here. So I never wanted to get into the habit and then have to swiftly break it on a milk-run to the bodega. Still, the organic milk is much cheaper than retail at the Park Slope Food Coop. The organic milk is only about 70 cents more expensive than conventional ($3.13 a half-gallon v. $2.43). The price difference has been decreasing over the last year as conventional milk prices soar.

Why did we change? A friend actually shamed me at the register (an occurrence that really could only happen at the beloved Coop), noting that I had at least a couple of boxes of cookies in my cart, how could I really be cheap enough not to buy better milk? "Think of your kids!" he wailed. He shamed me enough that I felt I should at least give the organic milk a shot on my next shop. After all, I end up buying organic fruits and veggies and tell all who will listen how much better organic tastes (usually). I was surprised, though, just how much better the milk tasted. My family loved the organic milk, even the 1% milk. My husband and 12 yr old son are on a campaign to never have to drink "low-fat" milk, while I valiantly try to offer it whenever I can. (Not going to all the way to skim, no thanks.) So, I'm swallowing my pride, buying organic and rationalizing that at least I might be able to get my boys to drink low-fat milk every once in a while. (My two-year old prefers 1% because, no joke, it is in a purple carton. She is always asking for the "purple milk.")

More on switching to organic
5 easy ways to go organic, NYT Well Blog, 10.22.07
In her Well Blog, Parker-Pope lists 5 easy ways to go organic: Milk, Potatoes, Peanut Butter, Apples, Ketchup. I totally agree with the first three. But living in New York State, I think local apples are the way to go. Many local apples are minimally treated, not strictly organic. Local apples taste better and buying local better supports the local farm economy. My feelings about ketchup are known.

On the subject, organic bananas taste WAY better than non-organic ones! Ask Umbra at says there is no nutritional difference, but taste is king for me.

Seven Reasons Why Kids Should Drink Organic Milk, Organic Valley Family of Farms

The Advantages of Organic Food by Organic Food Info.Net

Park Slope Food Coop's Linewaiters' Gazette has lots of interesting articles on organic and local food.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Ritual of Family Dinner

Ritual helps us get more out of our time right now. Miriam Weinstein, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, 2005, p. 24
Here's the chicken-or-egg issue of family dinner, the "which comes first?" question: Are families who manage to have dinner together "unusual" in their ability to pull it off ? Or does the "having dinner together" itself help a family be more connected and thus able to continue it, night after night? When I talk to people about this blog, so many respond with some variation on: "Wow, I think family dinner is important, but it's just too hard." The reasons are varied, and entirely valid: My kids are too little; there's no time; my kids are too busy with activities; we are never home at dinner time; my husband and I both work or work too late; the kids hate what we cook anyway, etc., etc. I hear these challenges loud and clear, and over my posts in the next weeks, I will rack my brain trying to address them. But I know this: family dinner is worth all the time and trouble. I hope that my friends and readers can see that making small steps towards family dinner is a worthwhile goal.

For the average family, the "which came first?" question is irrelevant. You either want "in" on the benefits of family dinner or you don't. Upon interviewing several mental health researchers, Weinstein concludes that bottom line is this:
"Are you making [family life] easier for yourself or harder for yourself? Why not structure family life so that it's likely to work better? Why not build in supports that can help [your family] every day?" Weinstein, 2005, p.47
Family dinner models a well-functioning family for you and your children. It gives you a crutch. Setting aside a daily time and place for family (at dinner, when you have to eat anyway) brings consistency and structure to the day. This helps kids with resiliency, self-esteem, and best of all, it gives you all time as a family to learn about and know each other.

The Family Dinner Deconstructed: NPR 2.07.08
The Importance of Family Rituals, MN Children Youth and Families Consortium Electronic Clearinghouse.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Edible NYC: Building the "Good Food" System

I attended the Edible NYC conference this weekend and I was inspired. Despite the pouring rain, so many people came out to talk about local, sustainable food in NYC. I did not expect this conference about food and community gardening to feel so much like a revival, or at the very least, a political rally. But food is political and it is soulful. The connections of community and food run deep.

One highlight of the day was a 19-year old named Kimberly Vargas, a Red Hook resident and garden advocate, who works with Added Value. This young woman preached about "real food," was angry at the food choices presented to her family and friends at local bodegas, and was fired up to help change the food system. She declared herself "soda-free" for over a year, drawing gasps and applause from the audience. She was followed by Mark Winne, the 50-something author of Closing the Food Gap. As well as food politics, he spoke poetry and told funny, colorful stories of community organizing in the 1960s.

I was smack-down in the middle, age-wise, between the two of them, and also the majority of the audience. Many in the audience and at the non-profit booths were young: some in their teens, some in their twenties. There were quite a few older folks (post-AARP age) as well, but not too many 30 and 40-somethings. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the room feeding a family of young kids, but I felt like I might have been. This means nothing except, that it's a reminder that having a family takes a lot of time and it's not easy to do "extras" like community gardening or chatting about local food on a Saturday. Still, good food is so important for families and for children.

Good food (local, organic, sustainable) and family dinner go hand in hand. They are the foundation of healthy families and healthy communities. Here's the challenge: to build and sustain an equitable and nutritious food system. One way to start: harness the energy and enthusiasm of youth, tap into the wisdom and experience of age, and bring the gospel of "good food" down to the families with children. Then, maybe, we'll have the power of numbers to bring real change about.

Added Value promotes sustainable development in Red Hook, including the Red Hook Farmer's Market

Only the Blog Know Brooklyn on the Added Value Red Hook farm

Edible NYC was sponsored by the GreenBridge of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Friday, March 7, 2008

Notorious Vegetable: Take 2

We tried cabbage again this week. This time it was a Chinese version from my favorite Chinese cookbook, using Napa Cabbage and dried Chinese Mushrooms. The dish was much more delicious than my slap-dash cabbage with pear, skillet rendition a few weeks ago. Still, the kids mostly just pushed it around on their plate. My dear daughter, who is always looking for a bright side, said "The mushrooms are pretty good." My husband and I loved it, though, which means another appearance and another check off the "offer a new food 11 times" rule are likely in the future. I wonder, do you have to present the nefarious food item (insert cabbage here) in the same way each time, or will any form of it do? For the record, no one but me likes coleslaw, the most "normal" cabbage dish I can think of, so that won't work as an entry point.

This recipe has several steps and must be started 1 hour or so before dinner. But it's a relatively easy, yet authentic, Chinese vegetable recipe.

Braised Cabbage and Mushrooms
adapted from Grace Young's The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (p. 79)
Serves 4

12 Chinese dried Mushrooms
1/4 tsp. sugar
8-12 large leaves of Napa Cabbage (about 1 lb.)
1 tsp. plus 1 Tbsp. of vegetable oil
2 slices ginger
3/4 cup Chicken Broth
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsps. sesame oil

1) Soak dried mushrooms and sugar in 3/4 cup cold water for 30 min. or until softened. Drain and reserve liquid. Remove stems and half or quarter mushrooms.

2) Wash the cabbage leaves and dry. Stack 2-3 leaves at a time and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch shreds.

3) Pre-heat a small saucepan and when hot but not smoking, add 1 teaspoon of oil and 1 slice of ginger; stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and stir-fry those for 1 minute. Add reserved mushroom liquid and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Check occasionally to be sure there is enough liquid. Stir in oyster sauce.

4) When mushroom broth is nearly finished, prepare wok for stir-fry. Pre-heat wok over high heat, and when hot but not smoking, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 ginger slice. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add cabbage and stir-fry 1-2 minutes, until limp. Stir in salt, remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth, soy sauce and sesame oil. Reduce heat and cover, simmer for 5 minutes.

5) Transfer cabbage to a plate or bowl, with the pan juices. Pour mushrooms over the center of the cabbage and serve immediately.

Next week, it's time for brussel sprouts, also known as "baby cabbages." That cute name will surely be a big seller around here. Still it's ranked as one of the world's healthiest foods, so it might be worth a try or two.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ethanol: You Can't Eat Fool's Gold

The world’s food situation is bleak, and shortsighted policies in the United States and other wealthy countries — which are diverting crops to environmentally dubious biofuels — bear much of the blame. NYT editorial, 03.03.08
To follow up on Monday's post, food prices are going up and that affects the bottom line at the family dinner table. There are a myriad of reasons behind rising prices, including the obvious (gasoline and oil prices) and the less obvious (droughts in Australia). You can't change the weather, but flawed U.S. agricultural policy favoring ethanol production should be addressed immediately. It's killing me that the ethanol craze is not only bad for the environment,* but that it's also causing domestic food prices to rise and lending to global hunger.

Every food commodity--wheat corn, milk, hay, cooking oil, soybeans--is going up in the global markets. According to the Economist,
[The cause is] America's reckless ethanol subsidies. This year biofuels will take a third of America's (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV's fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The Economist, 12.06.07
Higher prices are just hitting U.S. consumers at the grocery store, and it is still unclear how Americans will react to higher food prices. But in poor countries, the situation is more dire.
In Haiti, the prices of rice, beans, condensed milk and fruit have ballooned by around 50 percent in a year, leaving the poor to rely on cookies made of mud. Mike Nizza, The Lede, NYT Blog 01.30.08
The outcry over ethanol and its possible negative effects on the food supply is not new. The New York Times and others have been reporting worries since at least 2006. We may have to wait for a new administration in 2009 for any real change, but U.S. farm policy should be considered a high priority for both fighting a recession and salvaging international relations.

U.S. families are being pinched by housing woes, gasoline prices, and now food prices. You have to keep buying milk for the kids, so what else will give? One good thing about having family dinners is that as you learn to cook and prepare meals, you can learn how to economize and stretch your food budget. Cooking for a family, even with higher food prices, is definitely more economical than take-out or convenience foods.

*Greenhouse gases may increase substantially in a switch to ethanol, according to Princeton University researcher, Timothy Searchinger.

More Articles and Resources on Ethanol and Food Prices
Priced out of the market NYT editorial 3.3.08
Why Ethanol Production Will Drive Food Prices Even Higher in 2008, Earth Policy Institute
Bloomberg Report on Ethanol Demand in U.S. adds to Food, Fertilzer Costs, 2.21.08
Study: Ethanol Worse for Climate than Gasoline, NPR, 02.07.08
The Dire Side of Rising Food Prices The Lede, NYT Blog, 01.30.08
A New Global Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories, NYT 01.19.08
The end of cheap food. The Economist, 12.06.07
Corn Farmers Smile as Ethanol Prices Rise, but Experts on Food Supplies Worry
NYT, 01.16.06

Articles on Grocery Prices in U.S.
Are you affected by rising food prices? Required Eating Blog, 01.21.08
Food Prices Soar in America CNN Money, 12.20.07
50 Ways to Fight High Grocery Bills. I don't agree with all of these, but many of the tips are useful.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Local School Food

Since I'm a parent and an advocate for family dinner, I'm especially interested in feeding kids and helping them have a healthy relationship with food. Schools are an important part of this equation. In New York, and many other locales, school cafeteria food is the only consistent meal of the day that many kids can count on. There are so many challenges for school and food.
  • How to create nutritious and affordable fare day after day for a large numbers of kids?
  • How to make the food attractive and tasty (thus eaten) in addition to being healthy?
  • How do you keep junk food at bay, but still have enough food revenue to cover expenses?
  • How to you get kids to try new, and hopefully healthier, foods?
I love the idea that schools can tap into local farm resources for some of their school menus. But there are many challenges to overcome. The Board of Eduction relies on federal agricultural supplies and there are a labyrinth of regulations to change procurement methods to assure safe food for the kids. One Brooklyn school supports a CSA and a local farmer (Dines Farm, a staple at many NYC Greenmarkets), but not directly to the cafeteria table. The initial idea was to develop a relationship so that the local produce could find its way to the kids at school. That didn't work out, but the PTA saved the idea by offering parents membership in a school-based CSA. Now at least some parents are getting local produce and meat to serve for dinner. Plus, it's starting an education process for both kids and parents about the food-farm connection. It's a good start.

Alice Waters and the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA is one inspiration. Martin Luther King Jr., Middle School has its own garden and a full curriculum of growing, cooking, and using plants for dyes and science experiments. Still, it is wholly supported by a private foundation and thus may be hard to mimic on a broad scale. Edible Schoolyard's website has useful tips and suggestions (lessons learned the hard way, it notes) for school and communities that want to incorporate real gardening into the local food movement.

I found so many farm-to-school links, resources and articles out there (some listed below). It's an idea worth fighting for.

Upcoming Conferences and other Resources:

Edible NYC: Green it! Grow it! Eat it! at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, this weekend, March 8th.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) 2008, March 29, Teachers College Columbia University, New York.
Schools, Food and Community Conference, April 11-12, Teachers College Columbia University, New York (Pre-register at
Baum Forum Resource Guide. See past forums and resource guides to find links and articles about a wide range of local food topics, such as School Food Resources and the Urban Food System.
National Farm to School A national organization that helps connect schools and farms.
New York Farm to School Resources Compiled by NYFarms! a statewide coalition of farmers, businesses, government agencies and non-profits committed to NY farms and families.
Free Lunch Isn't Cool, so Some Students Go Hungry NYT, 3.1.08
Fast Food 101 NYT Well Blog, 12.28.07
Local Food 101, with a School as his Lab, NYT, 05.13.07
Naked Lunch, NYT 02.11.07
Do Apple Slices Make the Grade? NYT, 04.05.06 Great article that highlights some of the challenges to getting healthier food in cafeterias.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sizing Up the Price of a NY Bagel

I guess, this post is more about family breakfast than family dinner, but as any New Yorker knows bagels are considered fine fare at any time of day.

It's in the news all over that food prices are going up. According to the most recent USDA forecast, Consumer Price Index on food has risen 0.4 percent in the last 2 months, and 4.3 percent over the past year. The cost of grain is affecting bread and meat prices; the cost of milk, of course, affects the price of milk and cheese. So the staples of the American family diet are taking a hit.

In New York, the cost crunch is felt in the bagel. Recently, a 100 lb bag of flour has doubled to $40, as reported in the daily paper, am.newyork. Quoting Ed Usset, a grain market specialist, the article states
"North Dakota flour is bagel flour...(h)igh-gluten, high-protein flour for bagels. That crop is essentially sold out, and we're only half-way through the marketing year."
Out of bagel flour, he says! Egads! Retail bagels are pushing a $1 in some Manhattan shops, and even a "discount" place like the Park Slope Food Coop has raised its bagel prices. The price of a bagel there (from Terrace Bagels) has risen from a ridiculously low $0.38 to a distinctly more pricey $0.58 in just a few weeks. (That's $7 a dozen, folks.) Can a New York mom really stop buying bagels? It is the perfect, portable stroller food, as any mom of a toddler knows. It is the lunch box option of choice for many city kids. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack--I've served bagels at any time of day as a quick bite, or with all the fixings for a full-fledged meal.

Maybe the bagel bakeries will respond by shrinking the colossal size that the NY bagel has attained in recent years. The bagels have grown from a modest few inch diameter* in the olden days to a puffy, gargantuan size. The new bagels are the definition of carb-overload. We should use this recession and bagel flour shortage as a call to deflate the size of the NY bagel. This would reduce costs for the baker, lower the retail price for the customer, and help improve public health with a widespread reduction in calorie consumption. This could be a win-win for New Yorkers.

Breakfast burning a hole in city pockets, Metro, 01.30.08
Bagel Prices Ballooning Across New York, the gothamist. 02.01.08
Was Life Better When Bagels Were Smaller? NYT, 12.31.03. A classic by Ed Levine.

*"Bagels used to weigh 2 to 3 ounces, with about 200 calories, writes New York University nutrition researcher Lisa Young in her book 'The Portion Teller.'