Food Day 2013

By Tifinie Capehart, Chair of the Nashville Food Policy Council

I love to eat. I love to cook. I love to enjoy the food that I cook with others. Food has always been the cornerstone of my life, as some of my fondest memories are of times gathered around food: Thanksgiving with family, my wedding reception, crawfish boils in my native New Orleans, and celebrating with college roommates over a bucket of KFC after moving into upperclassmen housing (no judgment please). In the grand scheme of things, I’m considered a consumer in the food system. And I’m okay with that. Consumers are needed in the food system. Who would farmers grow food for and who would chefs get to marvel at their artistic creations without consumers like me? To all my consumers: please raise your forks!

As a consumer, I gladly give props to all parts of the local Food System: the growers, the warehouses, distributors, and the marketers and retailers, for without them our system would not be complete. As Chair of the Nashville Food Policy Council, it’s my job to bring together individuals that represent every component of the local food system. We work to ensure that food is considered in transportation, economic, local land use and social policy decisions. Each decision, with the input and expertise of these dedicated individuals, moves us one step closer to a more accessible, sustainable food system.

Just as food is the cornerstone of our individual lives, access to healthy and affordable food is important because it’s the cornerstone of our community. Local restaurants revitalize neighborhoods, summer feeding programs provide our youth with healthy meals, food kitchens help feed our homeless, and farmers’ markets increase social interaction between neighbors. Without food, our communities would be void of culture, flavor, and richness.

Perhaps that’s why food is getting so much attention in 2013. For the last three years on October 24, communities across the U.S. have celebrated healthy, affordable, sustainably produced food with a unifying celebration called Food Day. Food Day is a movement of grassroots food advocates who fight for ‘shorter lines in the fast-food drive through and bigger crowds at the farmers’ markets’. Through small and large nationwide events, Food Day promotes access to ‘real food’ and awareness of issues that affect our local food systems. Nashville’s Food Day has many events to take part in. To find a Nashville Food Day event or to register your own, visit http://www.foodday.org.

As Chair of the Nashville Food Policy Council, I want you to know that we are currently working hard for folks like you who eat, distribute, or grow food in Nashville and who like to read our stuff! Currently, we are working in partnership with the Metropolitan Nashville Health Department on a Food System Assessment to better understand where our food system is rocking it, and where it needs improvement. We also weigh in on local policy issues concerning the food system; most notably, the Chicken Bill which allows urban chickens to be kept on personal property. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m super proud of the foundation that is being set.

So before you sit down to eat this Thursday October 24th, consider doing something special to commemorate Food Day. Try a new local restaurant, throw a new vegetable in your cart, bring a meal to a family in need, or donate to your local food bank… share this blog post! And if you’re a humble consumer like me, be proud of your role – our food system needs us! So raise your fork, knife, spoon, and in some cases your hands, and let’s eat!

Farm to Landfill: Wasted Food in America

By NFPC Staff

September is Hunger Action Month. Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee hopes this month will call attention to the 395,540 hungry Middle Tennesseans going without for several meals or several days. One in six Americans are struggling to feed themselves, and they’re doing so in a country that wastes more than 40 percent of all the food we produce.

How does almost half of all the food we grow get wasted? In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council released an issue paper, Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, examining the various detours our food makes on the way to the table.

NRDC Food Loss

Food goes to waste throughout the trip from farm to table. Seven percent of crops are left to rot in the field, the result of overplanting, a shortage of farmworkers, or because the produce isn’t aesthetically pleasing. Another major cause of wasted food? Our inflexible (and foolish) demand that all produce meets an idealized standard of what food “should” look like. Farmers are forced to cull produce that doesn’t meet requirements for size, color, and weight. The imperfect fruits and vegetables are just as edible as their more attractive counterparts, but they’re allowed to spoil.

Good food is lost throughout the supply chain, but the biggest culprit behind wasted food is the consumer. You could get disheartened, thinking about the last time you went to the fridge and found expired yogurt and moldy produce. Don’t! Ending our foolish aesthetic requirements for produce or advocating for government intervention that encourages farmers to harvest all their edible crops will take a long time. That kind of change requires broad-based support and a lot of work. Changing our individual habits and encouraging those in our community to do the same is a piece of cake (comparatively). We can reduce food waste one leftover night at a time.

How to Reduce Food Waste at Home:   

  • Plan before you shop. Make a list of recipes for the week. Check to see what you’ve already got before you go to the grocery store. Ziplist (a free app available for iPhones) is a helpful tool. It provides a quick recipe search and automatically organizes your grocery list into produce, dairy, meat, etc.
  • Organize your kitchen, and stock up on staples. Food is left to expire too often, so know what you’ve got. Arrange items so you can see them easily or keep a list on the fridge. Keeping staples in your pantry will help you use up all your leftovers or straggler produce. Most cooking staples are dry goods that will last a long time. You can read about what to have on hand here and here.
  • Serve smaller portions, save your leftovers, and eat them up! Restaurants have a reputation for serving up portions too large to finish, but that trend has spread. Start with a small portion and get another serving when you need it. That way, less food goes into the bin after a meal. Save your leftovers. They can be reused as a side dish with another meal, or eaten on a “leftover night.” (Here’s extra incentive if you and your are hoping to slim down: researchers have found that we eat more food when there’s more on the plate, so reducing portion size may help you reduce, too!)
  • Pack a lunch. After you finish dinner, pack a lunch box with your leftovers. Throw in any produce you need to use up. A packed lunch is usually healthier than a meal bought at a restaurant or a convenience store. It’s definitely cheaper.
  • Start a compost pile if you have the space. In nature, there is no waste. Organic matter decomposes and replenishes the earth it came from. Food that breaks down in a compost pile doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gasses in the landfill. Once it’s done composting, it’s a powerful natural soil amendment that can be safely added in large quantities to your yard or garden.

The costs of wasted food don’t just affect the hungry. 97 percent of the food we waste winds up in a landfill or in the incinerator where it contributes to the production of methane (a potent greenhouse gas.) Next week, we’ll look into the negative environmental toll wasted food creates on our planet.

How often does food go to waste in your house? Have you experimented with a system to reduce your waste? Do you and your family have a favorite use-it-all-up recipe? 

Food Deserts in Nashville

Formerly a student at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Sasha Robinson is studying Environmental Science at Auburn University at Montgomery. In May, Sasha interned with Community Food Advocates, a non-profit organization in Nashville whose mission is ensuring that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food from a just and sustainable food system. After graduation Sasha is planning a career in the field of sustainable food systems and food justice.

Have you ever been to Nashville, or another major city, and noticed how hard it was to find a grocery store or a farmers’ market? If so, you were most likely in a Food Desert, especially if you were in Nashville. When I say Food Desert, I don’t mean that there is absolutely no food. I just mean that it’s a place or neighborhood where grocery stores are few and far between, and instead, there are convenience and corner stores. The residents of areas like these also find it hard to travel to grocery stores because of their financial means. Basically, you have low-income families and people who cannot afford to travel to grocery stores and purchase its food due to the fact that there are convenience stores on every corner of their neighborhood or area and little to no transportation.

This is a serious problem and even further, a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Even if the income of the families increased, they still have too much distance in between them and the grocery store in question to obtain the healthy foods they need to maintain a healthy, fresh diet. On the flip side, if grocery stores moved closer to the areas in need of healthy foods, these families still wouldn’t be able to purchase the foods because they still have to travel to get there and the healthy foods are more expensive than the unhealthy, junk food the stores sell.

One great stride in solving the problem of food deserts was the introduction of farmers’ markets in cities or neighborhoods with low-income families. Farmers’ markets serve as the “middle man” between families getting to the grocery stores. They are placed in the city, and usually even better, the food deserts. Usually, they also allow the use of SNAP credit or food stamps. The Community Food Advocates (CFA) knows the working of farmers’ markets and the SNAP program, and tries to “advocate” or inform people of the two. The biggest way they do this is by stationing themselves at farmers’ markets and educating people about the SNAP program, informing them on how their SNAP credit can be used at the markets, and showing how the SNAP currency works at each market. The CFA also gives out their contact information at the farmers’ markets because they encourage you to come by with any questions you have about the SNAP program, food deserts, etc. Here, they can educate you one-on-one or even get you signed up to one of their many programs that they offer including their Food Stamp Outreach programs and Growing Healthy Kids.

Ultimately, the CFA is the answer, along with your help, in minimizing food deserts and helping the families who suffer from them.

Have you worked to change the food landscape in Nashville? Want to write about it? Please read our guest post guidelines and send a submission to marynevaire@gmail.com. We want to hear from you!

Pasta Sauce

By NFPC Staff 

No discussion (or blog!) about food is complete without a conversation on cooking. We spend less time in the kitchen than any American generation, and we’re missing out! Simple recipes, using fresh ingredients, can be easy, quick, tasty, and healthy. Cooking our own meals is also a great way to get fruits and vegetables on the table.

Homemade Pasta Sauce for Beginners

Ingredients:

  • 4 Large Tomatoes
  • 1 Large Sweet Onion
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter or Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Optional: 8 ounces vodka, 1/2 cup skim milk

Chop up the onion and finely chop the garlic. Set aside. Chop up all 4 tomatoes and discard the watery seeds. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until shimmering (or heat butter until bubbling and brown.) Add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized. (Caramelization is the natural browning of sugars in food. Once the onions turn brown, the process is complete.)

Add tomatoes to the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Stir occasionally – the tomatoes will release their juices. Let the sauce simmer (bubble slightly.) Turn down the heat as necessary to keep the sauce from boiling. The sauce will reduce in volume and thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat, and enjoy over pasta!

Optional: Vodka Sauce 

Vodka sauce is an easy variation on the traditional pasta sauce above. To make, add 8 ounces of vodka (for reference, a shot glass holds 2 ounces) after the tomatoes have been added and released their juices. Reduce heat to low, and allow sauce to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent ingredients from sticking to the pan. The majority of the alcohol will cook out of the sauce, leaving the flavor of the vodka behind. Take a whiff of the steam – if it still smells like vodka, you’re not finished simmering. After simmering, add 1/2 cup of skim milk (for a more indulgent sauce, add milk with a higher fat content) and stir in. Cook for 3 to 5 more minutes, remove from heat, and enjoy!

We suggest pairing our pasta sauce with whole grain, thin spaghetti from Kroger. Follow the instructions on the packet to enjoy al dente noodles with your fresh, homemade sauce. You can add the cooked noodles to the skillet (if it’s large enough) and serve from the communal pot.

Have you got a favorite recipe that’s quick and full of veggies? Share it in the comments. And if you give this recipe a try, let us know how it turned out!

“The Seed Underground” and the Fight for Food Heritage

By NFPC Staff

SeedUnderground

Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food is a cold evaluation of the modern food system and a stirring call to arms. In the introduction, Ray makes her intentions clear: “I have reached the age, fifty, where I see my own life force ebbing away and I want to empower others, especially young people, as I have been strengthened. Plus there’s love. The story is about love. There is nothing else for it to be about… I am writing for you. You. This is not a textbook on seed saving. I am looking to inspire you with my own life.” Although her book unflinchingly chronicles bleak realities, Ray is nothing if not an optimist.

The Seed Underground is a great resource for the uninitiated in the fight for sustainable food. Ray’s insights, anecdotes, and well-researched book educates and inspires – activists already in the trenches will find Ray’s work equally enjoyable.

Here’s what we loved:

  • Without ever veering into “textbook” territory, Ray describes the eons-long tradition of seed saving. The knowledge has been passed down through generations, and Ray shares (and laments) the rich history and indigenous knowledge we’re losing as the practice is abandoned.
  • The Seed Underground is a fantastic resource for anyone hoping to learn about heirloom seeds. It sometimes feels as though you’re reading modern folklore while Ray recounts funny and poignant stories of stewardship. The various careful and carefree varieties come by their names deserves its own book. Heirlooms are a tasty, rich part of our history. Before you’re done with the book, you’ll likely find yourself perusing The Seed Savers Exchange website.
  • “More Gardens, Less Gas” is both the title of a chapter and one of the primary messages of the book. How we grow and consume food has major impacts on our health, the environment, and the economy. Ray questions the massive changes to the food system over the last few decades, arguing that decisions have been made with profit – not the well-being of people and the planet – in mind.
  • A recurring theme found in the work is the connection to our collective past that food, and the way we grow it, provides. In one chapter, “What is Broken”, Ray outlines flaws in the American food system by way of the Iraq war and the unnecessary, sweeping introduction of genetically modified crops by the United States military.

Ray has written an ode to seeds, the smallest and most important part of bringing food to the table. 94 percent of seed varieties have been lost since the turn of the 20th century. In the face of systemic challenges to reestablishing local food, farming, and protecting plant diversity, The Seed Underground demands revolution. “Like seed, each of us has traits hidden deep inside that under the right conditions can emerge. Any of us can be selected and developed. We can become the people we’ve always wanted to become. We can respond and adjust, sure, but even more important, we can express ourselves. We can become something even stronger and more useful than we were before.”

Learn more about Janisse Ray’s work on her website, janisseray.weebly.com.

What contact have you had with heirloom seeds or produce? Do you believe they deserve protection and a larger role in our food system?

Doing More By Using Less – Halfsies to Launch Soon in Austin, New York

Ever feel overwhelmed by the food on your plate? Restaurants routinely serve portions that are twice as large (sometime four times as large) as the recommended serving size. Faced with a loaded plate, most of us will eat more than we need to and much more than we ought to. A new program launching in Austin, Texas and New York City hopes to take a big bite out of our portions and hunger at the same time.

Halfsies is a social initiative – their goal is to promote healthier portion sizes, reduce food waste, and fight hunger all at the same time. Starting soon, participating restaurants will begin sporting “Halfsies” icons on the menu. When patrons choose to “go halfsies” they will be served half of the restaurant’s typical portion. When the bill comes, they’ll still pay full price, but 25 percent of what they pay will be donated to sustainable programs combating hunger.

Better then v. now

Infographic from Halfsies

Food waste and hunger are larger problems than most of us realize. Food waste creates expensive economic, environmental, and human costs. In America, we waste more than 100 billion dollars on the food we send to the landfill. Once all that food – about 40 percent of all the food we produce for consumption – reaches the landfill, it creates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, a gas that’s also more potent than carbon dioxide. Although the majority of Americans are well fed, one in six Americans are hungry. Those one in six are going without food, sometimes for days, and suffer undernourishment and malnutrition. When you consider the 50 million Americans without enough to eat, food waste is especially heartbreaking.

Halfsies supports local and global efforts to fight hunger. 60 percent of donations are given to local organizations, 30 percent to global organizations, and ten percent of donations are used to cover administration and operational costs. We’ll be following Halfsies’ progress in Austin and NYC, and we hope they’ll make a positive difference in those cities.

Hunger is present in every community, and Nashville isn’t immune. There are a number of organizations working to make a difference in Music City, and they need you to get involved!

  •  Community Food Advocates: Tied together by the motto “Everybody Eats” CFA is a “…movement of farmers, parents, students, persons of faith, community gardeners, and health advocates united by a commitment to the idea that all members of our community should have access to food grown in a way that promotes the health of people, planet, and community.”
  • Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee: Donate food, time, or money to support the mission: “To feed hungry people and work to solve hunger issues in our community.”
  • Hands on Nashville Urban Farm: Learn more about the ambitious goals of HON’s Urban Farm and how you can make a difference by volunteering or attending a workshop.
  • The Nashville Food Project: Providing access to healthy food in homeless and working poor communities across Davidson County, you can lend your time as a volunteer or donate funds to their worthy cause.

You can learn more about wasted food at the website by the same name, WastedFood.com. The author, Jonathan Bloom, writes about “why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it.” The site is a good read and a good resource for those who want to make a difference by making less waste.

If you want to better understand what Halfsies hopes to accomplish, check out their video. By the time it’s finished, you’ll be fired up!