Nutritionist and Author Marion Nestle’s Review of “Raise”

Marion Nestle, an NYU nutritionist and the author of Food Politics and several other excellent books about the forces that shape the way we eat, reviewed Raise:

Weekend reading: Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids

Kiera Butler.  Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids & How its Lessons Could Change Food & Farming Forever.  University of California Press, 2014.

New Picture (1)

Kiera Butler usually writes for Mother Jones (her latest is about how McDonald’s markets to kids) but this time took on an investigative reporter’s immersion into the world of 4-H, the venerable youth-mentoring program aimed at “growing confident kids.”

Although the program’s website says “4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System & USDA,” you have to look hard to see how it relates to its farming origins.

Butler follows several individual 4-H members, young teenagers, who are deeply engaged in raising and showing animals at county fairs.  She follows their experiences for a year and observes their demonstrable growth in skills, confidence, and the handling of disappointment.  These are the impressive accomplishments of this program.

But she is also well aware of the many contradictions of 4-H…

Read the rest of the review at Nestle’s blog.

This Fast-Food-Loving, Organics-Hating Ivy League Prof Will Trick You Into Eating Better


My latest longform piece for Mother Jones is a profile of Cornell behavioral psychologist Brian Wansink, thanks to whom I’ll never deny myself a quesadilla again:

The Chicken Quesadilla Grande is calling to me. I am jet-lagged, starving, and fairly certain that a giant pile of melted cheese will dramatically improve my outlook on life. But right now, in front of a renowned authority on healthy eating? That doesn’t seem like such a great idea.

I’m here at an Applebee’s in Ithaca, New York, where Brian Wansink, a Cornell food psychologist, is evaluating my dining habits. So far, he says, I’ve got a few things going for me: We are seated by the window, which his research has shown makes us 80 percent more likely to order salad. And had we chosen a booth near the bar, our risk of ordering dessert would have been 73 percent greater. I should be glad, he says, that the ceiling lamps are casting a cheery glow and that Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” is playing softly; dim lighting and loud music are associated with consuming a lot of calories, not to mention lower satisfaction with the meal.

Maybe it’s thanks to the felicitous environment that, when the waitress arrives, I dutifully order the strawberry-and-avocado salad with grilled chicken. Then it’s Wansink’s turn. “I’ll have the bacon-and-ranch wedge salad,” he says. “Then the French onion soup and the cheeseburger sliders. And a Diet Coke.”

He seems pleased with himself. “I ordered basic comfort food,” he offers cheerfully. “You ordered a little funkier.” I try not to scowl. “If you tell people to be mindful of what they order, they don’t like it as much and they make up for it later,” he explains. “They tell themselves they deserve ice cream since they virtuously ate a salad for dinner.”

Great, I think, as I pick through bagged lettuce topped with rubbery chicken, a few mealy strawberries, and a cluster of stiff avocado slices. Across the table, Wansink is digging into his soup, wrapping long strings of melted Swiss around the spoon. By the time his sliders arrive, he’s so full he can only finish one. He has the waitress pack the other two to go.

Read the full Mother Jones story here.

San Francisco Reboots School Cafeterias

I wrote a piece for The Atlantic about SF’s cool lunchroom redesign:

Happy Meals

Can San Francisco reinvent the school cafeteria?

At exactly 11:55 a.m., 233 hungry sixth-graders burst into the cafeteria at San Francisco’s Roosevelt Middle School. Four kids run outside to a mobile cart, select turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, and head to a table next to a basketball court. Three boys grab barbecued-chicken salads from a pickup window. One of them makes a beeline for the couch in a cozy “chill out” area of the lunchroom.

A few years ago, San Francisco public-school officials calculated that just 57 percent of students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals actually took advantage of them. Concerned, they tried ditching frozen entrées in favor of fresher meals—but the numbers barely improved. So in April 2013, with help from the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation, the district brought in the design firm Ideo, in hopes of figuring out how to get students more excited about eating at school.

After spending a couple of months observing and interviewing the city’s schoolchildren, Ideo’s team came to see uninviting lunchrooms as its central challenge. Roosevelt’s old cafeteria, for example, had monotonous rows of long tables, dreary fluorescent lighting, and lines so long that kids were left with barely enough time to scarf down their meal before the bell rang. “Everyone focuses on the food,” says Ideo’s Sandy Speicher. “We knew that in order to get kids to eat, the atmosphere had to be enjoyable.”

Read the rest here.

RAISE in Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed published an essay I wrote based on RAISE:

turkey image

The Thanksgiving I Ate My Pet Turkey

One sunny day in May a few years ago, two roommates and I drove out to a farm in the country to pick up a couple of three-week-old turkey poults. The farmer raised her eyebrows when we told her that we planned to keep them in our urban neighborhood in Berkeley, California. But we assured her that our turkeys would have a good life, and she relinquished the apple-size birds to us. They chirped plaintively throughout the entire hour and a half of our drive home.

The farmer was probably right to worry. None of us had ever had any turkey experience, unless you counted the kind that appears on your plate at Thanksgiving. A lifelong city-dweller, I had never spent so much as an afternoon on a farm, let alone raised my own livestock.

But that year, 2011, all of a sudden my friends and neighbors began to talk about farming and food. Michael Pollan’s influential book The Omnivore’s Dilemma had come out a few years earlier, and more recently, journalist and farmer Novella Carpenter had written her book Farm City about raising turkeys, goats, and even pigs in one of Oakland’s grittiest neighborhoods.

Read the rest over at Buzzfeed.

Upcoming RAISE Readings, and More!

RAISE is now officially out and available online and at your local bookstore! And I’m excited to let you know about two new Bay Area readings:

I’m also thrilled to announce that I’ll be performing a RAISE-related piece in Pop-Up Magazine, a live journalism event that will take place November 13 at Davies Hall in San Francisco and November 19 at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. The San Francisco show sold out in a flash, but LA tickets are still available. Angelenos, this is sure to be a fun night. Don’t miss it!

“Raise” Is Available for Pre-Order on Amazon!

raiseYou can now pre-order a copy of Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever.

About Raise: When city-dwelling journalist Kiera Butler visits a county fair for the first time, she is captivated by the white-uniformed members of 4-H club and their perfectly-groomed animals. She sets off on a search for a “real” 4-H’er, a hypothetical wholesome youth whom she imagines wearing cowboy boots and living on a ranch. Along the way, she meets five teenage 4-H’ers from diverse backgrounds and gets to know them as they prepare to compete at the fair. Butler’s on-the-ground account of the teens’ concerns with their goats, pigs, sheep, proms, and SAT scores is interwoven with a fascinating history of the century-old 4-H as it moves to rely increasingly on corporate donations from top agribusiness firms such as DuPont, Monsanto, and Cargill. Her quest takes her from California’s cities and suburbs all the way to Ghana, where she investigates 4-H’s unprecedented push to expand its programs in the developing world—and the corporate partnerships that are supporting this expansion.

Raise masterfully combines vivid accounts from a little known subculture with a broader analysis of agriculture education today, using 4-H as a lens through which to view the changing landscape of farming in America and the rest of the world. Lively, deeply informed, and perceptive in its analysis, Raise provides answers to complex questions about our collective concern over the future of food.


“Kiera Butler’s Raise is a delightful behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating subculture of 4-H. You’ll root for the kids she artfully profiles, in addition to falling in love with the animals tended by these kids. The book proves once again that animals do make us human, especially when you are a teenager at a state fair, in it to win it.”—Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

“With diligent, smart reportage and an often very funny narrative, Raise is a remarkable look at a world that deserves to be much better known.” —Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of “Little House on the Prairie”

“Thoughtful and wide-ranging, Kiera Butler’s Raise offers an invaluable look at the future of American farms—and the food they produce. Butler makes a compelling case that agricultural literacy is as important as its academic parallel.”—Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table