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