Author Archives: slowfoodsf

A Better Food Culture

Acre Gourmet – Sponsor of Childhood Obesity Bay Area (COBA) Mid-Year Conference
Can you imagine a world in which a young boy sits in a cafeteria, surrounded by classmates and teachers, enjoying a wholesome lunch of chicken quesadillas with freshly grilled vegetables and a dessert of fresh strawberries? One in which this happy little boy exclaims to his friends, “You know what!? I think it’s almost asparagus season!!” Does this sound like a mere fantasy? Thankfully – the folks at Acre Gourmet have made this dream a reality.

Fresh asparagus for the kids

Fresh asparagus for the kids

Acre Gourmet is in the business of creating “a better food culture.” Their mantra is very similar to Slow Food’s commitment to Good, Clean and Fair – Acre uses a proven integral approach that combines healthy organic ingredients and environmentally friendly practices, paving the way for a better approach to eating. They specialize in designing and managing distinctive on-site restaurants, lunch programs and concessions in schools and business centers throughout the Bay Area. And they have generously offered their services to Childhood Obesity Bay Area (COBA) – they are donating the lunches we’ll be enjoying at our upcoming conference.
Acre has been involved in feeding children healthy food for over seven years. They have developed programs in four private schools in San Francisco – providing counsel, nutritious and delicious food and ongoing support to ensure their school lunch programs are successful. They consult with the schools to ensure their kitchens are outfitted with equipment that can support the preparation of fresh, homemade food (most school kitchens are only set up to heat pre-packaged, processed foods). They provide rotating menus featuring locally produced, organic items that are nutritionally balanced and child-friendly. Acre even hosts regular “tasting” events at the schools where the kids can learn about various kinds of produce. Imagine a child exclaiming “I really like Cara Cara oranges better than Blood oranges. They’re so much sweeter!”

Kids with kale - harvest from Cathedral School for Boys rooftop garden

Kids with kale - harvest from Cathedral School for Boys rooftop garden

Britt Galler, Acre’s Executive Chef, was kind enough to talk with us about their work. She focused on the fact that everyone at the organization recognizes how fortunate they are. Over the course of their history, they have received tremendous validation. Kids are eating more fresh produce and the schools are totally engaged in ensuring students are receiving healthy, nutritional meals. At the same time, Britt recognizes that the children they feed are extraordinarily fortunate. Most schools can’t afford to support school lunch programs like the ones Acre promotes. Public schools are challenged to provide healthy fare. Between inadequate funding to the tremendous amount of bureaucratic red tape that dictates what schools can and can’t serve – oftentimes, nutritious school lunch programs are but a dream. Acre does what they can though. They provide free counsel to any school that needs it – sharing the wisdom they’ve developed over the years and distributing information about nutritional school lunch programs to anyone who is interested. And they are committed to enhancing nutrition and promoting healthy eating habits of all children.

Though she is very aware of the issue of childhood obesity, Britt rarely sees overweight kids at her schools. “Childhood obesity is partly a socio-economic issue,” Britt said. “Schools with less funding often have the higher rates, and a contributing factor is that the lunch menu relies heavily on processed foods.” This disparity is another reason she’s so thrilled to be helping out with the COBA conference. She told us, “I look at food as the basis for everything. But it is marginalized in today’s schools – food education receives hardly any attention. Yet it’s at the heart of so many issues – health, the environment, social justice.”

There’s obviously a lot to be done to address the issue of childhood obesity. But the kind people at Acre Gourmet are doing what they can to help. They take the increasing health threat of childhood obesity into consideration as they cook for their community. And beyond the food – they focus on something that is rarely addressed in today’s schools. They insist that all students and teachers eat together – that they share a communal meal. “I love what happens when people eat together,” said Britt. “The kids talk about food, they connect with their teachers. It’s a supportive and nourishing environment.” Perhaps those of us who attend this year’s COBA Mid-Year Conference will keep this in mind as we enjoy the beautiful food prepared by Acre Gourmet. Let’s focus on respecting and valuing the food – and each other.

Childhood Obesity Bay Area: how to reverse the trajectory

By: Michelle Paratore

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of volunteering at Slow Food San Francisco’s first annual Childhood Obesity Bay Area Conference at the Commonwealth Club. The conference featured two truly illuminating keynote speeches from Dr. Alan Greene and Dr. David Kessler. I was impressed by the ability of both speakers to boil down this country’s obesity and food problems to very simple, and addressable, root causes: 1) unhealthy taste preferences shaped early in childhood and 2) public acceptance of eating crappy food. The conference left me inspired and excited.

In case you missed the conference, here’s a summary of what I learned.

Dr. Greene’s answer: get kids to like healthy foods early and ban white rice cereal from babies’ diets

Dr. Greene kicked off by proclaiming that solving the childhood obesity epidemic is “within our reach” and that we as a country can “make significant progress on this issue within a year.” He flipped through one of my favorite series of charts related to obesity: themap of our country with obesity rates by state from 1985 to 2010. His point was, obesity rates are moving rapidly and we can change the trajectory. The difference between the map from 2010 and 2000 is huge, and we can reverse that change over the next ten years.


Animals learn food preferences. They aren’t born with them.  At birth, a child could learn to like any food from any culture on the planet, just like he or she could learn to speak any language. There’s a period of ~33 months, starting from before birth until walking, when children are open to new flavors (after walking, neophobia sets in, which makes sense: evolutionarily-speaking, you don’t want your newly-mobile kid walking around and putting new things in his or her mouth). During this pre-walking 33 month window, if a child experiences a flavor 6-10 times, 85% of them will like it. The catch is that 94% of parents will give up on getting their children to eat a specific food before six times. Only 1-2% of parents will try a food ten times. Therefore there is a huge opportunity in driving the tastes of the next generation that is not currently being seized.

If parents aren’t trying more than six times to get their kids to eat their veggies, what are they giving their infants? For the past few decades, 98% of the time, a baby’s first solid food has been white rice cereal. This has been the standard pediatrician recommendation for the past 50-60 years (reinforced by tons of Gerber marketing, “you can’t make baby food yourself, trust us instead…”). On average a baby has eaten white rice cereal 14 times before eating any other solid food. By the time it hits the intestines, white rice flour is 100% glucose and has the same affect on a baby’s metabolism as eating pure sugar. Not only does this practice imprint taste preferences for refined carbohydrates and sugars, hooking kids on junk food for life, but it also causes insulin spikes and fundamentally changes a baby’s metabolism. It’s no wonder that a big chunk of childhood obesity occurs by the time children are only nine months old.

So, to sum up Dr. Greene’s point, there is a long list of problems contributing to childhood obesity including supersized meals, sedentary lifestyles, the demise of family mealtime, and unhealthy school lunches. But if we don’t set our kids up for success from day one, introducing healthier eating later in life will not be enough. There is a clear opportunity to make an impact by changing what kids eat in their first three years. This opportunity has inspired Dr. Greene’s WhiteOutNow movement to end white rice cereal for babies by Thanksgiving 2011. Read more about WhiteOutNow on Dr. Greene’s site.

Another interesting tidbit from Dr. Greene’s work: slowing down eating can also be super powerful in addressing obesity. From a study of four-year-olds at a buffet, the biggest driver of future weight gain was not the type of food eaten or the quantity but the number of bites per minute. At 3.1 bites per minute, kids were significantly more likely to be obese. At 2.2 bites or less, they were unlikely. This boils down to an eight second difference in the duration of each bite. This finding has been reinforced by experiments with the mandometer plate: a plate that tells you to slow down. Using the plate successfully slows down a person’s eating and can have lasting impact on BMI even after the plate is taken away. Too bad the plate isn’t available in the US and is prohibitively expensive. New startup to cheaply slow done eating, anyone? Please?

Dr. Kessler’s answer: create a social stigma around eating junk food

Dr. Kessler came at the issue of childhood obesity from a different angle. He recounted a memory of watching a woman being interviewed on a talk show. She was intelligent and successful in her professional life, but she could not control her eating. She was regularly engaging in eating behavior that she knew was making her obese, but she couldn’t stop herself. Dr. Kessler was captivated by the question, what is causing us to be out of control with regard to food? What driveswanting as distinct from liking?

Dr. Kessler dove head first into brain chemistry, leaving me and my high school-level human biology knowledge well behind. However I did manage to gleam the following tidbits (bear with me for blatant misuse of scientific terms, I’m sure…):

  • In overweight individuals, there is excessive amygdala activation both in anticipation of food and until there is no food left (versus in healthy weight individuals, activation ceases at the first bite)
  • How does this happen?
  1. We are wired to focus on the most salient stimuli
  2. Our food has been designed to achieve salience (via millions of R&D $$ by big food companies)
  3. Cues and stimuli create urges and thoughts of wanting
  4. These cues drive behavior, which becomes rewarding and self-sustaining, ultimately rewiring mental pathways and circuitry
  • Add in the modern-day developments that corporations have made these food stimuli available 24/7 AND that our culture deems it culturally acceptable to eat fat, sugar, and salt at any hour of the day, and it’s easy to understand what’s driven the obesity epidemic.

So, what can we do when we’re helpless against the “memory habits and motivational circuits that are involved with the emotional core of our being,” as Dr. Kessler put it? We can harness the only thing powerful enough to make a change: social norms. Just as changing attitudes about smoking generated a profound shift, social norms could reverse our obesity trajectory.  In summary, “We will succeed when fast food is socially unacceptable.”

How will we get there? That I’m not so sure about, but maybe I’ll find the answer in Dr. Kessler’s book…

If you have any questions about the Slow Food COBA conference, please contact the conference coordinator,  Laura O’Donohue at And to keep in touch with others from the COBA conference, check out the SFCOBA LinkedIn group!

Our Fresh, Homemade, Local, Delicious, Healthy $5 Challeng

By: Sarah Nelson from Cooking Matters

Earlier this summer, researchers at the University of Washington concluded that increasing our consumption of healthy fruits and veggies could cost us more than the way we eat now. Since I run a cooking and nutrition program called “Cooking Matters” that teaches families with limited food budgets how to stretch those budgets to include broccoli, sweet potatoes, apples, and other healthy goodies, every day I have the opportunity to see how tough it is to choose healthy food when the local supermarket sells five frozen dinners for $5. And yet, participants come to our classes wanting to learn how to make vegetables tasty, what exactly a whole grain is, which healthy food their kids will eat, and how to do it all with limited resources.

The Washington study reminded me of the real costs of cheap food: the price we pay to treat childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, preventable, diet-related diseases that disproportionately affect low-income communities. If you don’t pay at the farmers’ market, a doctor I know likes to say, you’ll pay at the emergency room. Participants in our classes have seen family members affected by these diseases, and want to save themselves and their families. They have become food superheroes, fighting the evil forces of junk food marketing, cheap frozen dinners, and limited grocery options. And winning: “I always thought cooking healthy food took a lot of time and money,” said one Cooking Matters graduate in the Mission. “This class showed me I could cook healthy food fast and without spending a lot of money.”

The families we work with face real struggles; but when we gather around the table in a shelter’s community room, a food pantry’s lobby, or a diabetes clinic, everyone is smiling and taking second helpings of sweet potato tacos, turkey kofta, zucchini pupusas, homemade chicken soup, or whatever delicious, healthy meal we have prepared together that day. For two hours, we come together to cook, share a meal, and discuss the barriers to putting healthy food on every table. And when participants leave class, they take with them a bag of groceries to make that day’s recipes at home – as well as the confidence that they can prepare a fresh, healthy, affordable meal for their family.

So when Slow Food asked me to create a $5 meal, my first thought was, “For just one person? No problem!” The typical per-serving budget we stick to in class is about $1.75 per person.  We shop at farmers’ markets, buy organic, and choose the best ingredients we can, while remaining conscious that our participants can’t always find quinoa, tofu, balsamic, or other gourmet healthy choices at their local stores. We stick to simple powerhouses like beans, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and our favorite veggie, kale (you haven’t lived until you’ve added kale to a smoothie!). For this challenge, I’ve created a farmers-market-fresh menu for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. Each meal costs less than $5, and features high quality ingredients – in some cases, higher quality than we would choose in our classes. Oh, also, I got a little carried away and made four different options for dinner. Oops!

If you’d like to see real chefs cooking dishes like these in your neighborhood, check out And if you’d like to try cooking them yourself – we are always looking for volunteers.

Bon appetit!

Delicious and priced-out recipes from Cooking Matters coming soon!

Get Cooking! presents dinners for $5 and under

Get Cooking!Hi everyone. My name is Michelle Klahr and I’m an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’m spending this summer in between the two years of my MBA program working as an intern at New Foundry Ventures, specifically dedicated to their Get Cooking! project. When I heard about this year’s Slow Food National Day of Action—preparing meals for under $5—I thought Get Cooking! could help provide some ideas for what to cook at a low cost.

The mission of New Foundry Ventures is to create and support the next generation of social enterprises that leverage scale to improve the well-being of low-income people and communities. One problem New Foundry is currently focused on is the food access challenges low-income communities face. “Food insecure communities” or “food deserts” are areas where many residents live one-mile or more from a grocery store, and often lack access to a car or direct public transportation. Residents of these communities are forced to buy groceries at corner and liquor stores, which often lack fresh produce and charge much higher prices for healthy food than large supermarkets. A solution to this problem New Foundry Ventures is currently testing and piloting is called Get Cooking! Our Get Cooking! pilots in the community of West Oakland, CA have been led by a partnership of New Foundry Ventures and two West Oakland not-for-profits: People’s Grocery , a food advocacy non-profit, and LifeLong Medical Care, a “safety net” provider of medical services to the uninsured and underserved.

Get Cooking! is a social enterprise dedicated to helping low-income families living in food deserts make healthy eating simple, affordable, and fun in order to lower rates of obesity and diet-related diseases, and improve overall well-being. To do this, Get Cooking! operates meal preparation clubs where community members meet with a chef to prepare and purchase nutritious, ready-to-cook, low-cost meals for their families in a community kitchen pre-stocked with fresh and healthy foods. While preparing the meals, members gain valuable cooking skills as well as nutrition, health, and food justice education. Members leave with a quick, easy, and affordable dinner alternative to fast food. Our hypothesis on how to make healthy eating a part of daily life is that we must address more than just physical access to food and find a solution that considers affordability, time constraints, food preparation knowledge, and eating habits, all while building connecting among community members in a social environment.

Obviously affordable and healthy recipes are a key part of the Get Cooking! model. For this year’s Day of Action, we’d love to share two of our dinner recipes that can easily be made under the $5 per person price ceiling. We hope these recipes inspire you. If you end up cooking them, let us know by commenting on our blog!

Summer Vegetable Lasagna*Get Cooking Hub recipe 011

Servings: 12-14
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Pricing: When we made this recipe, and shopped at Trader Joe’s and Bi-Rite Market, pricing came out to ~$2.55 per serving
-1 pound box lasagna noodles, preferably whole wheat
(*can substitute gluten-free brown rice noodles)
-1 batch Summer Vegetable Sauce (see below)
-1 batch Pesto (see below)
-1 pound bag frozen spinach
-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (*optional)
Summer Vegetable Sauce
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
-1/2 large red onion, diced
-4 bell peppers, diced
-2 mild chili peppers (e.g., anaheim), diced
-2 large eggplants, diced
-4 portobello mushrooms, diced
-1 750 gram box or can chopped tomatoes
-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-1 bunch basil
-1 bunch flat leaf parsley
-2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
-4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated (*optional)
-1/2 cup walnut halves
-1/2 cup pine nuts
-1 teaspoon ground black pepper
-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-1 cup extra virgin olive oil
-Prepare the lasagna noodles: place noodles in a 9”x13” baking dish. Cover with boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes.
Make the pesto: combine ingredients in food processor. Process until well blended.

-Defrost the frozen spinach according to the package directions.  Drain of any excess water and mix with pesto.
Make the sauce:

Heat the olive oil and garlic in a large (12”) skillet over medium flame. When the garlic begins to bubble, add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, until softened.

-Add the peppers and chilies to the pan, and sauté for a few minutes to soften.

-Add the eggplant, mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, and salt. Stir to combine everything, turn heat down to medium-low, cover skillet, and let simmer for 30 minutes, until eggplant is thoroughly cooked. Transfer half of sauce into blender and blend. Add blended sauce back to veggie mixture to create a chunky sauce.
Prepare packaged meal:
-Ladle a cup of the Summer Vegetable Sauce evenly over the bottom of the dish.

-Place a layer of lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. You may have to cut them to fit.

-Spread a layer of pesto spinach over the noodles and then add another layer of noodles. Ladle on a few cups of the sauce. Add another layer of noodles. Repeat until the pan is full and all noodles are used.

-Top lasagna with grated Parmesan cheese.

-To cook, preheat oven to 375°. Bake for 45 minutes, until browned on top. Cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
* Adapted from recipe

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers*Get Cooking!
Servings: about 4
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Pricing: We priced out this recipe to cost approximately $1.50 per serving
-4 whole bell peppers (any color)
-1 Tablespoon olive oil
-1 onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon oregano
-1 teaspoon basil
-2 carrots, julienned
-1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
-1 tomato, diced
-1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
-1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
-2 to 3 cup tomato sauce

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-Bring rice and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer at the lowest bubble until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, 30 to 50 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

-Wash and clean peppers. Cut off tops and remove seeds and membrane. Place prepared peppers on steamer rack in wok or Dutch oven and steam 3 to 4 minutes.

-Heat oil in large skillet, add onion and garlic. Sauté 1 minute. Add herbs, carrots and peas. Continue to cook 3 to 5 minutes or until carrots are tender, stirring constantly.

-Reduce heat and add the tomato, walnuts, brown rice and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Heat through.
Stuff mixture into whole peppers.

-Spread 1/2 cup sauce in bottom of baking dish. Stand peppers upright. Pour remaining sauce over the tops of peppers.

-Bake in oven for 30 minutes

* Adapted from recipe
Optional: add ground beef or turkey to the rice mixture for a non-vegetarian variation