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Building Community Spirit, Loaf by Loaf

Shauna Kearns shapes a loaf of bread.

This story, by Ray Werner, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 Recorder

Catch the 61B bus from Regent Square to Braddock and you just might catch a whiff of pungent-sweet sourdough bread, on its way to a brick oven.

Benjamin Franklin would approve. You recall he was seen with a loaf of bread under each arm as he strolled along Market Street in Philadelphia. No doubt Ben’s bread was also baked in a brick oven similar to one run by Chatham University student Shauna Kearns.

A student in the Falk School of Sustainability’s Master of Arts in Food Studies (MAFS) program, Shauna has a ready smile and her eyes light up like arctic stars at the mere mention of bread. On her lap is a plastic container of several pounds of sourdough rising to the occasion and ready to be baked in Braddock’s community brick oven. It’s a trip she makes two or three days a week. While she shapes her bread, she is also helping to shape the new community spirit that is a catalyst behind all the good things happening in this comeback town. Their newest community brick oven will be built this July next to the new and much anticipated Superior Motors restaurant.

“With the addition of Shauna and our new oven,” said Mayor John Fetterman, “Braddock’s fortunes will certainly continue to rise.”

Shauna’s passion has deep roots. “I grew up in Toronto in a family that treasured the outdoors and loved to cook with locally grown foods. The first time I made bread, I just fell in love with it.”

That love landed her an apprenticeship at Tracebridge Sourdough in England.

“This incredible couple, Katie Venner and Gordon Woodcock, run a small-scale bakery in Somerset. They have a brick oven they made from reclaimed materials. With their weekly pizza nights, they bring people together with food and music and community spirit. I learned so much from them.”

Shauna brought a jar of Tracebridge sourdough starter back to Toronto from the UK, which she still uses for her bread. Then, she apprenticed at St. John’s Bakery, a nonprofit next to a mission that trains the unemployed. This will be the model for the bread-baking training program Shauna plans for Braddock.

These past few summers, Shauna has also led canoe trips on the Ravensthroat and Coppermine Rivers in the Arctic, and she’s going back this summer, along with her sourdough starter, to paddle the Keele. Yes, she bakes bread in the Arctic wilderness. Much like the Klondike miners did during the gold rush in the late 19th century. But Shauna mines a different kind of gold.

Hands flattening a loaf of bread.

“These canoe trips in the Arctic are little communities,” she says. “They’re nomadic, self-sufficient. We eat only what we catch and carry. Baking bread in a small portable Dutch oven every day in the middle of the nowhere encourages a community spirit. It’s the same kind of spirit I discovered in Braddock.”

Shauna received one of the initial Falk Sustainability Summer Fellowships, which will help her participate this summer in an oven-building workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pennsylvania, and to serve as an apprentice at their oven- use workshop in September.

For Shauna, it’s all about what bread from a brick oven can do to bring people together – to learn, to share, to develop a skill and give something back to the community.

Shauna putting loaves in a brick oven.

“Bread sales from the Braddock oven,” Shauna says, “have always gone back into the project. The Falk Fellowship helps ensure this can continue. Imagine, 100% of our bread sales goes right back into it – to buy flour and support the construction of the oven. It will be for sale Saturdays at the Braddock Farm Stand beginning in June.”

So, while breaking bread, Shauna is also breaking the mold. What comes out of the community oven in Braddock is extraordinary. But what comes out of her community spirit is changing people’s lives.

Under Shauna’s leadership, Chatham will be building  a community bread oven at Eden Hall Campus in the summer of 2017. In spring and summer 2017, Chatham will be hosting food-related workshops–including bread baking with Shauna–at Eden Hall.

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

 

Course spotlight: Food Access

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Food Access (FST509), taught by Mim Seidel, MS, RD, LDN, has two components: a general exploration of the contexts in which hunger and food insecurity develop, and a directed exploration of food access in Pittsburgh. This course is enriched through interactions with many Pittsburgh-based anti-hunger organizations.

At the beginning of the semester, students tour the Food Bank, meet the people working there, and visit the Swissvale Community Garden, created by Master of Arts in Food Studies alumnus Leland Scales, ’16.

Community building is a core component, with emphasis on volunteering and developing skills related to task negotiation, network development, social interaction, and cultural acumen. Topics covered through reading and discussion include health consequences of poverty; poverty and policy; food deserts; the Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Re-Authorization; school meals; and global nutrition and food access.

If food is a basic human right, how do societies create universal access to food? What is the moral ethical basis for making citizens food secure in an age of global inequality?  To what extent does providing food access need to consider culturally appropriateness, nutrition, and sustainability, and justice? – syllabus for FST509

Students work in groups to create menus and shop (go to the grocery store and price the food) for six fictitious families according to the guidelines given by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 

Course spotlight: Wines, Ciders, and Mead

danielle-and-tess

The Falk School of Sustainability Master of Arts in Food Studies’s course Wines, Ciders, and Mead (FST512) has some things in common with your canonical graduate seminar. The instructor—Sally Frey, MFA, Ph.D.—is eminently qualified, having worked as a master sommelier (Frey is also a chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris). Five students are seated around a conference table on a brisk early winter morning, with another student at the podium, in front of, there it is—a PowerPoint presentation.

Her name is Danielle San Filippo, MAFS ’18, and she is showing photographs and reporting on a pear cider that she made. Listen:

“I wanted to let them ripen a little bit more so they’d press more juice. In retrospect it may not have been the best idea to let them get really sweet and sugary when you’re looking to get a dry cider (laughs). I took them home, and I decided to use the process Mike (Sturges, proprietor of a local cider collective, who was a guest speaker) shared with us – which is where you essentially juice the pears, right, we all had our different styles, mine was to use my juicer–and then mix the pulp back into the juice and press it again, and that way you’ll get this really concentrated flavor. That was a really bad idea, (class laughs) because I am not strong enough to press all that juice back out again. Essentially what happened was that I ended up with a really thick situation there. You guys can see all of this here, (gestures at screen) is the extra pulp that I was trying to mix back in together and press through. So in retrospect what I would do is just use the juice and sacrifice a little bit of the pear flavor. I also used a champagne yeast, but mine was a wine yeast as opposed to a beer one, because I had planned to use the champagne beer yeast that Mike gave us and luckily tried it first to get it activated and it was dead. So since I was already in the middle of this, I just grabbed what I had bought for one of my meads. That got me wondering – does that make this a pear wine now?”

“Technically no, because the alcohol content’s too low,” says Frey.

Danielle continues. “By November fifth, there was still a good bit of sediment, so I decided to go ahead and let it settle and then rack it, and it only produced those two bottles right there.”

“So there was that much sediment?” asks Frey.

“There was that much sediment. In fact, it was like pear sauce! I think overall in terms of making the cider I wanted to make, it didn’t get quite as dry as I like, but the flavor of pears definitely stands out. I think using the Eden Hall pears was a good choice, and I’m glad I tried this the way Mike said to, that we can all know not to do that (class laughs) moving forward.”

“We just don’t have the equipment to do that,” points out Frey.

“Right, right, if my juicer would have made the juice that I needed, it would have been fine. Anyway, I’m excited for you guys to try the perry (,” says Danielle.


What’s impressive is the consistent reflection: in retrospect, she says, and that got me wondering. Because as hands-on as this class is, Frey equips her students with the theoretical knowledge and collaborative spirit that effectively makes them artisans—even if just for the semester.

danielle

According to the syllabus, FST512 “provides a detailed study of the world of wines, grape varieties, ciders and mead,” and the word world seems carefully chosen indeed. Not only does it deal with global (and local) events, trends, and implications, but for every question you might expect in a course like this—what is so special about Chateau d’Yquem?—it goes snooping into other subjects, like history (What are some of the ways that Prohibition changed the way Americans ate?), technology (What type of bottle closure is the most sustainable?), psychology (What influence would a high score in a magazine like Wine Spectator have on how you choose a wine?), and biology (According to Giovanni Ruffa, it would be ironic if the world’s vineyards managed to survive the phylloxera epidemic only to be decimated by this trend toward what he calls “homologation.” What might be the consequences for bio-diversity?)

Students discuss wine journalism; marketing; and laws related to alcohol consumption, production, and distribution. They read texts and watch documentaries. They’ve visited Apoidea Apiary and Soergel Orchards, and guest speakers included Michael Sturges, proprietor of a local cider collective; Holly Harker from Subarashii Kudamono, an Asian pear orchard; and alumnus Michael Foglia MAFS ’16, who presented research that he did for local distillery Wigle Whiskey (which has teamed up with Chatham before).

After the presentations, the class moves downstairs to the spacious lodge kitchen. One by one, students pry caps off the bottles they’ve brought in, and pour samples for Frey and their classmates.

glass

Students report on their ingredients (“The honey comes from Maple Valley Farms near Ross Park Mall. I called to find out more about their practices. They are not using certified naturally grown methods but they use organic practices for beekeeping.”), tasting (“I think you taste ginger in the end. I can feel that kind of burning sensation, which is a bad way to put it, but it’s good.”), their processes (“I ran into a few issues with temperature because I’m in the dorms. I wasn’t able to regulate the temperature. I wrapped my little blanket around it.”) and plans (“I’m gonna bring it home for Thanksgiving and have my family try it. They’ve never had mead!”).


Assignment: Write a 3-5-page proposal for a “Sustainable Beverage (multiple categories may be included) Tasting Fundraiser.” You will have an imaginary $400 budget to get you started and the event is to take place from 7:00 – 9:00 PM on a Saturday evening. The only requirement is that it should be “fun and educational.”  Be specific with any items that you would purchase for the event and think through all the details from a sustainability lens. You will present your concept to the group and we will debate the best concept.


The course capstone is the final, semester-long project. Students pick a research topic related to local or global cider, mead, wine, sake, or honey to be presented to the group along with an essay and photo documentation of the fermentation/production process, if applicable. The goal is for the final project to be used as a portfolio piece.

For her final project, Danielle is making four different types of mead. “Modern mead-making uses chemical-based accelerants,” she says, “but I wanted to figure out how to make dry, semi-sweet, and sweet mead just by altering the amount and type of honey and yeast.”

“Lots of classes in the Falk School focus on group work,” says Danielle, “so this class is unique in that it’s focused on individual work, but then we all come together for three hours each week and work as a group to solve problems. The structure gave me time to think through my preconceptions and then come to class and be challenged.”


Image Text: Tips for Homebrewers Students from FST512 share their secrets: 1. Taste. Make sure your ingredients taste amazing to start with. 2. Sanitize. Make sure your materials and environment are very clean, or else everything you make is going to have a funk to it. 3. Document. If you’re doing this on an at-home scale, you probably won’t be able to reproduce what you did in a given batch–but if you have notes and photographs, you can get much closer.

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

 

Food Studies Student Creates Community Garden

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Leland Scales (MAFS, ’16)’s hometown of Swissvale, PA had fallen on hard times, and he wanted to give back to the community. Inspired when he began the Master of Arts in Food Studies at Chatham, Leland created the Swissvale Community Garden to both beautify a part of his community and to provide some much-needed healthy produce to those in the Swissvale area.

Funding his project through Indiegogo, Leland designed the Swissvale Community Garden as a community-based initiative that is managed and operated by volunteers of the community and overseen by Reach Up, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Swissvale. Gardeners grow various flowers, herbs, and vegetables with crops being donated to local food pantries, some given to volunteers, and the remaining items sold at a local farmers market.

Leland plans to grow the project each year, and to offer gardening workshops to teach children that with hard work and determination, even the smallest seed can grow into to something larger than life.

Located within Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability & Environment, the Master of Arts in Food Studies emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

 

global food garden at Eden Hall Campus

global-food-garden_crop

The idea started in the “Food Culture and History” course taught by Alice Julier, PhD, Program Director and Associate Professor in the Master of Arts Food Studies program in Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability & Environment.

“As part of the course, students are assigned a region of the world, and they research the cuisine and culinary practices of a part of it,” says Alice. “What I’ve found over the years is that they need to talk about the ingredients that go into those cuisines. Imagine places that consume a lot of rice, potatoes, corn—those staple crops define cuisines. So now, we focus on the agriculture as much as the culture.”

Thus was the Global Food Garden born. It’s a fenced-in 26,205 sq. feet, right by the Lodge, north of the old glass greenhouse. The Garden’s current caretaker, Jenalee Schenk, is a two-time Chatham alumna, having graduated in 2010 with a BA in Professional Communication and Visual Arts, and in 2012 as a member of the first cohort of the Master of Arts in Food Studies program.

Some of the Global Food Garden’s highlights:

Latin American garden
• Purple and pink Peruvian potatoes
• Ten varieties of chiles
• Tomatillos
• Jicama
• Mexican midget tomatoes
• Mexican sunflowers
• Epazote (an herb that aids digestion)
• Cape gooseberries, also known as ground cherries

Mexican sunflowers
Mexican sunflowers

“One of our students from Guatemala wanted to try a traditional meso-American agro-forestry crop design,” says John R. Taylor, PhD, assistant professor of Sustainable Agroecology. “We had been looking for a place to plant corn, so we decided to do it as a traditional ‘three sisters garden’ from Native American culture.” The three sisters are corn, beans, and squash. Corn shades the beans and provides a pole for their vines to climb. Beans provide nitrogen for the corn and help to stabilize the plants; and the squash provides a heavily shaded ground cover to prevent soil moisture from evaporating.

John walks me through other field experiments that the students have set up. “It looks like the Brandywine tomatoes are susceptible to early blight,” he says. “But that’s farming, right? You’re constantly experimenting.” Students are evaluating not only eight different varieties of tomatoes, but also methods of spacing them—double vs. single row, high density, vs. lower density.

Ethiopian garden
Teff is a traditional Ethiopian grain crop with tiny little seeds, and right now it looks like elegant, long, brown fronds taking a sweeping bow. “It was really beautiful until it rained really hard and all fell over,” laughs John. Also featured in the Ethiopian garden:

• Collard greens
• Ethiopian ground pepper
• Herbs and spices including cilantro and black cumin
• An Abyssinian red banana that came from e-bay. “It doesn’t really have an edible banana, and is mostly used for fiber,” he says. “But during times of food shortage, you can eat the interior of the stem. It’s edible-ish.”

Abyssinian red banana
Abyssinian red banana

Pan-Asian garden
“We have some Thai crops, some Chinese crops,” says John. “A lot of what we’re doing here is new to us. For instance, this pink Thai tomato looks like it’s starting to ripen, but I’m not really sure when it’s ripe.”

• Sesame
• Lemongrass
• Adzuki beans
• Asian varieties of eggplants
• Different varieties of peppers
• Thai basil
• Bunching onions
• Thai baby watermelons. “I was trying to get them to grow up this trellis, but they seem to just want to trail. Maybe they’ll help suppress some of the weeds,” says John.

Thai baby watermelon
Thai baby watermelon

The ranges of varieties are part of the research component of the Global Food Garden. “We’re looking at not only interspecies but also intraspecies crop variety,” says John. “For example, here we’re comparing two varieties of cabbage – Chinese and Napa. We’re looking at criteria like weight, flavor, and disease/insect resistance. These Napa cabbage are like little insect motels. The leaves are loose enough that they just get in there. They’re beautiful, but not very insect resistant,” he laughs.

The Global Food Garden is also hosting three different verities of rice – a Japanese sushi variety, a variety called Carolina Gold that was brought by enslaved people to the southern US in 1700s, and Russian variety called Duborskian. “Rice doesn’t need to be grown in a paddy, and we’re trying to see if we can propagate it here,” says Alice. “We are a world of immigrants, and we migrate.”

What are the plans for the crops grown in the Global Food Garden? “In the fall, we’ll use some of the crops in different classes, for example, in a fermentation course. I’ll probably focus on medicinal herbs,” says Alice. Some of the plants will be moved into the greenhouse. In tropical climates, crops such as tomatoes are perennials; not so here.

But that comes later. “The first thing we’re going to do is have a feast when the new students get here,” says Alice. “It’s one of the ways we share what we’re doing with our new students and with our returning students. Take everything out of the garden and have a fantastic party.”

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

Sniffing around brooklyn

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Note: This story originally appeared in the Chatham University Spring 2016 Recorder alumni magazine. 

As with so many New York stories— at least in the movies—it began with a gun. A 3,200-pound custom-built breakfast cereal-puffing gun, in fact, that traveled the city demonstrating how grains get puffed into cereal. It was a mobile exhibition called BOOM! The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Cereal, the year was 2013, and the gunslinger was the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). In 2014, MOFAD moved into a space in Brooklyn, began thinking about onsite exhibitions, and hired Catherine Piccoli, a 2012 graduate of Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies program, as program associate.

For Catherine, a social and cultural historian who focuses on food, it’s an ideal match. She would be the first to tell you she’s felt that click before. After completing a bachelor’s in social and cultural history at Carnegie Mellon, her next steps weren’t clear. “I had been thinking and reading deeply about food,” she says, “but neither culinary school nor working in a restaurant appealed to me. I didn’t know what the other options were. One day I saw a newspaper ad for the food studies program, and it was like a light bulb—this is me, this is what I want to do. I can study food and continue to focus on history and social and cultural phenomena.”

In the food studies program, Catherine focused on writing and communication and explored the interplay of food and history through culture. She completed internships at the Heinz History Center, at an environmental radio show, and at a community food pantry.

During the program I was constantly challenged,” she says. “Things that I had thought were constantly being blown open. Not just about food, but about cultures, poverty, and social justice. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. History, culture, science and technology, production, commerce–because of the Food Studies program, I feel like I can speak knowledgeably about all of these things, and I’m confident bringing them into my job.”

In the summer of 2012, Catherine moved to Brooklyn. She began contributing her research skills as a volunteer at MOFAD, and the rest is history—the history of food and culture that Catherine researched, documented, and helped craft into MOFAD’s first on-site exhibition, Flavor: Making It and Faking It. Flavor: Making It and Faking It is a collection of interactive stories and experiences that build toward a holistic understanding of the modern flavor industry. It’s a huge topic that has been thoughtfully calibrated to the space available—a cavernous, one-room, 3000-square foot former car park.

2Flavor_Wheel_vector_noflavors[1]

The exhibition starts with a short video about how the nose and mouth work together to produce flavor. Taste refers to what we perceive through the tongue; flavor refers to the interplay of taste and smell. In fact, most flavor comes from the aroma of food when it’s in your mouth. As you chew, aroma molecules drift toward the back of your throat, up an airway that connects to your nose, and are processed and received by receptors in the brain, just as though they had been inhaled through your nose.

EXHIBIT: LEARNING TO FAKE IT: VANILLA AND THE BIRTH OF THE FLAVOR INDUSTRY
“Initially, you could only get vanilla from the bean of the vanilla orchid, grown primarily in Mexico, which flowers for only one day,” says Catherine. She gestures at a vanilla orchid under a glass bel and introduces Vanessa the Vanilla Orchid. “Taking care of her is one of my duties,” she says. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with Larry at Larry’s Orchards in Michigan.”

In the 1870s, two German chemists realized that vanillin—the chemical that gave vanilla its aroma—could also be made from pine tree bark. And from wood pulp, from clove oil, from paper pulp, and, from coal. That meant that vanilla had gone from being a rare and carefully cultivated substance to something that could be mass-produced. The exact same chemical compound is found in the vanilla bean and produced in the lab. Today it’s the most popular flavor in the world.

vanillin

The exhibition also features a large tablet-making machine, of the sort that MOFAD used to make small tablets of different flavors that are available in tablet-dispensing machines throughout the exhibition. Visitors can sample and compare a vanilla bean-based tablet with a synthetic vanillin-based tablet. “Lots of people prefer the synthetic one, because it’s what they’re used to,” says Catherine.

EXHIBIT: UMAMI: SEAWEED AND THE DISCOVERY OF A NEW TASTE
Umami is the most recently identified primary taste whose Japanese name translates to something akin to deliciousness. A Japanese chemist discovered MSG (monosodium glutamate) as he was trying to replicate the flavor of an edible seaweed. “Glutamate intensifies the savory taste of food,” says Catherine, and beginning in the 1920s, MSG was marketed to food manufacturers and cafeterias as a way of adding flavor back to foods post-processing.

The Japanese army was also interested in using it to make bland, nutritious food taste good. “This is the moment in our story when the flavor industry and the food industry start becoming inseparable,” says Catherine.

Tablets allow visitors to compare umami tastes of tomato, mushroom, and seaweed with manmade

EXHIBIT: TASTE MAKERS: THE ART & SCIENCE OF FLAVOR CREATION
Along the back wall of the exhibition is one of its biggest draws, the Smell Synth—a kind of control panel where visitors can create and experience combinations of smells. It’s a simplified version of the kind of machine that allows olfaction scientists to mix and sample new smells. MOFAD asked David Michael, a Philadelphia flavor company, to choose no more than 20 compounds that visitors could use to create as many smells as possible. Because the compounds have names like “ethyl acetate” and “gamma hexalactone,” Catherine helped come up with user-friendly descriptors of how the compounds smelled, including green, leaf; cheesy vomit; earthy, hazelnut; and boozy.

The Smell Synth houses 19 glass containers, each of which contains a scent chemical compound. When you press a button, the machine opens a valve and blows scented air through a pipe to your nose. Pressing several buttons at once allows you to combine aromas to mimic a common smell. Above the control panel are “recipes” for aroma chords (Maple, brown + butter, sweet cream = pancakes). Catherine helped to “write” these recipes, too.

kid

Through the lens of flavor, the exhibition invites us to consider broader concepts. In this historical and cultural moment, it’s easy to decry the artificial as inferior to the organic, but the synthesis of vanillin brought the sweet, beloved taste of vanilla to people all over the world. We’re also invited to consider the divide between what is “natural”and what is “artificial,” and how those concepts might relate to what we call “real.” “I think there’s a lot of confusion around food,” Catherine says. “Chemicals is not a scary word. Chemicals make up the sky, my mom, soup! The same chemical is the same chemical, whether it’s found in a food or in a test tube.”

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement comes to Pittsburgh Public Schools

Brashear High School Food Service Employees are starting their day with the power of protein! Cafeteria Manager, Kathy Harris (center), uses the #milklife campaign to get kids to drink more unflavored milk at lunch.
Brashear High School Food Service Employees are starting their day with the power of protein! Cafeteria Manager, Kathy Harris (center), uses the #milklife campaign to get kids to drink more unflavored milk at lunch.

Simple changes in the environment can lead to healthier lunchtime choices. That’s the thinking behind the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement (SLM), a program started in 2009 by researchers at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition. In a study funded by Highmark, Chatham graduate student Dani Lyons, Master of Arts in Food Studies ’16 teamed up with food services dietician Elizabeth Henry to bring it to 19,000 children across all 56 elementary, middle, and high schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system in 2015. This work comprised Dani’s Master’s thesis, and her final report can be read here.

Questions of who has access to what kind of food play out in an interesting manner in public schools.” – Dani Lyons, MAFS ’16

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement borrows a concept from behavioral economics: hot-state vs. cold-state decision making. In cold-state decision making, we’re more likely to weigh pros and cons and consider long-term consequences of our actions. In contrast, hot-state decision-making favors the quickest, easiest, most immediately satisfying option. It tends to be the default setting in children, exacerbated during periods of time pressure and academic and social stress, like in a school lunchroom.

SLM aims to game hot-state decision making by making healthy choices more visible and more appealing. To that end, Dani and Elizabeth worked with local school food services staff to implement four initiatives, one per week for four consecutive weeks:

1. Menu boards
Large, wet-erase black whiteboards placed at the beginning of the lunch line let students know what’s available before they confronted it later in the line. This built-in pause offers an opportunity for them to consider what they might like to eat, lessening the chance that they’ll make a spur-of-the-moment decision.  “Research suggests that if you prime students for a meal advertised to be delicious, students are more likely to eat the healthy food to take because they expect it to taste good,” says Dani.

2. Cool names
Giving foods fun, memorable names can increase their appeal to students. Schools were given signs with photos and slogans advertising Game-Changing Green Beans, #BOSS Baked Beans, and Smoky Chipotle Bean Salsa. Some schools invited students to name foods themselves. 
beechwood elementary signs3. Putting white milk first
At least one-third of all milk in each cooler was white milk, and it was the first in each line or in the front of the cake. Lunchroom banners and posters advertised the “MilkLife” campaign.

4. Improving visibility of fruits and vegetables
Schools were given tablecloths, fruit bowls and “fruit chutes”—wire chutes that hold and dispense whole fruits—and other ways to emphasize fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria line were suggested.
university prep fruits veggies

Before the interventions, Dani conducted an 8-hour training session for PPS food service mangers and other staff members about the Smarter Lunchroom Movement, introducing them to the four interventions. There was also a one-hour follow-up training session.

Results
To assess the study’s efficacy, Dani interviewed ten food service managers, and the team gathered observational data pertaining to how well the lunchroom adhered to best practices at ten of the schools schools, and did before-and-after analyses of how much food from students’ plates was being thrown away, and of computerized food sales and ordering data.

Dani and Elizabeth found that in every area, scores increased from the baseline data to the follow-up data, by a minimum of 12.2% and at most, 38.6%. “Milk drinking increased,” says Dani, “as well as the proportion of white to flavored milk chosen. Vegetable choice increased, and we saw kids who chose more than one vegetable tended to eat them both.”

She points out that while they only collected follow-up data from 10 of the 57 schools, there’s reason to believe that the other schools would also have seen an average increase in all areas as well, since all schools received the same training, materials, and instruction for implementation.

Dani acknowledges the challenges that schools face in getting students to make good lunchtime selections. “Half of the schools don’t have a kitchen,” she says. “And they don’t use plastic trays, so students have to carry their food. That’s another obstacle—kindergartners can’t carry their lunch in their hands.”

Tips for parents who are trying to get their kids to eat more healthily at home? “Managing serving size is probably the most effective thing you can do,” says Dani. “We know it’s economical to buy in bulk, but then we find ourselves eating out of the package. So divide trail mix into individual servings and store them that way. Also, when we use smaller serving utensils and smaller plates, we serve ourselves less. The opposite holds true, too—if you want your kids to eat more salad, buy larger salad prongs.”

Among her favorite courses in the Food Studies program, Dani counts U.S. Agricultural Policy (“We learned the Farm Bill inside and out and took a trip to DC to meet with lobbyists, researchers, and other people involved in the politics of food and agriculture.”) and The Politics of Chocolate (“We focused on labor practices; marketing; parallels with tea and coffee; and human rights. And I got to design, produce, and market my own chocolate bar, which was delicious.”). After graduation, she plans to work in school food administration or in school food policy at local and state levels. “That may sound very boring to some people,” Dani laughs. “But I find it fascinating.”

Learn more about the study at www.smarterlunchroompps.tumblr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community Research: Food and Health

Siedle-Mim

Some things just line up. In 2014, Assistant Professor of Nutrition in the Food Studies program Mim Seidel, MS, RD, LDN, found out that the Aetna Foundation was looking to fund a project that addresses healthy eating in low-income communities—an ideal match for Mim, whose interests (and deep experience) lie in food security, sustainable systems, and health. The Aetna Foundation agreed, and Mim’s project was funded.

What followed was an experiential, project-based class that Mim taught in the spring of 2015—FST613: Community Research: Food and Health.

Residents of low-income communities may qualify for federal aid known as WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). Having worked for WIC, Mim knew that the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks they are given often went unused. Having read widely about the problem, she had some ideas of why that might be. With her Community Research class and other Food Studies students (including Dani Lyons, whose internship centered around the project), she staged an intervention in Wilkinsburg (a low-income community in Pittsburgh) called CRUNCH! Eat Fresh, Eat Healthy, Move More, designed to address some of the barriers.

In Mim’s class, students read about low-income neighborhoods; alternative food systems; and programs like farmers markets and CSA (community supported agriculture). Despite the well-documented benefits of eating local, sustainably grown foods, these programs are often underused by minorities and by people with lower incomes.

“We have some “out of the box” recommendations for changes the USDA might make.” – Mim Seidel

It’s not hard to see why: for one, farmers’ market food can be more expensive. For another, some vendors at farmers’ markets aren’t prepared to accept the large, purple WIC checks. An individual who wants to use a WIC check at farmers’ market won’t get change. But sometimes it’s unfamiliarity that poses the biggest barrier, and that is what CRUNCH! staged a three-prong intervention to address.

Participants were recruited at the WIC clinic in Wilkinsburg. They explained the study (including its incentives, including gifts like vegetable peelers, measuring cups, and supermarket gift cards in small denominations) to WIC recipients and in just over three weeks, reached their target goal of 200 participants (202 were actually enrolled). Throughout the study, students staffed the WIC clinic, recruited participants, conducted surveys, held demos, led tours, and entered data—a full spectrum of community-based research. One student used the study as an internship; another received funding to serve as research coordinator.

The first prong was the tastiest. “The students held cooking demos at the WIC clinic using fresh vegetables that you can get at a farmer’s market,” says Mim, “and let them taste everything. If your income is limited, you’re less likely to buy what you’ve never eaten and don’t know how to prepare.”

“Also, we’re less likely to go to a farmers’ market if we haven’t been to one before,” she adds. “It’s unfamiliar, and it can be hard to tell which vendors accept WIC checks. The little signs are hard to find.” To counter that, she and her staff provided casual farmer’s market tours for CRUNCH! participants.

Thirdly, CRUNCH! staff connected with leaders of community gardens, and tried to encourage CRUNCH! participants to check them out—both to associate healthy eating with community, and to reinforce their familiarity with locally grown produce.

“We sent bus tickets to all CRUNCH! participants after some participants mentioned not being able to afford the extra ticket, and we also knew that transportation issues are documented in the research,” says Mim.

CRUNCH! would be considered a success if participants showed an increased use of WIC checks, and indeed, the increase was statistically significant: a 46.5% redemption rate compared to 39% by non-CRUNCH! participants, at the same WIC clinic.

“We also want to write this up to be published in a professional journal and present it at a meeting in Toronto,” says Mim, who lists Food Studies students Malik Hamilton (research coordinator) and Leslie Gordon and Christen Dinger (graduate student assistants) as her co-authors.“We have some “out of the box” recommendations for changes the USDA might make.”

solar cooking

cooking with hot dogs

Grilling. Each summer, millions of people look forward to rethinking cooking—to stepping out of the kitchen and onto the grass, patio, or beach. Now you’re cooking with gas, as they say. Or with charcoal. With a non-renewable resource, anyway—as we do whenever we cook.

But what if you could cook with a renewable resource? Cook with the world’s first fire, and cut out the middlemen? That is the promise—and increasingly common practice—of solar cooking. Solar cooking works by using curved and reflective surfaces to concentrate the heat of the sun on a small surface area, where the food is placed.

In some places, it’s huge—literally and figuratively. The Solar Bowl in Auroville, India is 45 feet in diameter, and can cook two meals per day for 1,000 people.

Solar Bowl at Auroville
Solar Bowl at Auroville

But most solar cookers are quite portable, and inexpensive. They save cost by requiring no fuel, and reduce environmental damage produced by the use of fuel. And—with the right model—they can do anything from grilling meats and vegetables to making soup to baking bread.

Intrigued? Join us for an overview of all things solar cooking, plus demonstration and food tasting, on Saturday, July 18 from 9:30am – 1:00pm at the Field Lab at our Eden Hall Campus, in the North Hills. The event—which is free and open to the public—will include a tour of the campus, where you’ll see some of our 400+ solar panels. They generate enough energy to power 14 homes for a year, but can cook a hotdog only indirectly. Learn more and sign up today.

M.A. IN FOOD STUDIES STUDENTS PRODUCE NEW GINGER WHISKEY

product lineNote: This story appears in the Chatham University Spring 2015 Recorder alumni magazine. All photos by John Altdorfer.

Elizabeth Overholt was born in 1818. She was the fifth child of Abraham Overholt, owner of a prosperous whiskey distillery in Westmoreland County, PA. Romance did not seem to be in the cards for Elizabeth, but at 28, she fell in love and conceived a child with a man called John who worked in her father’s mill. A biographer writes: “It was a common surmise in the community at the time that Elizabeth’s parents would have preferred a more sedate and better established suitor than the impetuous, red-headed scion of the Celts and Burgundians, but as there was no withstanding her calm inflexibility, the wedding took place at the homestead on October 9th, 1847.”[1] Their second child was the industrialist, financier, and art patron Henry Clay Frick.

Three miles from the Frick Fine Arts Building and almost 200 years after Elizabeth’s birth, five M.A. in Food Studies students from the Falk School of Sustainability are gathered around a table at Wigle Whiskey, a local distillery that also offers on-site retail and tasting. With them is Wigle co-owner and Chatham adjunct faculty member, Meredith Grelli. Grelli teaches an intensive two-semester new product development course, and students have been working since the fall to develop—from ideation to market—a ginger whiskey that they plan to release around Valentine’s Day 2016. Why then? Because marketing will be tied to the love story of red-haired John (“ginger”) and distillery daughter Elizabeth (“whiskey”). The decision to pair whiskey and ginger was made before the team made the John and Elizabeth connection, but savvy marketers tell stories, and these are savvy marketers.

organic grains

The class finishes up a conference call about sourcing ingredients with a food scientist from Beam Suntory, maker of Jim Beam. Meredith asks the group—Maureen Gullen, Sam Mass, Erica Rabbin, Katie Walker, and Emily Gallivan—for their thoughts.

“The quality of ginger’s going to be really important,” says one. They had planned to source ginger from the greenhouse at the Frick Conservatory, but now they plan to grow it at Eden Hall. Grelli asks how they would deal with the lack of consistency given that they don’t know that the ginger will come from the same supplier.

The students have done their research and answer with confidence. “Consumers want consistency, but with an artisanal supplier, they’re willing to accept variation and even see it as a positive,” says Gullen.

“I think it adds to the consumer experience,” agrees Mass. “People who are into it like talking about the different deep cuts. It creates a culture and discourse that would never exist in a large company.”

The new product development course began to take shape when Grelli was approached by Food Studies Program Director Alice Julier, Ph.D, about taking on interns. “The Food Studies program sounded amazing, like a program I would want to be in,” says Grelli. “There are immense opportunities to bring education into the business of food, especially exposing students to new product development. I wanted the students to experience the whole process, starting with creating concepts, testing with focus groups, all the way through promotion,” she says. “We’re taking the path you’d take in a big food company, and jerry-rigging it for a small shop.”

Meredith2

Take a look at their first assignment, from last September: 1) visit a grocery store, liquor store, restaurant or bar, 2) identify two innovations, 3) think about what makes them “interesting, successful or flops”, and 4) create a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation on their findings. Two things jump out: The course is exceptionally thoughtful on one hand and participatory on the other. In fact, the degree to which it interpolates theory, research, and hands-on practice is extraordinary, especially considering the truncated time frame. Of course, the truncated time frame makes it an even better idea to assign such readings as “Making Group Brainstorming More Effective: Recommendations from an Associative Memory Perspective.” Everything fits together.

“We’re working together in a group in such a way that it functions like a business. Every week at least one of us presented something to the others,” says Walker. She and Gullen are co-leading production and consumer testing. Rabbin leads recipe development. Mass heads design and labeling, Gallivin is in charge of PR and planning the launch. Grelli has arranged an impressive array of speakers and visits, from a tour of the HJ Heinz Innovation Center from the director of research and development to a meeting with a Pennsylvania ginger farmer to a visit with a food journalist about how to build relationships with reporters. She calls it the new product class she wishes she had in business school.

production

The first Food Studies-Wigle new product development course was held last year, when eight students worked with Grelli to develop Pennsylvania’s first apple whiskey. They conducted a rigorous series of consumer research, worked with local grain growers, apple growers, and the Wigle production team to produce one of Wigle’s most successful releases of the year. In a textbook example of merging business and sustainability, the students made the decision that in terms of cost and marketing, it was more important that the apples be local than organic. Wigle Wayward, as the whiskey is called, is made from five kinds of apples from Soergel’s orchards in the North Hills. “The first year we started I thought “these are not business students, so I’m going to go business-lite,” laughs Grelli, who also co-facilitates the MyBusiness Startup program run by Chatham’s Center for Women and Entrepreneurship.“ But they just wanted more! So I was like, ‘all right’! We’re doing it!”

“I think Chatham is the best place to deliver this kind of program,” she continues. “It’s place-based and focused on community and entrepreneurship,” says Grelli.   “We’re thinking about how to further our partnership, perhaps collaborating on a series of seasonals. Next year’s class might do spring or summer whiskey, for example.”

“I feel like no matter what we do after this there will be an aspect of this class that will help us,” says Mass.

[1] “Henry Clay Frick the Man” by George Harvey, published 1928