WBEZ | Food http://www.wbez.org/sections/food Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Has a decade of school food reform resulted in healthier lunches? http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/has-decade-school-food-reform-resulted-healthier-lunches-110018 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/CPS spicy chicken patty (1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>More than a decade ago, a few American reformers launched a major movement to improve the quality of school meals. In the ensuing years Congress has passed laws and schools have adopted their reforms. But what has really changed on the plate?</p><p>To get an idea we recently took a look at Chicago Public School menus and interviewed some of the leaders in school food reform.</p><p>This first look revealed that&nbsp;<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cps.edu%2FAbout_CPS%2FDepartments%2FDocuments%2FElemBreakfast_English.pdf&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHF1wXNo9mZvL706VeQabtiZw-YIg">breakfast offerings in most CPS schools</a> last week featured strawberry flavored pancakes, French toast sticks and pancakes wrapped around a sausage on a stick. And for lunch? The district&rsquo;s top three entrees include processed chicken patties, processed chicken nuggets and processed chicken crumbles over nachos.&nbsp; Each of those chicken products alone contains dozens of ingredients.</p><p>After years of efforts by First Lady Michelle Obama and others to put real food on cafeteria tables, why are meals in one of the most obese districts in the nation still dominated by sugary and processed food?</p><p>&ldquo;The schools have really been hijacked by the companies who are benefitting when children are fed and digest the values of fast food,&rdquo; says Alice Waters, the mother of American cuisine and founder of the <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Fedibleschoolyard.org%2F&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHuO6fHFuSQZr5x9qwI9Ta0nqnfhA">Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley</a> where kids learn to grow and cook their food. &ldquo;They are headed out to be consumers and that&rsquo;s what we are doing in the schools and so it&rsquo;s not surprising to me.&rdquo;</p><p>Ann Cooper is a culinary school trained chef who was recruited by Waters to launch a fresh local meals program in the Berkeley schools 15 years ago. Today, Cooper has brought that mission to the Boulder Valley School District where she&rsquo;s working to transform the the entire meal program.&nbsp; But these kinds of programs are still few and far between.</p><p>&ldquo;Considering that the National School Lunch Program has been around for 65 years and a good half of those years it has been serving bad food I think, in the last 10 years, we&rsquo;ve made positive change in leaps and bounds,&rdquo; Cooper said. &ldquo;But it&rsquo;s in small pockets and almost ethereal when it comes to what&rsquo;s on children&rsquo;s plates. It&rsquo;s really good, but maybe not so much in a lot of places.&rdquo;</p><p>We should note that WBEZ invited representatives from Michelle Obama&rsquo;s office, Chicago Public Schools, including their caterer Aramark, and the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the lunch program, to speak for this story. They all either declined or did not respond.</p><p>According to both Waters and Cooper one big fundamental flaw in the system is that so many districts hire large for-profit companies to cater the meals. They say the program should be about maximizing quality rather than profits.</p><p>&ldquo;The school district is trying to pay the least amount of money possible because they have a tight budget,&rdquo; Cooper said. &ldquo;Then they hire an outside contractor who is trying to make the most money possible because that&rsquo;s their job as a multi-national corporation. So it&rsquo;s really at odds with teaching children about food and serving the best food. It&rsquo;s just a lose-lose situation for children.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>In 2010 Sarah Wu stepped into this lose-lose situation. She took the school food world by storm by simply buying daily lunch, photographing it and writing about it on her anonymous blog called &ldquo;<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Ffedupwithlunch.com%2Fcategory%2Fmrs-q%2Fthe-book-about-me-2%2F&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFRso58FxlMd-7f0wAQ7_D3mU4HtA">Fed Up With Lunch.</a>&rdquo; It gave many readers their first glimpse of what was really on the plate, and in 2011 it became a book by the same name.</p><p>It was then that Wu finally revealed herself as a Chicago area mom, CPS speech pathologist and, finally, an open lunch crusader.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think that I came to the conclusion that it&rsquo;s such a thorny thing,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are a lot of people who have stakes in the business of school lunch and I really stepped into a hornets nest when I stepped into that. And I think I was a bit naive about how much it could really change.&rdquo;</p><p>These realizations and the arrival of a second child prompted Wu, last December, to drop out of the school food reform movement. At least for the time being.</p><p>But for those still in the fight, like Cooper, there are at least five major challenges that remain:</p><p>&ldquo;Food, finance, facilities, human resources and marketing,&rdquo; Cooper said. &ldquo;We need to be able to find [food] and make sure that it&rsquo;s good. The USDA foods have to be healthy.</p><p>The idea that we can have highly processed foods in schools has to change, but if we are going to change that we need to have kitchens and we need to be able to cook. If you are going to go from chicken nuggets to roast chicken you need ovens.&rdquo;</p><p>Cooper notes that the USDA recently pledged $11 million for school kitchen upgrades, but she believes you&rsquo;d need about a 100 times that much to do what&rsquo;s really necessary.</p><p>This lack of funding frustrates many food advocates who say that an investment up front can lay an early, healthy food foundation for the nation&rsquo;s most vulnerable children. They lament that in the last round of school lunch funding, Congress allocated just 6 cents more per meal to the program.<br /><br />Waters worries this will have disastrous effects on many levels.</p><p>&ldquo;There is hardly a country on this planet that doesn&rsquo;t think of food as something important and people are willing to pay for it,&rdquo; Waters says. &ldquo;But in this country we are unwilling to pay for it. But when you have cheap food somebody pays for it. We pay for it with our health, but we really pay for it in the destruction of our environment and the wages of the people who grow that food.&rdquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Lack of money is a common complaint for school food caterers. They say that, when all is said and done, they&#39;re left with only about $1 to spend on food per meal. Many cite that as the main reason they turn to processed patties and nuggets. But Paul Boundas, whose <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-03-17/news/ct-met-healthy-school-lunch-man-20110317_1_school-kitchen-meals-national-school-lunch-program">Country House catering serves lunch to thousands of Chicago Catholic </a>school students each day (even in majority low income schools), says a caterer can actually save on food costs by cooking whole foods from scratch each day. Boundas adds, however, that the caterer must be ready to invest in local jobs and a skilled work force rather than processed foods.&nbsp;</p><p>One last obstacle for change is the fact that districts lose federal money when kids don&rsquo;t take the meals. This presents a strong financial incentive to keep the nuggets and shun fresh food experimentation. For this reason, Cooper says it&rsquo;s essential to make healthy delicious, and then educate the kids about why they should eat them.<br /><br />&ldquo;In Boulder right now we are doing 200 to 300 events a year,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;We go into the cafeteria and work with the kids. We do Rainbow Days, we do tastings, we do chef demos, we do Iron Chef competitions. We work with kids on a daily basis to try new things. And that&rsquo;s how we&rsquo;re going to make the change. We&rsquo;re not just going to give them high fat, high sugar, high salt unhealthy food because that&rsquo;s what they think they want. Because that would not be an educational situation.&rdquo;<br /><br />But the question remains: If Chicago Public Schools ditched their processed food for something healthier, would they meet weeping and wailing, or would the children get on board?</p><p>There&rsquo;s only way way to find out.</p><p><em>(Full disclosure: One of Monica Eng&rsquo;s nine siblings works for a food company subcontracted by CPS to cater pre-prepared meals to many CPS schools without full kitchens.)</em></p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-0f241261-60a9-d4d2-9ee7-48352a3b634d">Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</span><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> @monicaeng</a> or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p></p> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 09:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/has-decade-school-food-reform-resulted-healthier-lunches-110018 CPS reveals that the only ingredients in its chicken nuggets are...chicken nuggets! http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/cps-reveals-only-ingredients-its-chicken-nuggets-arechicken-nuggets-109963 <p><p>April 11, 2014 UPDATE: CPS finally produces the ingredient lists for the Top 5 entrees. Each chicken product contains dozens of ingredients.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>April 10, 2014, UPDATE: Thursday WBEZ heard from Illinois&#39; Assistant Attorney General for Public Access Tim O&#39;Brien. He&#39;s been assigned to review the legality of CPS&#39;s response to WBEZ&#39;s Freedom of Information Act request for school food data. &nbsp;</p><p>Wednesday WBEZ was contacted by a company that creates online<a href="http://spps.nutrislice.com/menu/battle-creek-environmental-elementary/lunch/"> school menus for the St Paul </a>school district. In these schools, parents and reporters don&#39;t need to file FOIA&#39;s to find out what&#39;s in the food, nor do they need to enlist the help of the Attorney General&#39;s office. They simply put their cursor on the item and the ingredients and nutritional information emerge in a pop-up window.&nbsp;</p><p>April 8, 2014, UPDATE: Last week, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman told WBEZ that the district simply didn&#39;t &quot;know the ingredients&quot; of the processed chicken products that it serves Chicago children. Yesterday, that same spokesman still would not share the information, saying that the district is &quot;still in the process of completing this request.&quot; &nbsp;Today Aramark headquarters says that it gave the information to CPS &quot;last week&quot; but it could not share the ingredient information with WBEZ because &quot;the District would need to release it to the media, not us.&quot;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>---------------</p><p>Almost all the meals served in the Chicago Public Schools are paid for with your tax dollars. But if you want to know what&rsquo;s actually in those meals, good luck.</p><p>Early last month WBEZ filed a Freedom of Information Act request for data on what CPS students were eating. On Tuesday, WBEZ finally received an answer, if you can call it that.</p><p>What follows is the district&rsquo;s verbatim response to our FOIA&nbsp; request for the &ldquo;ingredient lists for the top five entrees in the CPS food service program.&quot;&nbsp;</p><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody><tr><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:207px;height:20px;"><p align="center"><strong>Entrée Item</strong></p></td><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:368px;height:20px;"><p align="center"><strong>Ingredient List</strong></p></td></tr><tr><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:207px;height:20px;"><p>Chicken Patty Sandwich</p></td><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:368px;height:20px;"><p>Chicken Patty, Bun</p></td></tr><tr><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:207px;height:20px;"><p>Chicken &amp; Bean Nachos</p></td><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:368px;height:20px;"><p>Chicken Crumbles, Tortilla Chips, Cheese Sauce, Beans</p></td></tr><tr><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:207px;height:20px;"><p>Chicken Nuggets</p></td><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:368px;height:20px;"><p>Chicken Nuggets</p></td></tr><tr><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:207px;height:20px;"><p>Cheeseburger</p></td><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:368px;height:20px;"><p>Bun, Beef Patty, American Cheese</p></td></tr><tr><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:207px;height:20px;"><p>Penne with Marinara Meat Sauce</p></td><td nowrap="nowrap" style="width:368px;height:20px;"><p>Penne, Marinara, Beef Crumbles</p></td></tr></tbody></table><p>Yes, you read it correctly: The complete ingredient list for CPS chicken nuggets is two words: &ldquo;chicken nuggets.&rdquo; And it took more than a month for CPS Nutrition Support Services to figure this out.</p><p>When I last did a story on popular CPS lunch items for the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Farticles.chicagotribune.com%2F2011-02-20%2Fhealth%2Fct-met-new-school-lunches-20110220_1_cps-students-chartwells-thompson-healthy-food&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNG2I3jbVb45SdZO7ve-7pVkO5ePRg">Chicago Tribune in 2011</a>, the district&rsquo;s spicy chicken patty contained dozens of ingredients, many too hard to pronounce. But, miraculously, CPS and its new caterer Aramark have pared the district&rsquo;s number one food item down to just two ingredients: a chicken patty and a bun, according to the district&rsquo;s response.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CPS%20spicy%20chicken%20patty.jpg" style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; height: 210px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="A chicken patty sandwich is the most eaten entree in Chicago Public Schools. But what’s in it? After a month, CPS will only disclose that it contains a chicken patty and a bun. Thanks CPS. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" />A few years ago, the advocacy group Real Food For Kids criticized the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.npr.org%2Fblogs%2Fthesalt%2F2012%2F04%2F02%2F149717358%2Fwhats-inside-the-26-ingredient-school-lunch-burger&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGprtGWU49odQw1FT4Nn-B2pMTMsw">26-ingredient burger</a> served in American schools and called on districts to phase out such heavily processed foods in lunch programs. According to the ingredient lists WBEZ received from the district, CPS has bested the 26-ingredient burger by 23 ingredients, by listing only three in its burger: a bun, a patty and (if it&rsquo;s a cheeseburger) American cheese.</p><p>Is this an accurate picture of CPS entree ingredients? We can&rsquo;t tell. Because, although WBEZ responded almost immediately with emails and phone calls seeking an explanation for these limited ingredient lists, the district has, as of yet, offered none. Yesterday, one district representative said he would try to contact the head of school food, Leslie Fowler, to determine what happened. But we&rsquo;ve heard nothing back since then.</p><p>I have covered CPS food for at least five years now, and have met with my share of district resistance to sharing information. But this latest development shocked even me.</p><p>At least previous administrations were willing to share details on what our tax dollars were buying for school lunch. This one, however, seems bent on keeping the public in the dark. But why?</p><p>It should be noted that CPS&rsquo;s response arrived on April 1st. One can only hope this mockery of the Freedom of Information Act was all just some kind of joke.</p><p>We will keep you updated on CPS&rsquo;s response here.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>UPDATE: A CPS representative said Friday he would try to obtain the missing information, but would not say when. On Monday the district had still not produced the missing data, and WBEZ filed a request with the Illinois Attorney General&#39;s office to review the situation and assist in releasing the ingredient information.&nbsp;</p><p><em>(Full disclosure: One of Monica Eng&rsquo;s eight siblings works for a food company subcontracted by CPS to cater pre-prepared meals to many CPS schools without full kitchens.)</em></p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Fmonicaeng&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGoYzy7NkmnMSoIdG75anzNVCJ90A">@monicaeng or</a> write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p></p> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 13:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/cps-reveals-only-ingredients-its-chicken-nuggets-arechicken-nuggets-109963 5 'Good Food' discoveries in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/5-good-food-discoveries-chicago-109875 <p><p>Much of the food world has recently descended on Chicago for a rare convergence of international food conferences.</p><p>Last week it was the Conference of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs followed by the <a href="http://goodfoodfestivals.com/">Good Food Festival</a> overlapping with the <a href="https://www.iacp.com/attend/category/2014_annual_conference">International Association of Culinary Professionals</a>, which wrapped up yesterday while the International Home and Housewares Show continues through today. Phew.</p><p>I sampled my way through three days of them and came out stuffed, but also excited by&nbsp; some fresh new takes on bacon, burgers, kale, lentils and even some local shrimp.&nbsp;</p><p>Food on a stick doesn&rsquo;t usually feel very virtuous, especially when it includes bacon. But at the Good Food Festival, Lance Avery of <a href="http://www.bigforkbrands.com/">Big Fork Brands</a> made a compelling case for &ldquo;bacon sausage on a stick...you know everything is better on a stick.&rdquo;<br /><br />Yes. You heard it. He was serving bacon sausage on a stick. Wipe off the drool.&nbsp; I asked why he combined bacon with sausage?</p><p>&ldquo;We feel we can make sausage better with bacon,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So we put it in everything we do. We currently have four flavors: hickory and applewood, cracked black pepper, aged cheddar cheese and maple and brown sugar. That&rsquo;s our breakfast one, which is really popular.&rdquo;<br /><br />The delicious Chicago made sausages, Avery says, also happen to be made from pastured, heritage hogs who were raised without the use of antibiotics on local farms. Plus, they save you from ever having to decide whether you want bacon or sausage with your breakfast again.<br /><br />Just a few tables down from Avery was another Chicago entrepreneur. He was serving burgers, but not the kind your mother might recognize.&nbsp;<br /><br />&ldquo;I&rsquo;m the owner and I work for the<a href="http://www.amazingkaleburger.com/"> Amazing Kale Burge</a>r,&rdquo; said Brandon Byxbie with a smile on his face and turtle green burger in his hand. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an all-vegetable patty, vegan, gluten-free and soy-free--mostly kale and mushrooms, two beans and a grain.<br /><br />Now, for those of you who assume a kale burger can&rsquo;t taste amazing, you&rsquo;ll have to try this one for yourself to become a believer. They&rsquo;re sold at the Logan Square Farmers Market every Sunday as well as four co-ops around Chicago.<br /><br />Also at the Good Food Festival, I found Marek Wolanowski purveying yet another remarkable product, this one called: Amazing Shrimp. They&rsquo;re sweet juicy Gulf Shrimp raised locally--yes locally-- outside Indianapolis in a clear water recirculating system.<br />So why raise them this way?<br /><br />&ldquo;Because we can control the environment,&rdquo; Wolanowski says. &ldquo;So there are no chemicals used in raising the shrimp-- without antibiotics, hormones or steroids.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Five%20Food%20Fad%20shrimp.jpg" style="height: 401px; width: 620px;" title="Local Gulf Shrimp raised in Indiana were used to make shrimp chowder by Paul Virant at the recent Chicago Good Food Festival. They are called Amazing Shrimp and will be on sale at the Green City Market this spring. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" />Chef Paul Virant has already been serving them his restaurants at Vie in Western Springs and Perennial Virant in Lincoln Park.&nbsp; During a shrimp chowder cooking demo at the Good Food Festival he praised their flavor and freshness.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The other really cool thing about these shrimp is that they purge them 72 hours before they harvest the shrimp,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So you have an incredibly clean shrimp.&rdquo;</p><p>Wolanowski says that, starting this spring, the local Gulf shrimp will be on sale at Green City Market.&nbsp;<br /><br />Want to eat chocolate sauce without feeling guilty? Connie Wastcoat at<a href="http://www.grownupkidstuff.com/"> Grown Up Kids Stuff </a>wants to help you with a line of Chicago-made dessert sauces, many of which are made from Ghanaian chocolate.<br /><br />&ldquo;We have six ingredients only in all of our sauces except the chocolate with chiles,&rdquo; she explains. &ldquo;There is no corn, no soy, no gluten and no nuts. The cocoa we are using is two powders from Ghana, and the company is a member of the World Cocoa Federation and the International Cocoa Initiative. They support sustainability, worker education, health care and&nbsp; they take care of the people who grow all the cocoa.&rdquo;</p><p>And if you&rsquo;re not in the mood for a chocolate dessert, how about lentils? At the International Association of Culinary Professionals sponsor hall, I met Delaney Seiferling who wants to change your mind about the humble legume.<br /><br />&ldquo;I think a lot of people don&rsquo;t realize how versatile lentils are to cook with,&quot; said Seiferling who works for the <span class="st">Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.</span> &quot;You can put them in any kind of dish: an appetizer, main course and&nbsp; dessert.&rdquo;<br /><br />Dessert?</p><p>&ldquo;Yes, of course, you can boost the nutritional component of your dessert a little by substituting pureed lentils for half of the butter,&rdquo; she said referring to recipes that can be found at <a href="http://lentils.ca">Canadian Lentils</a>. &ldquo;We usually say red lentils, but any kind of lentils will work.&quot;<br /><br />Seiferling&rsquo;s even packed them into chocolate chip cookies--and fed them to kids.&nbsp;<br /><br />&ldquo;And we&rsquo;ve done the blind taste test and put them against regular chocolate chip cookies and asked if they can taste them,&rdquo; she reported. &ldquo;They never know the difference.&rdquo;<br /><br />This is something I haven&rsquo;t tried yet, but let&rsquo;s just say that my kids are in for lentil-spiked cookies any day now. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Tue, 18 Mar 2014 15:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/5-good-food-discoveries-chicago-109875 Good Food Festival kicks off its 10th year http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/good-food-festival-kicks-its-10th-year-109859 <p><p>Local foods are hot.</p><p>And not just among the usual suspects.</p><p>Nationwide, the number of farmers markets has doubled over the last decade to more than 8,000. And Illinois trails only California and New York state when it comes to the number of farmers markets it hosts.</p><p>In Chicago this time of year, nowhere is this growing hunger for local food more evident than in the 10 year old Good Food Festival.</p><p>Jim Slama, president of FamilyFarmed.org, explains that it&rsquo;s both a financing conference and food festival that has grown considerably since its first modest year.</p><p>&ldquo;The first year was at Kendall College, which was not even open yet at the Goose Island campus,&rdquo; he remembered. &ldquo;Howard Tullman gave us half a floor. There were still studs on the walls. We had 50 tables for farmers, 300 people showed up. Paul Kahan gave the keynote. It was such a hit that we said &lsquo;you know what, let&rsquo;s add a consumer show and take it to Navy Pier&rsquo; (which we did the next year) and make this into the gathering place for the sustainable local food movement in Chicago.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br />This year&rsquo;s event featured speeches by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CEO of Whole Foods Walter Robb and 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. That was part of the food financing fair and symposium.&nbsp; It was all about making deals, growing entrepreneurs and connecting organizations like Chicago Public Schools, McCormick Place and Lettuce Entertain You with local farmers to supply their foods.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/GOOD%20FOOD%20FEST%202.JPG" style="height: 263px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Community supported agriculture (or CSAs) has exploded in the Chicago area over the past decade. This Saturday Chicagoans can shop for CSA’s, which include summer produce deliveries, at the Good Food Festival. (Courtesy of Vie)" />Slama says he has been incrementally building these relationships for years with his organization Family Farmed.org</p><p>&ldquo;[Last] year when Eataly came to town, they called us and said &lsquo;we want local food&rsquo;,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Now when you go to Eataly you will see they have a lot of local food and these are the kinds of relationships we help to build.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p><br />But Saturday&rsquo;s events are aimed at the consumer, the foodie and local food-loving families, says Slama.<br /><br />&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got seven James Beard-recognized chefs doing demos,&rdquo; he said.&rdquo;Rick Bayless leads it off. He&rsquo;s getting this Good Food Chef of the Year award. Jason Vincent, Erling Wu Bower and Paul Virant are also doing demos. It&rsquo;s also a whole lot of fun with workshops and 160 vendors. Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn are doing a three-hour workshop on butchering and people will learn to cure their own meats. And they are using a Greg Gunthorp hog. It&rsquo;s just really a very fun day for people and families.&rdquo;</p><p>Full disclosure: I am mediating a panel at one of the Saturday workshops about brewing your own fermented sodas and kombucha. Don&rsquo;t know what those are?</p><p>&ldquo;Kombucha is an awesome fermented beverage using a funky symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast on top that ferments the sweetened tea into a lightly sweet beverage,&rdquo; says brewing panelist and creator of fermup.com Brendan Byers. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll be focusing more on the fermented soda side of things, using a wild yeast and bacteria culture that someone can catch similar to sourdough.&rdquo;</p><p>Over the years, the Saturday portion of the festival has also become the premier marketplace for CSA shopping. These are shares you can buy in a farm in exchange for a weekly box of fresh produce during the growing season. Dozens of farms will be presenting their plans and signing up customers in the CSA pavillion Saturday.&nbsp; Many of them will also be part of a &ldquo;Band of Farmers&rdquo; talent show that evening aimed at raising CSA awareness. Organizer Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farms, does a performance art piece to Tim Minchin&rsquo;s song Canvas Bags. But what about the others?</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll have everything from poetry to last year we had political puppetry,&rdquo; Osmund said. &ldquo;Of course, we&rsquo;ll have music. One of the bands is hairy vetch, kind of playing on the cover crop names. Last year there was roller dancing and performance dance, synchronized with pitchforks and farm implements.&rdquo;</p><p>But Osmund promises that&rsquo;s not all. &ldquo;Returning this year is the farmer fashion show, where the farmers will present their favorite farm duds on stage.&rdquo;</p><p>With this explosion of farmers markets, home butchering, farm shares and even farmer talent shows, it&rsquo;s clear that urban and rural food world are coming together in ways they haven&rsquo;t in a very long time.</p><p><strong>Note:<em> </em></strong><em>If you are reading this on Friday afternoon, you still have time to attend the Good Food Festival&rsquo;s Localicious event from 7 to 9 p.m. at the UIC Forum. It features several of Chicago&rsquo;s top chefs serving dishes made from local ingredients as well as offerings from craft brewers of the Midwest. Tickets and information at goodfoodfestivals.com</em></p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Fri, 14 Mar 2014 11:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/good-food-festival-kicks-its-10th-year-109859 Beer tours big business for small brewer http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2014-03/beer-tours-big-business-small-brewer-109820 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/P1150205.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Among all the benefits of Illinois&rsquo; fast growing craft beer scene is the proliferation of brewery tours.</p><p>Tours have the potential to be big business for small brewers. They draw customers and build brand identification. For inspiration, Illinois-based brewers would do well to look north, to <a href="http://www.lakefrontbrewery.com/">Lakefront Brewery</a> in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.</p><p>Lakefront is Milwaukee&rsquo;s largest craft brewer. Its beers are available in Chicago, but many people make the trek to take its brewery tour, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2012/10/02/10-best-beer-cities-in-the-world/1608885/">one of the most popular stops</a> on the American craft beer circuit.</p><p>On a recent Friday afternoon, I toured the facility with my colleagues and <em><a href="http://strangebrewspodcast.tumblr.com/">Strange Brews</a> </em>co-hosts Tim Akimoff, Andrew Gill and WBEZ producer Joe Deceault. We were among a group of about twenty, many of them repeat customers. One Chicago woman has taken the tour five times. When I asked why she kept coming back she had a simple answer - because you can drink.</p><p>Lakefront is proud of the fact that unlike those other tours, they start you off with a beer in hand. There&rsquo;s a stop for beer midway through the tour &ndash;and a cold one waiting at the end.</p><p>Russ and Jim Klisch started Lakefront in 1987, after experimenting with home brewing.The brothers&rsquo; beer roots are deep - their grandfather delivered beer for Schlitz. It was the big four - Schlitz, Pabst, Blatz and of course Miller - that once made Milwaukee the beer capital of the world. Now only MillerCoors is still brewing in Milwaukee. So small independents like Lakefront are starting to fill the gap.</p><p>Last year, Lakefront topped 40,000 barrels. It&#39;s the second largest craft brewery in Wisconsin. And tours have helped drive their business. Russ Klisch says the idea came early on.</p><p>&ldquo;I gave a real technical tour,&rdquo; remembered Klisch. &ldquo;I have a chemistry degree and I thought everybody who took the tour wanted to learn about how to make beer. My brother really didn&rsquo;t know anything about that. He just started telling jokes on the tour and gave away beer free. And everybody took his tour and nobody took mine.&rdquo;</p><p>Our guide was Evan Koepnick, Lakefront&rsquo;s tour supervisor, improv comedy performer and self-proclaimed class clown. He called himself our &ldquo;brewery dungeon master.&rdquo;</p><p>There is something dungeonesque to Lakefront. The brewery&rsquo;s housed in an old coal-fired power plant. A winding flight of stairs led us into a room crowded with big steel tanks, vats and barrels. There Evan gave us a speed history of beer.</p><p>He got people to yell out &lsquo;reinheitsgebot!&rsquo;, &nbsp;the term for the ancient German beer purity laws. He demonstrated the role of yeast in fermentation by aggressively cuddling one of the guys on the tour.</p><p>The big finish involved an old bottling line once featured in the television show Laverne and Shirley. There was karaoke, a reenactment of some of the show&rsquo;s opening credits and a group selfie.</p><p>There are a few other historic markers at Lakefront. The large tasting room has some stunning light fixtures from a long-gone beer garden, plus the chalet that the Milwaukee Brewers mascot Bernie used to slide out of when the team scored a home run.</p><p>That history drew Leanne and Dean Anderson from Antioch Illinois. They&rsquo;ve toured Miller and the Pabst mansions. They think Lakefront follows in that tradition.</p><p>&ldquo;I like Miller but it&rsquo;s too international now,&rdquo; said Leanne. &ldquo;I like the hometown craft breweries.&rdquo;</p><p>History and tour hijinks aside, these events are important to Lakefront&rsquo;s future. Evan Koepnick said they&rsquo;ve helped pay for new equipment and brewing experiments. Last year Lakefront &nbsp;extended the number and hours of the tours, including Sunday. And Koepnick said they&rsquo;re always busy, even during football season.</p><p>And that has Lakefront rising&mdash;<a href="http://expressmilwaukee.com/article-22766-lakefront-brewery-on-the-rise-%7C-eat-drink-%7C-shepherd-express.html">to the top of craft beers in the Midwest.</a></p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/acuddy-0" rel="author">Alison Cuddy</a>&nbsp;is the Arts and Culture reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/wbezacuddy">Twitter</a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison">Facebook</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://instagram.com/cuddyreport">Instagram</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 06 Mar 2014 14:58:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2014-03/beer-tours-big-business-small-brewer-109820 Packing in the paczkis http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/packing-paczkis-109792 <p><p>Happy Paczki Day, Chicago!</p><p>This occasion marks a time of feasting before the Lenten fast &mdash; specifically on the jelly doughnuts&nbsp; known as paczki that are a tradition in Poland. But unlike cultures that celebrate Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, paczki have their heyday on two distinct days in Chicago&rsquo;s Polish community.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Photos: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/louisachu/sets/72157641622072985/" target="_blank">Paczki Day in Chicago</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;By being of Polish extraction and living in Chicago, you get the best of both worlds,&rdquo; explained Jan Lorys, managing director of the Polish Museum of America, which is located in the West Town neighborhood on Milwaukee Ave., the longtime &ldquo;Main Street&rdquo; of Polish Chicago.</p><p>Lorys continued, &ldquo;In Poland, the tradition is that you are getting ready for Lent, which is a period of fasting. So you get rid of all of your animal fats...and make paczki, which are deep fried in fat.&rdquo;</p><p>That happens on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday -- both in Poland and in Chicago&rsquo;s bakery-filled Polish-American neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;But when you come to the United States, the big thing is Mardi Gras, the Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday,&rdquo; Lorys said. &ldquo;So the idea came for having Paczki Day on Shrove Tuesday, combining an existing American holiday with something from Poland.&rdquo;</p><p>That is how most U.S. Polish communities do it, but in Chicago we respectfully observe both traditions, meaning, Lorys said, &ldquo;that you have them on Thursday, and then starve yourself over the weekend and then have them on Tuesday again.&rdquo;</p><p>So now that you understand the double-doughnut-day directive, we should say a word about the spelling and pronunciation of this deep-fried treat.</p><p>Paczek (POANCH-ek) is the word for a single doughnut. But, as Lorys said, &ldquo;You never [just] eat one.&rdquo; So the really important word to learn is the the plural paczki (POANCH--kee) -- as in, &ldquo;I can&rsquo;t believe I just ate 17 paczki.&rdquo;</p><p>To make matters more confusing, the word paczki, meaning filled doughnut, looks exactly like the word paczki, meaning package. So if you have ever passed one of Chicago&rsquo;s many Polish shipping services and wondered if the sign saying &ldquo;Paczki do Polski&rdquo; means they specialize in mailing doughnuts to Poland, the answer is &ldquo;no.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/paczki%20powder.jpg" style="float: right; height: 197px; width: 350px;" title="" />You may also be wondering if paczki are really that much different from other jelly doughnuts, Bismarcks, Berliners, bombolini, Boston cremes, or sufganiyot. From the looks of them you might think they&rsquo;re all the same. But Dobra Bielinski of Delightful Pastries explains that they are a denser, eggier affair.</div><p><br />&ldquo;People really eat jelly-filled doughnuts for the filling, not the doughnut itself,&rdquo; the baker said. &ldquo;And with a paczki, what happens is that people eat it for the dough and not the filling. Relatively, there is less filling and and more dough. Once this cools off, when you bite it, it springs back, it doesn&rsquo;t collapse like pancake.&rdquo;</p><p>On Wednesday morning, Bielinski presided over a bustling kitchen that would crank out more than 20,000 paczki over the next week, including 10,000 pre-ordered doughnuts and several thousand for the City of Chicago&rsquo;s birthday celebration in Daley Plaza Tuesday.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;And those are just the orders we know about. We still have to make them for orders [by] people who are coming into the store,&rdquo; Bielinski said.</p><p>Giant bowls of butter, flour, rum, eggs, yeast, and sugar were spinning under the mixer. Workers rolled finished mounds of dough into lime-sized balls for proofing. Once risen, whole trays of paczki buns would be gently lowered into vats of oil. Traditionally, that oil would have been lard, but today Bielinski uses a blend of canola and soy to reflect changing customer demands .</p><p>&ldquo;If I had to do it at home, I would do it in lard,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>&ldquo;Me too,&rdquo; piped in Stasia Hawryszczuk, her mom, &ldquo;because it tastes much better.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;If you were living in a small town in Poland,&rdquo; Bielinski said, &ldquo;everyone would have their own pig in the backyard and the pig was fed scraps, and the lard was fairly healthy because they didn&rsquo;t add anything to it. You would melt it down and you&rsquo;d have all this fat to fry in. &ldquo;</p><p>Midway through frying, the bobbing buns were expertly flipped using what look like two mahogany chopsticks.</p><p>And when the hot walnut-colored pastries emerged from the fryer, they bore nary a drop of grease -- thanks, Bielinski said, to the rum in the dough that prevents excessive absorption of oil.</p><p>Next up, is the sugar glaze, which was traditionally studded with candied orange peels, a delicacy in Poland during this time of year when fresh fruit was scarce.</p><p>When I was a young kid in Poland you would get oranges under the Christmas tree,&rdquo; Bielinski said.&nbsp; &ldquo;There was a lot of rationing of food. So if you would spend your money on oranges, you would use up entire orange and you&rsquo;d put the bits of candied orange peel on top of your pazckis and make a luxury item, so to speak.&rdquo;</p><p>And lastly comes the injection of filling. Traditional fillings including prune and rose petal jam, but in recent years Bielinski has gotten more creative.</p><p>&ldquo;We we do vanilla bean custard and vodka, Jameson&rsquo;s whiskey and chocolate custard, and then we did moonshine with lemon curd,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So those were the adult ones.&rdquo;</p><p>Bielinski is especially proud of the tart and tropical passion fruit, which she makes from real fruit puree.</p><p>If you ask a dozen paczki lovers about their favorite flavors, you could easily get a dozen different answers back.&nbsp;</p><p>Responses we got included rose hip jelly, cherry, strawberry, apricot, prune, custard, chocolate, raspberry.</p><p>But regardless of which flavor you choose,&nbsp; we can all agree that these round poofs of sweetness can offer some much needed comfort during this long punishing winter.</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a> or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Thu, 27 Feb 2014 12:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/packing-paczkis-109792 Jim + Carmel’s TV + Dinner http://www.wbez.org/blogs/jim-derogatis/2014-02/jim-carmel%E2%80%99s-tv-dinner-109731 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" height="360" mozallowfullscreen="" msallowfullscreen="" oallowfullscreen="" scrolling="no" src="//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/2680313/height/360/width/640/theme/legacy/direction/no/autoplay/no/autonext/no/thumbnail/yes/preload/no/no_addthis/no/" style="border: none" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="640"></iframe></p><p>Soul-sustaining it may be, but one cannot live by rock &rsquo;n&rsquo; roll alone.</p><p>For one thing, you have to eat. For another, you&rsquo;ve got to find something else to amuse yourself on those evenings when you&rsquo;re too tired to go out and your ears still are ringing from that four-band bill the night before.</p><p>As the co-host of <a href="http://jimcarmeltvdinner.libsyn.com/soundopinions.org"><em>Sound Opinions</em></a> and a journalist and critic in this fine forum, I have plenty of chances to express my views, though those almost always are about music. I also like to eat (<em>duh!</em>), and I happen to think we&rsquo;re in the midst of a new golden age for television (as well as a new and epic era for reality crap). Not surprisingly, I have a lot to say about both of these pursuits.</p><p>A much quieter person overall, my wife Carmel Carrillo edits&nbsp;<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/columnists/vettel/">the Dining section</a> and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/tv/">television coverage</a> for <em>The Chicago Tribune</em>, and she has plenty of opinions about those subjects, too. So to give us both a forum to talk about these topics, sharing our quips at the dinner table with the world, we have launched a new podcast called <strong><em>Jim + Carmel&#39;s TV + Dinner</em>,&nbsp;</strong><a href="http://jimcarmeltvdinner.libsyn.com/">which you can download here</a> and subscribe to <a href="http://jimcarmeltvdinner.libsyn.com/rss">via your RSS feed</a> or <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/jim-+-carmels-tv-+-dinner/id822171130?i=258396916&amp;mt=2">iTunes</a>.</p><p>In our D.I.Y. debut, we tackle HBO&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hbo.com/true-detective#/"><em>True Detective</em></a> and Fox&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fox.com/the-following/"><em>The Following</em></a>; rap up Season 11 of Bravo&#39;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bravotv.com/top-chef"><em>Top Chef</em></a><em>, </em>and talk about recent meals at Chicago&#39;s<a href="http://www.karynsongreen.com/"> Karyn&rsquo;s </a><a href="http://www.karynsongreen.com/">on Green</a> (130 S. Green St.),&nbsp;<a href="http://fiorentinoscucina.com/">Fiorentino&rsquo;s</a> (2901 N. Ashland Ave.), and <a href="http://www.bedfordchicago.com/">the Bedford</a> (1612 W. Division St.).</p><p>We hope you&rsquo;ll fix a snack, put the TV on mute, download or stream our podcast, and enjoy!</p><p><em><strong>Follow me on Twitter </strong></em><a href="https://twitter.com/JimDeRogatis"><strong><em><strike>@</strike>JimDeRogatis</em></strong></a><em><strong> or join me on </strong></em><a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jim-DeRo/254753087340"><strong><em>Facebook</em></strong></a><em><strong>.</strong></em></p></p> Wed, 19 Feb 2014 06:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/jim-derogatis/2014-02/jim-carmel%E2%80%99s-tv-dinner-109731 Can you persuade kids to ditch soda for water? http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/can-you-persuade-kids-ditch-soda-water-109677 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Water Tasting Photo.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>February is &ldquo;<a href="http://www.rethinkyourdrinknow.com/ryd/Home">Rethink Your Drink</a>&rdquo; month in Illinois, by proclamation of Gov. Pat Quinn. And the drinks that consumers are being asked to rethink are the high-cal beverages that many Illinoisans and other Americans polish off by the liter.</p><p>The campaign to raise awareness about the health effects of sugary beverages coincides with a<a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-03/excess-sugar-may-double-heart-disease-risk-researchers-say.html"> new study</a> linking excess sugar consumption to increased risk of heart disease.</p><p>Schools, churches, and state agencies are holding programs as part of the campaign aimed at improving Illinois residents&rsquo; soft drink habits.</p><p>One novel approach was launched last week at Brooks Middle School in the west Chicago suburb of Oak Park, which focused on quenching thirst with water rather than pop.</p><p>Sandy Noel, a retired teacher and co-chairwoman of the Governor&rsquo;s Council on Health and Fitness, told students, &ldquo;When you&rsquo;re dehydrated, your brain kind of goes from a grape to a raisin. It actually shrinks a little bit and you feel a little wilted.&rdquo;</p><p>The 7th and 8th graders then lined up for a taste-off pitting two flavors of infused water, one strawberry-lemon and the other cucumber-lime.</p><p>As the kids filed through the tasting lines, their votes seemed to lean toward the strawberry-infused water. But the tasting process also left them with some new opinions on beverages in general.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I know our body doesn&rsquo;t really need sugar all the time,&rdquo; said Tate Ferguson, &ldquo;and so if you want something that tastes good and is better for your body, you should drink this.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I like the cucumber-lime water,&rdquo; said Max Walton. &ldquo;I think I would definitely drink it during sports because it gets you more hydrated than soda.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Like their male classmates, many of the girls said they were open to swapping their usual drinks for water in the future.</p><p>&ldquo;Usually before I do martial arts, I am really tired, so I just have an energy drink,&rdquo; said Zoharia Drizin. &ldquo;So if I start drinking this instead, I think I will be energized in a healthier way.&rdquo;</p><p>Her classmate Claire Cooke agreed. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I would totally choose this over soda because it&rsquo;s much better for you,&rdquo; Cooke said. &ldquo;Soda makes you more thirsty, but water keeps you energized for a long period of time. I&rsquo;m in a lot of musical theater and when I&rsquo;m dancing I need lots of water.&rdquo;</p><p>For Abby Nichol, the contest was a little closer.</p><p>&ldquo;I love soda,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;but this is very, very close to it. So it&rsquo;s actually a very tough choice. Personally, I like this a little bit more than soda.&rdquo;</p><p>In the case of one student, the presentation -- which included displays of the amounts of sugar in soda and sports drinks -- made her rethink her lunchtime drink.</p><p>&ldquo;I usually have a Gatorade in my lunch,&rdquo; said Cait Egan, a 7th grader. &ldquo;But now I am starting to double guess that, because I saw how much sugar is in a Gatorade. And I think this water tastes better to me.&rdquo;</p><p>Still not all of the students agreed. Alec Fragos was especially outspoken in his opposition.</p><p>&ldquo;It was like drinking out of a faucet,&rdquo; Fragos said. &ldquo;It didn&rsquo;t have any taste. I wouldnt choose it over soda because I don&rsquo;t feel it would help me feel more hydrated &hellip; It&rsquo;s got no pop in the mouth. It&rsquo;s kind of flat.&rdquo;</p><p>Rethink Your Drink organizers say Fragos and other holdouts will have more opportunities for conversion in the future. The Oak Park Middle Schools plan to repeat the tasting monthly with new flavor combinations each time. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a> or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 10 Feb 2014 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/can-you-persuade-kids-ditch-soda-water-109677 If Aldi is movin' on up, is it also leaving some behind? http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/if-aldi-movin-it-also-leaving-some-behind-109636 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/aldi inside.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>When Whole Foods promises a new store in impoverished Englewood and Aldi thrives in posh Lincoln Park, things may seem a little upside down in the Chicago supermarket world.</p><p>But grocery store profiles can shift over time, and perhaps none more so than Aldi, the German-owned chain that launched here in 1976 as a no-frills, low end, budget grocer.</p><p>In recent years, the store has begun stocking more upscale (even organic) offerings. In the process, it&#39;s expanded its customer base, raising concerns among some that the chain has abandoned its original low-income supporters. Retail food consultant Jon Hauptman of Willard Bishop, has analyzed this trend (<a href="http://www.wbez.org/sections/food/monica-eng-why-foodie-loves-aldi-109350">which I recently observed myself</a>).</p><p>&ldquo;When you go to Aldi today you are very likely to see high performance cars and expensive automobiles and shoppers from a wide variety of demographics,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve made it socially acceptable to shop at Aldi, and even a fun, interesting experience. And they&rsquo;re now locating their stores in more upscale areas than they did before with many of their stores being built from the ground up, something they never used to do. They used to just rent distressed space in existing strip malls. Today they&rsquo;re building new stores and the stores they&rsquo;re building are brighter and more appealing than they were a decade ago.&rdquo;</p><p>Indeed, Aldi promises to open about 650 more of these new stores over the next five years. The move will find them expanding into the American South and West, and nearly double the number of stores they currently operate. But as part of the new strategy the Batavia-based U.S. headquarters is also closing some stores.</p><p>Denise Moore is a councilwoman in Peoria&rsquo;s 1st District, where area residents, last month, protested the closing of a two decade-old Aldi in their neighborhood called the South End.</p><p>&ldquo;Quite honestly, they felt like they were being abandoned, that after 25 years of operating in the first district on that location Aldi up and left almost with no notice,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Aldi responded by explaining that it was opening a &ldquo;larger, new store&rdquo; in East Peoria.</p><p>It added: &ldquo;The new store replaced two locations in the area; both stores had been in operation for more than 20 years and were too small to offer customers the full line of Aldi products. We take the closing of any Aldi store very seriously. In this case, we made a business decision to build a store that offers an expanded variety of fresh foods to more customers in the area. We understand the concerns raised by some of our Peoria customers and appreciate their support over the past 25 years. &ldquo;</p><p>Moore says that she and the residents were told by Aldi that it was part of a strategy to open more stores near Wal-Marts. But she started to wonder if there was more to the strategy when she learned of another upcoming Aldi closure near a housing project in Pekin, Illinois. At the same time, she says, the chain is opening a store in a more affluent part of town. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;[Aldi] is moving further north into Pekin leaving that community as a food desert as well,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Aldi counters that the location it&#39;s closing in Pekin still has a Kroger store nearby.</p><p>Strangely enough, only a few years ago a <a href="http://www.chicagojournal.com/blogs/08-28-2009/Madison_and_Western_grocer:_from_the_archives">Chicago community successfully resisted</a> the building of a new Aldi in West Town because the store was seen as too low brow. Instead, a Pete&rsquo;s Fresh Market is scheduled to open there this spring.</p><p>Still, grocery store industry watcher, Hauptman, says that he sees Aldi&rsquo;s recent moves as more of an expansion than an abandonment of old customers.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think Aldi has given up on the lower income areas at all,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve just expanded to &hellip;.serve a wider range of neighborhoods than they have in the past.&rdquo;</p><p>But if Aldi does vacate some poorer neighborhoods in the Midwest, is there a chain waiting to take its place?</p><p>&ldquo;If there is another format out there that is looking to serve a similar role it would be dollar stores,&rdquo; Hauptman said. &ldquo;They have traditionally built themselves in lower or lower-middle income neighborhoods. And&hellip;over the past 10 years they have begun to sell more consumables &ndash; food. If you go back 10 years consumables accounted for one third of their sales and non-consumables represented two-thirds. Today that has more than flip-flopped. &ldquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Hauptman further notes that a few other chains including Sav-A-Lot and PriceRite have taken a cue from Aldi&rsquo;s &ldquo;value oriented&rdquo; model and are targeting similar consumers. &nbsp;At the same time, however, the Midwest is also seeing growth in the higher-end, full service category of stores that include Mariano&rsquo;s and Whole Foods.</p><p>&ldquo;You can&rsquo;t be in the unsustainable middle ground anymore,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;That is exactly the reason Dominick&rsquo;s suffered so much. They didn&rsquo;t stand for anything special. They did a lot of things pretty well, but they weren&rsquo;t known for anything exceptional. Aldi is known for exceptional value and Mariano&rsquo;s and Whole Foods are known for exceptional quality. So they are establishing themselves in unique areas.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a> or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Tue, 04 Feb 2014 17:31:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/if-aldi-movin-it-also-leaving-some-behind-109636 Are you dumb for buying organic fruits and vegetables? http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/are-you-dumb-buying-organic-fruits-and-vegetables-109619 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/blueberries_0.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Oh boy, here we go again.</p><p>Earlier this week, Slate.com came out with the ever provocative &ldquo;counterintuitive take&rdquo; on organic food and parenting. The headline read: &ldquo;<a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2014/01/organic_vs_conventional_produce_for_kids_you_don_t_need_to_fear_pesticides.single.html">Skip the Organic Aisle. Conventional Produce Is Good For Your Kids.&rdquo; &nbsp;</a></p><p>I am just waiting for my sister to forward it to me with the subject line: See, I told you so.</p><p>Problem is, there is nothing new about this story for those who actually know something about organic foods. It basically tells you that there can be pesticide residues on both organic and non-organic produce, and most residues fall well below what are considered safe levels. I<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-0812-peaches-pesticides_mainaug12,0,2494206.story"> wrote that in 2009.</a></p><p>But, like too many &ldquo;critical looks&rdquo; at organic, it&rsquo;s based on a straw man argument: the idea that there are masses turning away from fruits and vegetables because, darn it, if they can&rsquo;t have organic, they won&rsquo;t eat any at all.</p><p>When I&rsquo;ve been fed this line by industry groups trying to get me to write the same story, I have politely asked for some proof&mdash;because the data I&rsquo;ve seen runs contrary. The industry groups, however, were never able to provide anything but anecdotes. &nbsp;</p><p>Apparently Slate writer, Melinda Wenner Moyer, didn&rsquo;t require such proof before launching her crusade to convince all those organic-or-nothing consumers that some fresh fruits and vegetables are better than none. And given the viral success of her story, maybe this is a huge revelation for most Slate readers. If so, our country may need more remedial nutrition education than I thought.</p><p>Still, my strong hunch is that readers already knew that eating some (even non-organic) produce is better than eating none. And the real reason they read it and passed it on was because it made them feel better about buying conventional produce and, frankly, a little triumphant over their, now dumb-looking, pro-organic sister, spouse, friend or co-worker. We journalists should never underestimate the power of schadenfreude to generate web traffic. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>Trouble is, the story shouldn&rsquo;t make organic food buyers feel dumb&mdash;unless, of course, they were only buying organic produce because they thought that no pesticides are ever used on them. I would think these shoppers would still feel good about going the extra mile (or buck) to help protect our soil and waterways, reduce farmworker exposure to certain synthetic pesticides (which has been linked to health problems) and encourage a generally more thoughtful production of the food they eat. &nbsp;</p><p>Furthermore, Wenner Moyer puts a lot of faith in government tolerance levels for pesticide exposure, which have been adjusted more than once when a formerly &quot;safe&quot; level was found to be not-so-safe after all. So many commenters have taken her to task for this already that I won&#39;t bother piling on.</p><p>But back to this idea that pesticide fear mongering--epitomized by the <a href="http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php">Dirty Dozen list</a> from the Environmental Working Group, which ranks produce with the most residues--is pushing people away from produce. When I was originally presented with this contention, I decided to check it out against <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-%28per-capita%29-data-system.aspx#26675">USDA produce consumption data f</a>or the years during which the Dirty Dozen has been in existence.</p><p>What I found was that most of the produce listed on the Dirty Dozen (which shifts slightly each year) saw gains, not losses, between 2004 and 2011 (the latest year for which I found complete data). In fact, of the 15 fruits and vegetables most villified by the list over the years, only five (potatoes, apples, celery, grapes and peaches) have seen reduced demand by retail consumers between those years. &nbsp;In the meantime, nutrient rich blueberries, strawberries, kale, cherries, squash, cucumbers, spinach, chili peppers, tomatoes and bell peppers have seen big gains in consumption or remained much the same. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Given these numbers, how is it that Wenner Moyer became convinced that we need to change our misguided ways before it&#39;s too late?</p><p>I still can&rsquo;t figure it out except that she believes anecdotal reports like the one she quotes in her story about &ldquo;parents who buy the Peter Rabbit Organics Fruit Pouches at Starbucks because they don&rsquo;t know whether the bananas on display are organic.&rdquo; &nbsp;Yeah, well I know some idiots too, but it doesn&rsquo;t mean that they are the norm or real threats to produce eating in this country.</p><p>Still, Wenner Moyer deserves some props for a glancing acknowledgement that some people buy organic, not out of pesticide residue concern, but because organic rules require farmers to take better care of the land. &nbsp;And at least she steered away from the largely irrelevant nutrition debate when it comes to organic certification&mdash;which doesn&rsquo;t certify nutrition.</p><p>And finally, I was glad she decided to mention that EWG starts each Dirty Dozen report by saying &ldquo;the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite all these caveats&mdash;and the data on produce consumption in this country&mdash;I am still expecting that smug email from my sister any day now.</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Fri, 31 Jan 2014 18:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/are-you-dumb-buying-organic-fruits-and-vegetables-109619