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Eight Forty-Eight

Food Critic Passes on the Pleasure of Food

HOST LEDE: Summer vacation is almost here, which if you're a kid means a little more sleep, more video games perhaps, lots of forgetting what you learned all year. But even now, at the end of the school year, one woman is teaching students a simple lesson she hopes they won't forget over the summer, or ever, for that matter: how to eat. If she's successful, they'll have so much fun they won't even realize they're being taught. Jacob Daniel Anderson has this report.

MOST OF US LEARNED learned ABOUT food like it's some kind of bizarre math. There's this triangle, but it's called a pyramid. Somehow you're supposed to use the six regions of the triangle to eat three square meals.

Here's how Susan Taylor teaches food:

TAYLOR (in classroom): "I'd like you to smell it, then I'd like you to lick it, then put it on your tongue and hold it there while I count to three--one, two, three--now chew this apple, and tell me what you taste."

(students give various responses--juicy, sweet, sour, tart)

Taylor is a food critic, and the founder of a non-profit called The Good Food Project. She conducts apple tastings in school classrooms, to introduce kids to what she calls real food. (Taylor in classroom: "We have Pink Lady, Fuji, Cameo and Gala") She does teach some vocabulary--tart, aromatic, mealy--but what she's really aiming for is something more basic: food AS fun. TAYLOR: The junk food industry takes advantage of this. Frito-Lay has a quote on the side of their truck. I'm paraphrasing it but it's something like "food for the fun of it."

APPLES ARE loaded into a little gizmo (sounds of gizmo) that cores AND slices it into a thin spiral, which TAYLOR calls an apple slinky. Every student gets to make a slinky of their favorite variety. But IT APPEARS IT'S NOT THE NEWLY MADE TOY THAT ATTRACTS THEM. They'RE all about the TASTE, which is exactly what Taylor wants. Her enthusiasm for all things apple is contagious.

(student asks question about varieties of apples, Taylor responds effusively)

TAYLOR: There's been a generation or two that really isn't cooking much in the homes. I'm always wearing an apron during our apple tastings, and I purposely do that because I really want people to go back into their homes and eat. It think that the apron is a symbol of home cooking.


REPORTER to SECOND GRADER (in school cafeteria): If you could have any meal in the world what would it be? (montage of student responses: pizza, cake, pizza, hot dogs, pizza)

REPORTER: Where do you usually eat those foods?

STUDENT: The skating rink.

Go Bananas. Go Bananas, the indoor amusement park where kids learn to eat and run. It's NOT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN THE EXPERIENCE AT SCHOOL. SOME SCHOOLS REWARD KIDS WHO SCARF DOWN THEIR FOOD WITH A LONGER RECESS PERIOD. This frantic pace and the preponderance of highly processed food is LEADING MANY FOOD writers and chefs TO take up the call for school lunch reform. THEIR WORRY IS THAT we're unwittingly teaching kids to become fast food consumers as adults.

TAYLOR rejects the reductive view of food as simply nourishment, as only the sum of its caloric content. In fact, she never even mentions the word healthy during the tastings. Or tells students what they should like or eat. AS SHE ENCOURAGES EACH CHILD TO SAVOR THEIR TREAT, She emphasizes every person's unique tastes. AND IT SEEMS TO WORK.
REPORTER to SECOND GRADER (in classroom): You didn't like apples before today. What did you think they were like before?

SECOND GRADER: I thought they were like way too hard to eat, and they just tasted plain, they just tasted way too plain.

REPORTER: Now what do you think about apples?

SECOND GRADER: Umm, I like them. They're very juicy, and some of them are sour.

TAYLOR'S SUCCESS MIGHT BE MOST EVIDENT in the fact that there are teachers and school principals who now like apples. She has the thank-you notes to prove it.

For Chicago Public Radio, I'm Jacob Daniel Anderson.

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