Monday, December 21, 2009

The food paradox: obesity and hunger in America

Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. Polyface Farms is featured in Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma and the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. Photo courtesy of Wendy Gray/Polyface Farms

Sharon Ho
Issue Date: 12/14/09

The CSM library featured “
food issues” books in the display area on the second floor for National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week on Nov. 17 to Nov. 21. The display will be up until the last day of the fall semester on Dec. 19, after which the library will be closed for the winter break.

CSM library “food issues” display

“National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week happens around the time of Thanksgiving, so there are themes of consumerism and hunger in the books display,” wrote Michele Alaniz, Web Services and Instruction librarian in an e-mail to The San Matean. “ While Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, it is also necessary to be aware that there are also people starving and living on the streets. A number of the books also look at obesity and the ways that food is processed and marketed in the United States. Again, this can be a tie-in to consumerism or wealth and its counter, poverty.”

Second Harvest Food Bank

“I saw the (Second Harvest) food bank bins around campus and it got me thinking about food issues,” said Lia Thomas, adjunct librarian who set up the display. “More people are changing the way they think about food,” Thomas said, who has read The New York Times selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, one of the books featured in the display. “They are no longer looking at the cheapest and fastest food, but more about where food come from and how it is produced, the health and ethical issues concerning food.”

The Food for Thought Learning Community, who was responsible for bringing Second Harvest Food Bank bins to CSM, involves seven professors: English teachers Lucia Olson, Allison Miller, Joyce Heyman ; ethnic studies teacher Lewis Kawahara; geography teacher Angela Skinner; political science teacher Erin Scholnick and sociology teacher Minu Mathur. Their classes meet together to work on common assignments involving food. Heyman and Olson are co-coordinators of the learning community.

All of the teachers could not be reached for comment owing to it being Finals Week.
The learning community hosted a presentation by Joe Pert and Michelle Wall of the Second Harvest Food Bank on the topic of hunger in the community on Oct. 14. Pert requested food donations from students and staff as part of a campus wide food drive which ended Dec. 11.

“We collected 786 pounds (of food) from CSM!” wrote Wall in an e-mail to The San Matean.

“CSM students and staff who want to donate food after the last collection date of Dec. 11 can do so online through or by calling 866-234-3663,” said Lynn Crocker, director of marketing and communications at Second Food Harvest Bank in a phone interview. “All donations are appreciated as more people are coming in needing food because of the recession.”

“Donating once the drive is over is easiest done online,” Wall wrote. “Financial contributions are essential to our function, and every dollar provides two nutritious meals. Supporters can donate online to the College of San Mateo Food Drive at – select ‘Schools’ and ‘College of San Mateo.’ Our Virtual Store gives donors an idea of our huge purchasing power and is available year-round, 24 hours a day.”

“We accept donations, food and financial, year-round at our facility at 1051 Bing Street in San Carlos,” Wall continued. “For more information on our hours, volunteer opportunities and other ways to get involved, you can visit .”

Twice-weekly farmers’ market hosted at CSM

Students looking for local and fresh produce can visit the twice-weekly farmers’ market held every Wednesday and Saturday at CSM.

“It is my favourite day of the week (to come to the farmers’ market),” said Svetlana Sicular of Foster City. “It is quiet today (Wednesday) and it is a great location.”
Jeanette Zanchettini of San Mateo tries to visit the farmers’ market host at CSM at least once a week.

Zanchettini’s father used to own a three-to-five-acre farm in South San Francisco. She remembers working all day in the fields, loading green beans, carrots and lettuce into wet sacks onto a truck each Friday to be taken to cities like Stockton and Riverton and sold at the farmers’ market every Saturday.

Zanchettini recalled watching “ Food Inc. ”, a documentary featuring Pollan on screen and behind the scenes as a consultant, and mentioned a scene in the documentary where a family of four could not afford a head of cabbage and instead bought eight burgers from a fast food restaurant for a meal.

“It is hard to keep your children healthy eating that kind of food,” Zanchettini said.

“Fast food is not cheap,” wrote Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms, in an e-mail to The San Matean. Salatin and Polyface Farms were featured in the Omnivore’s dilemma and in Food, Inc.

“If you purchase whole, unprocessed foods and prepare them in your own kitchen, you can eat far better for less,” Salatin said. “The single most important food security and integrity act that Americans can do is to rediscover domestic culinary arts. Time? Throw away the TV. And video games.”

“If we took all the money spent on junk and fluff, from Twinkies to soda to microwavable boxes of pseudo-food, plenty of money already exists in the system to purchase local, nutrient dense, beyond organic food,” continued Salatin. “How about replacing the trash cans full of carry-out fast food with pots of tomato plants? Eat in season. Process and store in-home. Be pro-active.”

“Buying in season gives you something to look forward to: your first strawberry in the spring, your first peach,” said Sotiria Trembois, one of farmers who has a booth at the farmers’ market hosted in CSM.

For example, the tomatoes sold at the supermarket are not freshly picked; they were picked still green, transported in huge trucks from other countries, and gassed to make them red, Trembois said.

“Vegetables like tomatoes and green beans are winding down right now, and you will be seeing more root vegetables like carrots and potatoes,” she replied, when asked what was in season right now.

Trombois drives 90 minutes from her family’s farm Specialty Produce in San Juan Bautista to CSM twice a week and reaches CSM by 8 a.m., giving her about an hour to set up her booth for the farmers’ market which starts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“When you buy from your local farmers’ market, you are keeping the money in your economy and giving the money to the small farmers,” said Polyface Farms apprentice Matthew Robertson in a phone interview with The San Matean. Robertson is two months into his one-year apprenticeship at Polyface Farms. “This will help to support local farmers and create hundreds of thousands of small farms, making it for the dreams and aspirations for small farms and their farmers.”

“The best thing to do is visit their farms and tour their land,” said Robertson. “Basically, when you buy local and organic produce from small farms, you get safer food which are chemical-free, more nutrients-dense and which do not deplete the environment ecologically during the growing process. By supporting your local farmers instead of supporting one large corporation, you are also helping to support your local economy and supporting your environment.”

“When you don’t support the local economy by buying your food from supermarkets instead of farmers’ market, you end up destroying farmers in your area,” Zanchettini said. “The food you get from supermarkets is not fresh; it’s been refrigerated for weeks, even months, unlike produce from farmers’ markets that’s freshly picked and in season.”

Safeway Inc. could not be reached for comment as Safeway’s Public Affairs spokesperson was away from the office for two days when The San Matean called.

Additional reporting contributed by Danielle Jennings and Dylan Slusser of The San Matean.

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