Thursday, October 16, 2008

Evangelists for assorted food religions

Amazing how they get people to pay more on the basis of mere assertion

The buffet offers a variety of pizzas, with whole wheat crust, organic toppings and hormone-free cheese. The salad bar includes some greens and vegetables grown without pesticides in a nearby garden. And the chef even takes special requests from vegetarians, those wanting gluten-free food or even an extra slice of free-range meat.

This isn't a restaurant in one of Kansas City's trendy neighborhoods, but a cramped room in the basement of the Kansas City Academy, a private school for 6th-12th graders in the city's Waldo district. The Academy is one of three Kansas City-area private schools that participate in Bistro Kids' Farm 2 School program, which is committed to improving students' health by offering lunches from organic, natural, locally-grown food.

"It's really, really good," said sixth-grader Peter Imel, while chomping away on pizza. "When I first heard about it, I thought, 'OK, maybe, maybe not.' But it's better than any restaurant I've been to."

Kiersten Firquain, owner/operator of Bistro Kids, passionately believes that typical school lunch fare such as high-fat, nutrient-poor cheeseburgers, nachos and hot dogs is damaging the mental and physical health of the nation's children. Health and nutrition experts agree, saying poor dietary habits are a contributing factor in dramatic increases in childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma and high cholesterol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of overweight children from ages 6-11 has more than doubled in the last 20 years and tripled in those aged 12-19.

Schools across the country are responding by adding more fruits, vegetables, salads and healthier alternatives to menus. But few have gone as far as Firquain wants to go. She advocates providing lunches using foods free of additives, hormones, antibiotics and trans-fats. And she believes the ingredients should, as much as possible, come from local producers.

For Farm 2 School, Firquain uses several sources within a 200-mile radius of Kansas City, such as small family farms and organic bakeries. The rest she orders through Ball's Food Stores, which promotes locally grown foods.

Besides eating the healthy lunches, the program also educates students about the food cycle by bringing farmers and producers to the schools, teaching nutrition classes, growing school gardens and encouraging recycling.

While Firquain's is the first for-profit business in Kansas and Missouri promoting the farm-to school ideals, the concept has been gaining traction across the country since 2000, when a national Farm To School program started. More than 2,000 school districts have some facet of a farm-to-school program, although most are not offering full meals but have selective products in the schools or bring in food producers for education efforts.

Schools - particularly public schools - face several obstacles before starting a farm-to-school program, advocates say. Many schools do not have the kitchen facilities or skilled labor needed to provide more than heat-and-serve meals. "Schools often don't see food or cafeterias as a major investment," said Anupama Joshi, co-director of the national Farm To School network. "It's really sad because research has shown that the food we serve our kids can help them facilitate learning and is tied to performance."

But the top barrier for both public and private schools is money. Public school districts are reimbursed $2.57 by the federal government to provide a free meal, Joshi said, but most districts say a meal costs an average of $2.88. Firquain said some public schools have told her they have $1 left for food after they pay administrative costs.

Firquain said she currently works only with private schools, partly because of costs but also because of the bureaucracy and red tape in public school districts. But she said she eventually wants to serve 10-12 schools in the region, or about 1,000-1,200 students a day, with half of the schools targeting at-risk populations. "We don't want to serve food only to kids who can afford to pay for it, but get it into the populations that need it most," she said.


Brain shrinks even with a glass or two

Alcohol is good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you, good for you, bad for you. I doubt that I will hear the end of that indecision in my lifetime

THAT after-work glass of red wine may be less medicinal than you thought: researchers have found that drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol shrinks the brain. Brain volume naturally decreases by nearly 2 per cent per decade as people age, but scientists had speculated that moderate alcohol intake could slow this process, by improving heart function and bloodflow.

But US researchers have dealt a blow to that theory, finding a "significant negative linear relationship" between the amount of alcohol someone consumes and the space their brain takes up, The Australian reports.

While men were more likely to drink alcohol, the researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging scans of drinkers' and non-drinkers' brains, and found the association was stronger in women. They speculated this could be due to women's smaller stature and greater tendency to feel alcohol's effects.

The study, which was based on an analysis of drinking habits and brain volume in nearly 2000 US adults between 1999 and 2001, found that while the brains of people who never touched alcohol occupied nearly 78.6 per cent of their cranial space on average, this dropped to about 78.2 per cent in people who previously drank but had since quit, and dropped again, to just under 77.8 per cent, for moderate drinkers. Heavy drinkers were lower still, at 77.2 per cent.

Brain size shrank by an average of 0.25 per cent going from one drinking category to the next highest, which was larger than the average annual decline normally associated with ageing of 0.19 per cent.


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