Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fruity San Francisco: Leave no windowsill unturned!

Here's betting that meetings and conferences held by city workers will in future be much less well-attended. What would YOU rather have: Doughnuts or a nice plate of broccoli? Bagels and Lox or Brussells sprouts?

He's already banned spending city money to buy bottled water and mandated composting citywide. Now, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is taking on something as basic as water and trash: food. Newsom on Wednesday issued an executive directive he hopes will dramatically change how San Franciscans eat.

All city departments have six months to conduct an audit of unused land - including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills and median strips - that could be turned into community gardens or farms that could benefit residents, either by working at them or purchasing the fresh produce. Food vendors that contract with the city must offer healthy and sustainable food. All vending machines on city property must also offer healthy options, and farmers' markets must begin accepting food stamps, although some already do.

The mayor will send an ordinance to the Board of Supervisors within two months mandating that all food served in city jails, hospitals, homeless shelters and community centers be healthy. And effective immediately, no more runs to the doughnut shop before meetings and conferences held by city workers. Instead, city employees must use guidelines created by the Health Department when ordering food for meetings. Examples include cutting bagels into halves or quarters so people can take smaller portions and serving vegetables instead of potato chips.

"We have an eating and drinking problem in the United States of America," Newsom said Wednesday. "It's impacting our health, and it's impacting our economy."

The directives are the product of an "urban-rural roundtable" of food experts from around California convened by Newsom last year. The group was charged with finding ways to get more of the food grown on farms within 200 miles of San Francisco onto the plates of city residents, especially those who depend on government meals. The idea is to decrease the need to import food, reconnect people to homegrown food rather than processed food, and to provide more options in neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point that lack easy access to grocery stores.

Many of the details have yet to be worked out, including how much it will cost. Newsom bristled when asked how it would be funded because there's no money to implement the food policy in the budget agreed to by the mayor and the board's budget committee just last week. "We have plenty of resources," he said. "This is not a budget buster."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a member of the budget committee, said he likes the idea - and in fact, supervisors have been calling for the creation of an urban farm in San Francisco for years. He said that he wanted one included in the redevelopment of the former UC Berkeley Extension site on Laguna Street, but that the idea was never embraced by the mayor's administration. "Even if it's a good idea, the timing's a little odd," Mirkarimi said of the unfunded proposal coming just days after the budget compromise. "I like the notion if we're able to get this at a very low cost."

It's also unclear how much land could be converted into community farms. The Public Utilities Commission has thousands of acres outside San Francisco that could be used, and the Real Estate Division and the Recreation and Park Department own some unused parcels in the city.

Newsom made the announcement Wednesday at a junkyard-turned-farm in West Oakland that could serve as a model for how land could be converted in San Francisco. A stone's throw from BART, it used to be home to old cars and one angry dog, but now is run by the nonprofit City Slicker Farms. With a handful of staff members and scores of volunteers from the neighborhood, the nonprofit operates six small farms in West Oakland and sells the produce, along with honey and eggs, on a sliding scale to local residents at a Saturday farm stand.

The 2,000-square-foot former junkyard now produces 2,000 pounds of food every year, including lettuce, squash, tomatoes, parsley, sage, collard greens, grapes, cherries and plums. "This speaks to people's soul," said Barbara Finnin, director of City Slicker Farms. "It's a place people can relax, be outside, and nourish themselves and their families." Newsom toured the farm, biting off a piece of kale to taste, munching on an apricot and admiring sunflowers taller than him.

Back in San Francisco, it was apparent Newsom's idea may take some getting used to. Michael Summers, who operates a hot dog stand in Civic Center Plaza that contracts with the city, said the dogs made of tofu don't sell nearly as well as the old-fashioned meat kind. That was evidenced by the line of people ordering hot dogs just after noon - and not a tofu order among them.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is calling for city-funded food to be healthy and sustainable. His administration provided the following directives for what this means:

* Safe and healthy: Avoids excessive pesticide use and has high nutritional value.

* Culturally acceptable: Acceptable culturally and religiously to San Francisco's diverse population. An example would be providing Chinese seniors with bok choy and other vegetables they're familiar with at local farmers' markets. [And EVERYTHING must be both Halal and Kosher, of course]

* Sustainable: Grown in a way that maintains the health of agricultural lands and advances self-sufficiency among farmers and farmworkers. An example would be using manure as a fertilizer rather than chemicals. [Yeh! Shit in the garden. Don't waste good shit in restrooms. That's the way they do it in India and we need to learn from more "sustainable" cultures, don't we?]


Britain's obesity capital resists health drive

Officialdom have tried it all but people still insist on eating what they like

On the front line of Britain’s fight against obesity lies a town with a guilty secret — it has an abiding passion for pork pies. Stockton-on-Tees eats more of them than anywhere else in the region according to suppliers, who sell off surplus pies to local butchers. Perhaps that’s one reason why the town was named as the country’s capital for childhood obesity in Department of Health figures released this week.

One in six children starting primary school in the borough is obese and by the time they leave for secondary school, 20 per cent of pupils fall into the same category. More than one in three 11-year-olds are either overweight or obese.

Another community confronted by such statistics might have shuffled away behind closed doors into chipmunching, couch-potato denial. However, when the scale and cost of the problem became apparent two years ago, Stockton’s leaders decided to tackle the issue head on. Treating diseases related directly to obesity cost local NHS trusts £26.9 million in 2007. By 2015, unless action is taken, the bill could rise to £33.5 million.

To visit this post-industrial town today is to encounter a testing ground for every conceivable initiative designed to help people to lose weight. Whether any of them will work remains to be seen, but almost every public or private body with an interest in the long-term health of the population seems to be on board. So are some, but not all, of the residents.

Elizabeth Shassere, Stockton’s director of public health, says it is imperative to move beyond the excuses for poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Pockets of significant social deprivation? Yes, but Stockton has fewer than many of its neighbouring boroughs. What about the majority, even in the poorest communities, who manage to stay fit and healthy? And affluent families who struggle with their weight? Ignorance of a sensible diet? Educate them. Nowhere to exercise? Provide it. Specialist help for the clinically obese? Provide that, too. Can’t afford to use the leisure centre? Give the children free admission. It is a whole-life approach that begins with ante-natal visits by midwives.

Advice is offered on nutrition and cookery, physical activity programmes for pregnant women and the importance of breastfeeding, which, at 54 per cent, is below the national average in Stockton. Young women are also encouraged to join Fit to Push, a programme of organised walks for mothers with prams and buggies. School initiatives include Clean Your Plate. Stickers are awarded for a clean plate at the end of every meal and the pupil with the most stickers wins a prize. Evidence shows this has reduced portion sizes. There are healthy workplace programmes, free leisure facilities for 7,400 children and Sporting Start, which gives children aged from 3 to 16 a free introduction to activities including gymnastics, badminton and street dancing.

In the past two years 8,150 pedometers have also been issued to Stockton residents in the hope that a third of the borough’s 189,000 population will be walking 10,000 steps daily by 2010. Attempts are being made to curb the proliferation of fast-food outlets, improve the physical environment and cycling routes and create more safe areas for children to play outside.There are even “walking school buses”, in which children are led by adults on walks to and from school.

It all sounds admirable. The reality, on a sun-dappled afternoon this week in the old railway town from which Harold MacMillan took his title, was not quite so inspirational — though there were some true believers. Young mothers Jill Herbert and Tracey Watson emerged from the Splash Centre, where their children had enjoyed a free swimming session, to evangelise about diet and exercise. Nathan, 4, eats a lot of fruit, fish and pasta, while three-year-old Isabelle loves “all sorts of vegetables, even broccoli and cauliflower”.

Enter the Castlegate shopping centre and the picture changes. Here is the world of the budget shopper: Pound World, More4Less, Poundland and Home Bargains. Les Meynell, who runs a family butcher’s shop and delicatessen, says that his business has survived, while rivals have been forced to close, by selling hot, rich, juicy pre-cooked meat and poultry, which vastly outsells his raw, fresh products.

“It’s all changed. The young ’uns don’t want to go home and cook fresh joints. They can manage a pan of chips and that’s about it. People want their meat already cooked and that’s what’s kept us afloat,” he said. Mr Meynell was visited by a well-meaning health official, who encouraged him to use low-fat mayonnaise in his sandwiches. He tried it for a week and gave up. “The regulars came back and asked us what the hell we were doing? They said the low-fat sandwiches were tasteless, and they were right. Ask most of my customers and no one gives a stuff about healthy eating, except well-to-do people who want to look after their figure. They buy a salad sandwich, we charge them the earth for it and they go away happy.”

Warming to his theme, Mr Meynell confided Stockton’s best-kept secret. A company well known nationally for its pork pies often turns to butchers such as Mr Meynell to offload bulk deliveries deemed surplus to supermarket requirements. “I can sell £1,000-worth of pork pies in my shop every week. The supplier told me that in Newcastle they can’t sell them for any money. Nowhere else in the North East eats pork pies like we do in Stockton,” he said.

Around the corner, Brian Peacock, a greengrocer, says many young people do not even recognise many of the vegetables he sells. “It’s only older people who buy the veg. And the students. As for the rest of them, they don’t know what half of them are called, let alone how to cook or eat them.” Stockton’s target is to cut child obesity rates back to their 2000 level by 2020. If the council and health authorities fail to deliver, it will not be for want of trying.


No comments: