Healthy Choices

Judy Wilken's Healthy ChoicesStarChild ScienceJudy Wilken writes: If you’re like a duck on the pond and think everything seems to be ok in the kitchen, just walk into any upscale eatery on a college campus and have a look for yourself. You may be dumbfounded and have that “deer in the headlights” look at first. This is probably because the cultural stillness has been broken when you see dishes on the menu like Fattoush, an Arab stale bread salad with a punch from the sour taste of sumac. As you read further, you may think orecchiette is a word that should be reserved for spelling bees but there it is on the menu too. This small ear- shaped pasta from Italy is served al dente with al dente broccoli, anchovies and red chilies. It is being prepared by professional chefs who know the broccoli and orecchiette must share the al dente-ness and the anchovies have to have that certain level of oiliness to get that flow of flavor going. But, more importantly, the chefs know which chilies provide the right amount of heat for the young “heat seekers” who are ordering off the menu. As you look around you see campus officials sitting with prospective students sampling the menu’s most popular chef suggestion of the day: couscous with roasted pumpkin seeds and freshly sliced Dry Farm Early Girl Tomatoes from the garden in the back of the restaurant. It doesn’t take you long to realize that our children can end up eating well and this is as much a cultural story as a gastronomical story.

The environmental consciousness on college campuses is slowly evolving into calls for sustainable, organic food from campus kitchens. Chicken fingers and hamburgers are sliding off many American college menus. They aren’t even being offered as an elective. Now campuses are offering paninis, the homeliest of sandwiches, that are made exclusively from whole grain breads. Fresh fruits and veggies are in abundance for the first time in decades. Organic herb gardens are just forty feet away from the kitchens; pollinators and birds are working up their appetites as they take off and land, flit and flutter from flower to flower, berry to nest all day, every day. In fact, a serious organic herb garden is busier than any campus kitchen by mid-morning.

In a new campus kitchen we see our Healthy Choices poster hanging above the clock. Chef Andre’s logo is bold and has been placed just where he wanted it placed so anyone can realize at a glance who the chef is that runs this kitchen. He tells us that this image of a healthy living neighborhood is what he is all about. “This poster is my compass”, he tells us as he begins to prepare his favorite dish that he calls The Forest Floor with 3 kinds of mushrooms and wild dandelion greens in black walnut sauce. “It inspires me. Every day it inspires me. Whenever I look at this neighborhood a healthy choice comes to me”, he tells us. “It may be from the Mediterranean, or France, or even Africa. All cultures have healthy choices.”

“I say this poster is like a compass to me because I want the students to be healthy. They are preparing to go out into the world and contribute something of value. You can’t do that unless you make healthy choices in what you put in your body. I love these kids.”