Food in the News, Again

Family Meals Good for Kids

That may seem like a “well, duh!” sort of declaration, but apparently lots of researchers have been studying the idea that families who dine together produce healthier, happier, more successful children.

This research supports the conclusion that family meals are important to close familal communication and bonding and leads kids to model the behavior (and eating habits) of their parents.

The Columbus Dispatch reports on the recent studies linking family meals with lowered rates of drug use and higher grade point averages; however the story also notes that only 52% of US families eat dinner together regularly, even though three quarters of respondants felt that it was important to have family meals.

The June/July 2005 Eating Well Magazine claims that only one third of American families eat together regularly, however, many benefits await the lucky kids who do eat with their parents seven or more times weekly.

“With pressures on parents to churn out high-achieving kids by loading them up with extracurriculars, says Doherty, opting out of these activities in favor of family dinner “means going against the norm.” In fact, national surveys suggest that only about a third of American families usually eat dinner together.

Ironically, family meals might do more for children’s well-being and achievement than any soccer program or French-immersion class. When Doherty’s colleagues at the university’s Center for Adolescent Health and Development surveyed 4,746 Minneapolis/St. Paul middle school and high school students for Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), they found that the kids who sat down to meals most often with their families—seven or more times weekly—tended to have higher grade-point averages and were more well-adjusted in general than those who ate the fewest family meals (two or fewer per week). They were less likely to feel depressed or suicidal, to smoke cigarettes or use alcohol or marijuana—even when the researchers factored out issues like race, family structure and social class. “Family meals were a potentially protective factor in these kids’ lives almost across the board,” declares epidemiologist and study co-author Diane Neumark-Sztainer.

What’s more, children who eat regular meals with their families also eat more healthfully, according to Project EAT and other studies—in general, taking in more fruits and vegetables and calcium-rich foods, fewer soft drinks and snack foods. They may also have a lower risk of disordered eating: Neumark-Sztainer and her colleagues noted fewer reports of extreme weight-loss diets or binge eating in kids whose families placed a high priority on regular family meals. “The associations were especially strong among girls,” she noted.”

So what is the moral of these two stories?

If you have kids, eat with them. Preferably cook with them. Stop with the bazillions of after-school hyperfocused extracurricular activities, and sit your butts down for at least one meal a day together. Your kids will turn out better for it, and who knows?

Maybe you will turn out better for it, too.

(I am betting that you will.)

The Restaurants of New Orleans

When I was cooking the nam sod on Saturday night, Bry informed me that Cafe du Monde is still standing in New Orleans, which lifted my spirits a bit. I’ve never been there, but I do love their chicory coffee and have made beignet more than once to have with said caffeinated gloriousness; the knowledge that the font of coffee and fried dough goodness was yet standing made my heart soar. Other landmarks of the French Quarter are yet extant, though of course, damaged, probably because the Quarter stands on fairly high ground.

I’ve been waiting to hear news of the other famed restaurants of the city, and picked up a couple of leads here and there. In the past day, however, I have come across news stories specific to the fate of some of the jewels in the crown of a great food city.

At Decanter magazine’s website, I learned that “New Orleans restaurateurs fear for future of culinary ‘Jewel of the South’” With a headline like that, one expects misery and pessimism, but on the whole, the chefs and restaurant owners of New Orleans plan to rebuild. Susan Spicer, of Bayona, probably lost everything in her restaurant including an 8,000 bottle wine collection in the attic. However, she resolved to make certain that the culinary heritage of the region is not lost.

“I have no idea what the future holds for restaurants down there. But I believe that somehow we will band together to keep the food culture alive and well, even if it means feeding emergency, rescue and construction workers on po’ boys and red beans for a year or so.”

You go, woman. That’s a perfect example of the spirit of the South: tenacious and tough, yet gracious and giving, all at the same time.

Decanter also reports that culinary professionals around the US are putting together fundraisers and job information for the displaced restaurant workers of New Orleans.

This morning’s New York Times featured an article entitled, “Crawfish Etouffe Goes into Exile.”

While the expected dire statistics are quoted liberally (nearly 10 percent of the labor force worked in the 3,400 restaurants that once fed the city), the overall tone of the piece is one of hope and optimism.

“We have been instructed by the matriarchs that we will rebuild,” Brad Brennan, of the family that owns the famed Commander’s Palace and eight other restaurants, said from his office at Commander’s Palace Las Vegas. “There was no hesitation.”

The matriarchs are Mr. Brennan’s aunt, Ella Brennan, and his mother, Dottie Brennan, who was evacuated to Houston, where the family also has a restaurant.

Mr. Brennan said it was too soon to know the extent of the damage, but all of the 800 employees of the Brennan restaurants were accounted for.

John T. Edge, southern food historian, author and founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance, has been working hard to compile lists of chefs and other members of the alliance who are accounted for. In addition the alliance has partnered with the James Beard Foundation and Open Table, a restaurant service, to contact restauranteurs around the US in order to create a job bank for those put out of work by Katrina. (A link to the job bank is on the home page of the James Beard Foundation website.)

I know the media has really focused on the worst aspects of Katrina: the death, destruction, lawlessness and looting. The scope of the tragedy is terrible, and words cannot really convey them effectively, so it makes sense that the reporters return to these horrific aspects of the ever-unfolding story of Hurricane Katrina. But, at the same time, it is nice to see not only the worst in humanity being brought out by this tragedy, but also the best wualities of human nature also coming to the fore.

Restaurant people are good folks. When you work together in the close confines of a kitchen nearly every day for over eight hours a day with folks, they become your family. You bond with them in ways that you don’t bond with coworkers in other professions, and so when something happens, bad or good, you all share in that fortune. This naturally extends to other restauranteurs; in a lot of ways, we are seeing proof that the restauranteurs in the US are one huge family, who give aid and support to each other.

That story made my day.

Eating People Made Cows Mad?

Now, you knew I couldn’t do another installment of Food in the News without having something about BSE in here, it being my favorite political hobbyhorse, (hobbycow?) to ride. And really, if it weren’t for the fact that there seems to be a new story about BSE coming out every week or so, I wouldn’t include it here. But there is always new information coming out and who am I to withhold information?

The Washington Post reported last week that there is a new theory of how BSE came into existence back in the 1980′s, and it is a doozy. They picked up the story from the British medical journal, The Lancet, which reported that BSE may have arisen from the practice of feeding British cattle meal ground from bones which had been contaminated by human remains of victims of a human variant of the disease.

Yeah, basically, it may have come about because somebody unknowingly fed some cows Soylent Green and it went all wrong. (Of course, if you take into account the fact that cows don’t naturally munch on bones and that maybe they shouldn’t have been eating any bones, much less human bones in the first place, well, you know what I am going to say. It was all a dumb idea in the first place.)

The gist of it is this: back in the 1960′s and 70′s some brilliant person in the UK decided to give cows feed made partially from bones. But there weren’t enough bones hanging around in the UK to feed all the cows, so they sent to India to get some more. In India, it is customary to dispose of human remains in the sacred Ganges river. It is also customary for members of the lower castes to make money by collecting bones and animal remains from around the banks of said river to sell for use in fertilizer and animal feed production.

In those decades, apparently lots of bones, bone bits and remains were shipped to the UK from India to be used in cattle feed. A couple of British scientists think that it is possible that human remains of victims of the human form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, may have been mixed in there and thus was eaten by the cows and then led to the rise of BSE, which then was passed on by feeding blood and bone meal from infected cows to other cows.

I am not sure about this theory. It is possible, but CJD is a fairly rare disease; scrappie, the form of the disease that infects sheep is much more common, so I find it more likely that it was diseased sheep remains ground into cattle feed which started the whole Mad Cow ball rolling.

But, it has a kind of science-fiction/horror symmetry that is alluring. Human bodies infected with a human disease are fed to cows who develop a bovine form of the disease, which is then fed to humans who develop a variant on the first disease which started it all.

But whatever started it, I can say this:

If people just recognized that cows are vegetarians and shouldn’t be eating meat or bones, we wouldn’t be in this mess, now would we?

Okay, and just because I find this story to be too weird to ignore:

Willy Wonka’s Nightmare: Nazis Planned to Make Chocolate Bombs

I found this one on slashfood, and it was too freaky to pass up.

ABC News reported yesterday that, newly released files from MI5 reveal that the Nazis had plans to make grenades disguised as chocolate bars. (Talk about a lot of bang for your buck.)

These devices were to be made of steel that was then coated in real chocolate, and would be detonated when an end was broken off.

They also had plans for exploding “Smedley’s English Red Plums in Heavy Syrup.”

No one apparently knows if any of these explosive confections were ever made, however.

Which is just as well, since I am having visions of some Nazi chocolatier cum mad-bomber cooking up insidious delectables a la the film, “Chocolat.”

Only instead of seducing people into throwing off the shackles of conventional behavior and the status quo, these confections would cause widespread death and mayhem.

Like Willy Wonka in jackboots or something.

With Oompa-Loompas doing song and dance numbers a la Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers.

Okay, I am going to step away from the keyboard for a while and not think of chocolate-making Nazis.

It is hurting my head.

7 Comments

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  1. Hi Barbara, I noted your Family News clip with interest. Just yesterday I started a Veggies for Kids section over at the Veggie Venture. I don’t often cook for kids so hope that parents/others who do will provide hints/tips/proven winners for others. If that includes you, I’d love your contributions! AK

    Comment by AK — September 6, 2005 #

  2. I’d be glad to contribute some recipes, but I have to tell you, my daughter is odd in that she will eat all sorts of weird vegetables cooked in weird ways, so my recipes may not be kid friendly for normal kids.

    But, yeah, I’d be happy to share!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — September 6, 2005 #

  3. This might amuse you:
    http://www.livejournal.com/users/zarabee/147738.html?nc=9

    Apparently cows were fed human placenta. Ewww!

    Callisto Shampoo

    Comment by Anonymous — September 6, 2005 #

  4. About time for this latest disease on the rise to have a 3rd world country origin. All these years, I have been reading the newspapers, I never heard of this story of Indian origin before.
    Do stupid and deadly things, play God and blame it on others ( ya, right, even if we believe their story, how do they know now, the bones they picked and fed to cows are infected?)
    I know the source is a medical journal, but I still think and believe, it’s all bullshit, what they are feeding to the cows now.
    Peace…

    Comment by Indira — September 6, 2005 #

  5. That is part of why the Indian scientists said that caution and care should be taken in pursuing this theory.

    In truth, I think it is more of a hypothesis–there is not enough proof involved to dignify the idea by calling it a theory.

    On the other hand, most journalists don’t know the difference between the two terms, and even if they did, they probably would assume that their readership wouldn’t.

    I am with you, Indira, which is why I posted about it. I still think that the likelihood is greater that scrappie-infected sheep carcasses were rendered into cattle feed and the cows were fed that. CJD is an exceedingly rare disease in humans–and as the Indian scientists pointed out, there were not any major outbreaks of it in India at the time.

    So, while a science fiction writer might see poetic symmetry in the idea–the likelihood of it actually being the origin of BSE is very small.

    Now, that said, wherever it came from, whether it is from sheep bones or human bones, doesn’t really matter–what matters is some idiot thought that feeding a vegetarian animal bone and blood meal was a good idea, and it wasn’t.

    As far as I am concerned, the root cause of the whole thing is human hubris, greed and foolishness.

    Peace back at you, Indira–thanks for coming by.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — September 6, 2005 #

  6. On kids eating with parents – Even though my sister and I had heavy schedules as kids (1-3 sports/musical instruments a piece and 1-2 nights/week each of church-related activities) and both of our parents worked full-time, we had almost all meals as a family. Sometimes Mom wasn’t there, or Dad; sometimes me or my sister were missing; sometimes it was just me and my sister…but whoever was home at dinnertime sat down to eat together (and pre-bedtime and midnight snacks were almost always shared). For all-day weekend activities, the chaperoning parent, if any, had lunch with the chaperoned kid. I had lots of great diner lunches with my mom that way and continued to have just the lunches with her after I got to college. Sounds all well and great, right? Well…my parents and I had a *very* rocky relationship, particularly through my junior high and high school years. Dinner was sometimes sullen and silent and the fights before/after dinner were pretty brutal on all sides. These days, though? We’ve got a pretty good relationship between the four of us. Can’t help but think that the roots of that were in those family meals.

    And where else did my sister and I learn our table manners, bastard hybrids of British and American propriety that they are?

    Comment by etherbish — September 7, 2005 #

  7. Ladi, your experience shows that if one deems it important, one can have family meals, even with tight schedules.

    I didn’t have too many after school activities, but I did choir, and I went out to the library a couple of time a week after school, so it isn’t surprising that I had dinner with Mom and Dad every night, Ladi. And once they found out that my friends didn’t have much in the way of family dinners, they made sure to have them over often, especially one, whom they realized never had enough to eat at home. Mom always cooked extra, because she wouldn’t eat much while Mom and Dad were at the table, but after they left, she would clean every serving bowl and plate.

    Mom and Dad were very careful after leaving the table to stay in the living room and watch the news while she finished eating.

    Finally, our senior year of high school, she figured it out, and came up to my Mom and hugged her, and said, “You cooked more food when I came, didn’t you?” When Mom said yes, she hugged her and thanked her and Mom said, “I couldn’t bear to think of you hungry, honey.”

    And even though to my friends whose homelives were really bad, my home was heaven, I had communication issues with Mom and Dad. But, rocky as things were–I learned a lot at the family table. I learned that I, too, cannot bear to see anyone hungry.

    So, I guess that is why I am always trying to feed everyone.

    I really think it is important for families–and not just nuclear families, but extended ones, and families of choice, too, to eat with kids. I think cooking with kids is important, too; I should probably write more about this in a post sometime.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — September 7, 2005 #

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