Apples of varying kinds gained a presence in Orange on Saturday, as the Connecticut partner of an organization that fights both hunger and obesity held its first conference at the Yale University West Campus to celebrate healthful yet affordable food.
“Not a lot of chorizo,” said Chef Ron DeSantis, who directs culinary excellence at Yale, as he led one of the cooking demonstrations at the conference. “Use ingredients with big flavor to make the food taste good. . . . Browning foods—that’s very important,” he continued as he grabbed onions and garlic to add to his chorizo bean soup.
Honored at the Cooking Matters conference were three ‘healthful’ foods Champions, who helped the organization find its voice in the state, said Terry Young, program coordinator.
For their initiatives, each received a crystal apple — an upscale version of the fruit that, in its bitten form, serves as the organization’s symbol.
Championing the Cause
Among the recipients of the Champion Awards was Joyce Bosco of Hartford’s Brighter Future Initiatives, who helped bring the program, which serves low-income families through cooking courses and grocery shopping classes, to the city.
The program, which has additional offices in New Haven and Bridgeport, also honored Julia Pon of the Bridgeport office of Wholesome Wave and Tim Cipriano, executive director of food services for the New Haven Public Schools. Both Pon and Cipriano were unable to attend.
Bosco said what intrigued her about Cooking Matters, which has operated in Connecticut since 2010, was its hands-on-approach and its capacity to bring people together.
“Food brings people together in a different way,” she said. “It’s good bonding.”
Is Feeding the Hungry Feeding the Obesity Epidemic?
Guilford resident Marlene Schwartz, who serves as deputy director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and led one session at the conference, affirmed that the diets of persons who are food insecure are definitely less nutritious than the diets of most Americans -- which, she noted, “is actually saying quite a bit because the diets of most Americans is pretty bad.”
Schwartz said that 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese.
“We’ve been so focused on just getting calories to the people who are food insecure we haven’t thought so much about the quality of those calories,” she said. “If you look at the way that food banks operate — and Feeding America is the umbrella organization nationally — the way you measure success is by pounds [of food distributed].
“Feeding America has recently said they care very much about produce and they’re trying to distribute vegetables and greens, and the Connecticut Food Bank has made that a huge priority as well. There isn’t nationally the sort of structure to promote healthier foods through the emergency food system. The idea is still very much just to get as much food out there as possible.”
In her hometown of Guilford, Schwartz said residents are encouraged to plant vegetables in their gardens, which they can then donate to the local food panty.
Setting the tone for the conference was the address by keynote speaker Congressman Rosa DeLauro (D-3). The Congresswoman, who noted that nearly one in seven households in the district is not certain if it can afford enough food to feed itself, urged the audience to grasp the power of its voice.
Like Schwartz, she termed malnutrition and obesity a "double-edged sword," with one condition frequently arising from the other. She also expressed her concern at the cost-cutting measures now a part of the House majority budget. Under its provisions, she said, anti-hunger programs such as Meals on Wheels would be cut by as much as 19 percent.
Among the more than 100 registrants at the conference was Milford resident Joan Lane, program director for the Trumbull-based Southwestern Area Health Education Center. Lane enthused about both the information and contacts the conference provided.
“You bet,” she said when asked if she were networking, as she jotted down names in a corridor of the conference center just before lunch.
The centerpieces for lunch were green apples floating in water in clear glass vases, just as apples stacked in baskets were waiting for persons as they left the conference at mid-afternoon.
At the buffet table, which was a mélange of healthful foods (sliced apples, here), Chef DeSantis was busy fluffing the salads as carefully as some women tend their hair.
“When it’s all flat, it doesn’t look so good,” DeSantis said.