Quenching the Thirst of West Oakland’s Food Desert

By Emily Mann

Imagine you are stranded in a desert: without access to water and food, surrounded by vast emptiness with only the barest forms of sustained life, isolated from what lies beyond, and without hope of an exit. This scenario is quite analogous (although maybe a bit more dramatic) to the reality for many people living in urban food deserts.

Defined by the USDA as “an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food,” our neighboring community of West Oakland is unquestionably a food desert. In all of West Oakland, there is not one single supermarket—yet 53 convenience stores—to service its 30,000 residents living within a little over 8 square miles.[i]

Standard fare being delivered to the desert.

Access to healthy food is impeded by a lack of physical, economic, and educational opportunities.

West Oakland is the poorest community in the Bay Area. Corner liquor stores and fast food restaurants are abundant on the streets of West Oakland; but the community is a barren wasteland in terms of places to buy healthy food.

In a demographic profile of West Oakland done by the AICP City of Oakland, Bay Area Economic Study in 2000, the average median household income was $17, 945. Compare that to the $39,626 average median household income of the whole City of Oakland.

In the same profile, 45% of the West Oakland population lacks a high school degree. Only 11% have a college degree.[ii]

Given the situation they face, many West Oakland residents feel the future is fruitless (no pun intended) as they are stranded in a food desert. What hope is there for people like West Oaklanders living in food deserts? What is being done to re-landscape this urban food desert?

The People’s Grocery

“Our fundamental mission is to create a local food system that supports the health and economy of the West Oakland community and benefits those who have often been left out of it.” –Brahm Ahmadi, Director and Co-Founder of the People’s Grocery

Brahm Ahmadi of People's Grocery in West Oakland

Founded in 2002, Ahmadi and two other West Oakland residents created the People’s Grocery in response to their discontent with the lack of access to healthy food.

The People’s Grocery advocates for “food justice”: the principle that access to healthy food is a right regardless of income or social standing. The People’s Grocery aims to establish food justice in the West Oakland community by providing organic, locally grown produce as an alternative to processed snack food found at liquor stores.

There are many innovative initiatives taken by the People’s Grocery such as the Mobile Market, a grocery store on wheels that sells produce and packaged foods at affordable prices.  Their 6-week adult cooking classes bring West Oakland residents together to teach healthy cooking.  An urban agriculture program comprised of 3 community gardens in West Oakland and a 2-acre farm in the Sunol region of Alameda County that produce locally-grown, seasonal, and organic produce and a produce box distribution program that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to West Oakland residents are also People’s Grocery intiatives.

You can “Like” the People’s Grocery on Facebook.

The Mobile Market delivers fresh food with a side of hope for a more fruitful future.

Mo’ Better Food

“Pick a fruit. Feed a child. Plant a seed. Feed a nation.”

The 1996 Mo’ Better Food Conference in San Francisco brought together Black farmers, urban gardeners, and community leaders to answer the question of access to food in the African-American community in the Bay Area. Established two years later by a group of students, the first Mo’ Better Food Farmer’s Market was offered at McClymonds High School in West Oakland. And there, a model for community development and health was born.

David Roach, the founder of Mo’ Better Food, collaborated with the People’s Grocery. The Mobile Market, created by the People’s Grocery, agreed to stock their store-on-wheels with produce grown by the farmers of Mo’ Better Foods.

The Mo’ Better Foods Program is also part of a larger collaborative with The Friends of School Program and the Intergenerational Enterprise Program, all spearheaded by the Familyhood Connection Inc., that is aimed at promoting community unification largely through education.

You can “Like” Mo’ Better Food on Facebook too!

City Slicker Farms

A group of West Oakland community members sought out to provide their community with affordable and healthy food in 2001. The result: an urban garden was developed in a once-vacant lot on Center Street.

A farm oasis in West Oakland's food desert.

From that first garden, City Slicker Farms has expanded drastically. City Slicker Farms now boasts seven community farmer’s markets, over 100 backyard gardens established in order for households to learn how to grow their own food, a weekly farm stand, a greenhouse, urban farming educational programs that teach residents gardening skills, and a Policy Advocacy Initiative that advocates for food justice in Oakland through education and mobilization.

“Like” City Slicker Farms on Facebook

Although these grassroots organizations offer a new community model through educational opportunities and greater access to fresh healthy food, a lot of work still needs to be done in West Oakland. An oasis offered by The People’s Grocery, Mo’ Better Food, and City Slicker Farms has begun to quench the thirsting community of West Oakland.


[i] http://www.globalonenessproject.org/videos/thepeoplesgrocery

[ii] http://www.planning.org/communityassistance/2005/pdf/WestOaklandDemographicProfile.pdf

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Collective bears fruit with storefront opening

By Ian Schragg

Amidst pouring rain and a thunderstorm during the evening of Nov. 20, members and volunteers of the Berkeley Student Food Collective (BSFC) set up for their second annual Harvest Gala at the David Brower Center downtown to fundraise for their organization. Despite the rainy weather, low ticket sales, and the loss of the axe to Stanford during the Big Game that morning, morale remained high as members prepped all day long to prepare for an evening of auctions, live performances, and a vegan feast prepared by members of the BSFC.

“Having the Gala at the David Brower Center contributed a lot to the evening because it’s a really impressive space” said volunteer Ruby Tumber. “There was an exhibit on display by artist Christ Jordan, but the finishing touches were definitely provided by the members.”

Members decorated the space with homemade painted jars of candles and autumnal leaves that adorned the silent auction area where attendees bid on highly sought after items such as tickets to the Marin Opera, sunset cruises in the Bay, as well as gift certificates to gourmet restaurants such Chez Panisse. Local beers and wines were served during the reception amidst piano performances and singing ensembles by members and volunteers. Food was prepared by members, adhering to the collective’s message of “fresh, local, sustainably grown food.” The four-course cornucopia included such dishes as butternut squash lasagna with greens and cinnamon baked apples with seasonal dried fruit.

Students visit the BSFC as part of its grand opening!

Profits from the evening went directly to the Collective, which opened the doors of its storefront on November 15. After a long-anticipated opening, which was delayed due to permit authorizations, the BSFC has set up a food co-op in Berkeley—located conveniently across from campus on Bancroft way—the first such store since 1988, when the last one closed.

Opening day was deemed successful as students piled in the store to purchase locally grown fruits, freshly made sandwiches, free-trade coffee and other selected items that passed the high standards of the Collective. At one point, customers created a line that spanned the length of the store.

“I’m amazed and excited. We’ve been working on this for over two years, and it’s finally real,” said Finance Officer Kaela Colwell. “Preparations are so much more different than having people actually here.”

The Collective’s dream began over a year ago, when students created an uproar over the university possibly leasing campus space to a national food chain, Panda Express. The idea was ousted, and with funding from the ASUC through the Green Initiative Fund, members raised nearly $100K to create a place for students to not only purchase affordable, healthy, locally-grown and sustainable food (all part of the BSFC mantra), but to create an educational hub for the community to gain awareness of the Collective’s mission and goals related to production, sustainability, and access.

Fresh veggies for your convenience at the Berkeley Student Food Collective.

Early on, members of the Collective raised funds and awareness through selling sandwiches on Sproul, hoping to eventually raise enough money for a storefront. The idea of opening up a food truck was also thrown around until this summer when members were notified of an open lease on a space on Bancroft and decided to take the plunge. Members are hoping the idea will catch on in the Berkeley community, which is already well known for being progressive.

“There are a lot of new faces and a lot of interested people,” said Colwell.  “A lot of curious people, and a variety of people, like non-students and older people, came because they support the mission of the BSFC.”

You can read more about the Berkeley Student Food Collective in an earlier post here on Naked Bear and in an article on Berkeleyside.

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A Stormy Weather Delight

By Alejandra Sanchez

It had been cut open, its blazing amber colored flesh exposed, highlighted amongst the muted green. Its color was the very essence of fall and fit perfectly in the basket with the persimmons and pumpkins. Banana Squash. I had never cooked with it before and was intrigued. It was Sunday afternoon, and the rain had been pouring for hours. The idea had been to go to the grocery store and spontaneously collect ingredients to make a toasty soup.

Stormy Soup

In the kitchen I unwrapped the squash and set it on the counter. The color alone invoked a sense of warmness. So, I began by drizzling some oil into a pot, and adding garlic and small white button mushrooms. Next I added fire-roasted tomatoes and coconut milk. I chopped up the squash and sprinkled it into the pot. To season the stew I added cinnamon, curry powder, and red chili flakes. I gave the pot a stir, set the flame to simmer, and placed the cover on top. Within minutes the entire apartment was enveloped with the delicious scent of coconut and cinnamon. I felt as though I was stepping into a scene from Arabian Nights.

Becoming a student at Berkeley was a frightening thing in itself, the other bit that was terrifying was how it was going to affect my relationship with food. A hectic schedule, sleepless nights, a limited income, and a whole slew of other factors seemed to be working against me.

The key was to plan ahead. The first month of class went by without a hitch, I brought my lunch to school every day and made sure to include snacks. I did not want to be tempted by the sugary concoctions sold in all the cafes. Suddenly the madness of Cal kicked in and it seemed like time was the last thing I had, the late night study sessions right before midterms were perhaps the worst. In the end I realized that I simply had to put more effort into making healthy food more of a priority, and I started to plan an entire week worth’s of food in advance.

At first it was overwhelming and consisted of this horrible mosaic of excel spreadsheets and multiple grocery lists. Cooking, which was one of my greatest passions became unbearable; it seemed that I had taken the magic out of it. But as the weeks went by planning became more natural, organic even. Now it has become second nature to grab a piece of fruit or another snack on my way out the door, or to stop by the grocery store after class for last minute dinner ingredients. Learning to plan my meals was a huge achievement, but the biggest reward was internalizing the planning so that it was no longer a tedious task, and I returned to embracing the alchemy of the kitchen.

Recipe: Banana Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 pound white button mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • Half a can of coconut milk
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • ½ tbs curry powder
  • Dash of chili flakes
  • One slice of banana squash (peeled and diced)
  • 2 cups water or vegetable stock
    • Set the heat to medium high and in a large pot pour in the olive oil. Chop the garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms and add them to the pot. Let the vegetables cook for about a minute or until slightly tender. Pour in the fire roasted tomatoes, the coconut milk, and the pumpkin puree. Stir. Next, sprinkle in all the spices and mix in the tomato paste. Bring the stew to a boil while you dice the squash. The skin on the banana squash is very thick so it is easier to peel once it has been reduced to smaller slices. Once the squash is diced slide it into the pot and add the water or vegetable stock. Once again bring the stew to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook on low for one hour and stir intermittently. Serve and enjoy!
      Banana squash belongs to the species Cucurbita maxima which originated in South America over 4,000 years ago. They grow in long cylindrical shapes and can weigh anywhere from 10-70 pounds, which is why they are normally sold as cut pieces. It is a winter squash and is noted for its thick protective shell.
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An Endeavour in Meat Alternatives

By Sam Koch

Before coming to Berkeley, I had always been a choosy eater. Choosy, in this case, refers to the many times I would go out with my friends to eat and order chicken strips off the kids menu because I found chicken strips perfectly satisfying and saw no reason to complicate that.  Among the reasons for my choice to become a vegetarian was the desire to force myself out of my food “comfort zone” – some sort of meat and a side of rice or pasta from Café 3 – and expand the variety of foods, particularly veggies, which I ate. In addition, I could be comforted with knowing I was withdrawing my support from an industry that does not hesitate to abuse animals, release toxic pesticides into neighboring ecosystems, and emit excessive greenhouse gases.

Becoming a vegetarian meant opening myself up to unfamiliar vegetables and provided me with a sense of consciousness and responsibility for what I ate. But unexpectedly, becoming a vegetarian also meant becoming a target for “meat replacement options” such as veggie burgers, tofurkey, and fakin’ bacon.

After recently devouring a “chix” patty burger at the newly opened Saturn Café at Allston and Oxford, I realized I knew very little about these products—food items meant to replace meat. Although the patty I had just consumed was likely created with much more care than I could find in a pre-packaged product, I decided to explore “meat alternative” products. I wondered about their ingredients, their manufacturers, and wanted to determine whether or not their incorporation into my diet would be consistent with the parameters that now guide my eating.  I optimistically set out hoping to find out whether or not some pre-packaged patties could be manufactured without any alarming ingredients in a manner that was environmentally conscious by, at best, a local distributor.

I faced some initial apprehensions about the feasibility of including these items in the realm of “acceptable” for my consumption during my subsequent outing to the supermarket. The first red light I encountered was the concentration of these products at one end of the frozen food aisle. But, being a busy college student, pre-packaged patties, if up to my standards, might be fantastically convenient.

If I am to co-opt some of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, I found the packaging, in particular the health claims optimistically showcased on said packaging, cause for concern.

Regardless of brand, the meat substitute items I was facing off with in the freezer aisle attempted to posit themselves in the marketplace in a specific manner. They called to me, “high in protein,” “higher in fiber,” “all natural ingredients,” “lower in fat.” Most of all, these claims seemed to cater the paradigms of the American diet—eat lots of protein, avoid fats, and consume whole grains. Unfortunately for the marketing department that wrote these claims, these paradigms no longer rule my diet.

My optimism dwindling, I turned to the ingredient lists hoping these products could redeem themselves. I must have looked like a fool standing halfway in a freezer studying the packages of half a dozen “meat alternatives”, but my apprehensions about the packaged food in the freezer aisle were not quelled by the presence of maldextrose and other corn derivatives, autolyzed yeast, and “natural flavors from non-meat sources,”—even in the same product that had assured me, “There are no unimportant ingredients. If it’s in here, then it’s got a role to play.”

This claim, meant to assure me of the product’s quality, amplified my concern that there was a disconnect between what I wanted from these products and what they had to offer.

My last-ditch attempt at finding a positive quality with which I could regain some respect for these products yielded unsatisfying results. Distributed from locations such as Westport, Connecticut and Battle Creek Missouri, these products decimated my hope that—after hopelessly failing all of my other tests—these products might come from a local distributor.

At this point, I accepted that the engineers of these products and I didn’t see eye to eye. I had naively ventured into the frozen product aisle searching for something I could call food. The meat substitutes I found were clearly for a different type of consumer—one fixated on health and less concerned with the externalities of the industrial food system.

I couldn’t justify to myself consuming “natural flavors from non-meat sources”, in something meant to replace and vaguely taste like meat, nonetheless, when I am perfectly content with the absence of meat and made-to-taste-like-meat products from my diet.

The disappointment from my supermarket adventure was an unsettling dose of reality. I had to confront what I had sensed coming all along—my food options are restricted by the mismatch between my priorities and the priorities of the food system. In searching for a shortcut to eating in a more healthful and sustainable manner, I had found that there was no shortcut. I have to reluctantly accept that I’ll have to invest the time make my own veggie burgers—if I so desire a veggie burger—rather than microwaving one that was “good enough.” But the extra effort is sure to make my meal exponentially more rewarding.

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Traditional food meets the modern food movement.

By Ellina Chulpaeff

Harmonious voices resonate through the room, creating an atmosphere of cheer and delight. The sweet aroma of warm pumpkin bread and gooey frosting fills the air. Hot plates and slow-cookers are constantly brought out, in an attempt to feed the hungry mob loosely separated into three lines around the corners of the room. Although at first glance, this may seem like a special gathering for the holiday festivities, it is just another Friday night at Hillel.

The Berkeley Hillel, located just across the UC Berkeley campus on Bancroft between Piedmont and College, strives to serve the local Jewish community. In an attempt to foster Jewish education and create a strong Jewish social atmosphere, Hillel runs several programs catering to the student population.

Weekly events consist of Wednesday night barbeques, Thursday night First Year Students at Hillel dinners, and Friday night Shabbat dinner and service. The barbeques, so popular that freshmen are often warned to “eat before you go or arrive early,” are frequented by not only Jewish students but also their friends from other faiths. Thursday night freshmen dinners are much more intimate and intended to connect the new students to Jewish life at Berkeley and provide these students with an opportunity to socialize. Despite these other events, Friday night Shabbat dinners remain the most popular and allow students to spend traditional Shabbat dinners with friends. Each of these dinners has a volunteer staff that works for hours before each event cooking for the night.

Freshman Hayley Golub attends Hillel at least twice a week on Wednesday and Friday nights. Because she keeps kosher, Hillel is one of the only places at Berkeley where she can eat kosher meat. Attending Hillel dinners have also made her aware about other social justice events relating to Judaism at Berkeley.

“Because I went to a Jewish school before, I wanted to embrace the different aspects of the Jewish community at Berkeley. Our culture is very food-centered, and the barbeques and Shabbat dinners create a sense of community around this aspect of Judaism,” she said.

Golub is now a member of the Cal chapter of Challah for Hunger, a group recently brought to Berkeley that bakes and sells challah bread. The proceeds from the challah sales go towards raising money and awareness for hunger and disaster-relief. Originally a part of Ben Brint’s Hillel Career Entrepreneur Initiative, the group aims to bring non-Jews and Jews together for local social justices, says Hillel Social Justice Intern Ilana Newman.

During the spring, Hillel will also be offering an Alternative Spring Break Trip to Pie Ranch farm where students will live and work for a week. The immersion trip will allow nine Cal students and nine UCSB students to learn a wide range of skills in sustainable and organic agriculture. A Jewish prospective will also be included as students will have an opportunity to discuss Jewish agriculture laws, keeping kosher, and global food security. The goal of this trip is to give students an opportunity to learn about farming ethics and kosher issues, says Newman.

Another project Hillel is focusing on is Eliya Lavine’s sustainability initiative, the Eden Project. The purpose of the Eden Project is to cultivate an herb garden on Hillel’s balcony. These herbs will then be used in weekly dinners.

Although the Eden Project and Challah for Hunger are Hillel’s main focus initiatives at the time, a greater interest in food sustainability may also pave the way for Hillel to become a CSA drop-off point. CSA boxes, consisting of fresh vegetables and produce selected by farmers, are usually delivered to set locations for subscribers. Hillel becoming a CSA drop-off point would allow non-Jewish and Jewish students alike to have greater access to sustainable agriculture and provide business for local farmers. An alternative to this would be for Hillel to create its own box of produce to distribute to students. This box would probably consist of excess produce attained from Monterey Market, says Newman, and will be similar to the Local produce stand found on Sproul Plaza.

Currently, Hillel, the Cal Cooking Club, and Berkeley Student Collective are in talks of creating partnerships. As of today, they are publicizing each other’s events but hope to coordinate joint events with each other in the future.

Hillel is always looking for new initiatives and ideas from the community. The food forums held at Hillel give students an opportunity to voice their opinions and decide on new projects to take on. Typically, new initiatives are presented at these forums and participants are given sign-up sheets to get involved. Additionally, feedback is received and students with ideas are encouraged to submit them at these forums. To participate, students can check Hillel’s website calendar, with a link found below.

Interested in becoming a part of Hillel’s food-centered community? Here are the ways you can participate:

  • Come to Wednesday Night B.B.Q at 6 p.m. at Hillel; all are welcome
  • Come to Thursday Night FYSH Dinner at 6 p.m. at Hillel; freshman-only
  • Come to Friday Night Shabbat Dinner at 7:30 p.m. at Hillel; all are welcome
  • Come to the Hillel Food Forums; Schedule can be found here
  • Apply for the Alternative Spring Break Trip to Pie Ranch

Ellina Chulpaeff is a freshman at UC Berkeley majoring in Political Science. She is involved in the Cal Jewish community and is a member of Jewish Greek Council and Challah for Hunger.

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What’s for dinner? Vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, or omnivorous eating styles

By Jenny Lai

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There I was, standing in the middle of the dining hall chaos at 6:30pm and frantically trying to figure out what to eat, when I noticed the vegan menu for the night: Turkey links and eggs.

Setting aside the fact that Crossroads Dining Hall was serving breakfast for dinner, I was quite duly confused. How does a vegan menu offer such blatantly “meaty” foods? Doesn’t vegan mean avoiding consumption of all animal products? And of course, that thought brought to mind other eating habits – vegetarianism, pescetarianism, or just general omnivorism. How does one discriminate between such labels and for what reason would those eating habits be attractive?

Tentatively grabbing a vegan turkey link, I sat down to my first taste of some of the different eating styles people experience, determined to learn more.

I call myself an omnivore. While I don’t eat anything and everything that is offered to me, I love freshly steamed vegetables as much as I love a really juicy, medium-rare steak served with a cranberry reduction sauce. I enjoy cookies baked with butter, eggs in the morning, and while I personally dislike the taste of milk, I can’t resist a yogurt parfait, or the creamy lather of Swiss cheese on crackers.

Before coming to Berkeley, I never put much thought into my eating habits. Food was always readily available and I had no problem deciding what I was in the mood for and how I would attain it. Discrimination regarding eating only certain animal products or no animal products at all was never something that I gave much thought to.

Everything changed after arriving on campus. Suddenly, I was facing a culture quite conscious about eating organically, sustainably, or ethically, and I made good friends who are devoted vegetarians, vegans, and exotic-sounding pescetarians.

My friend Lexie, who chuckled as I flaunted my paradoxical meal to the table, is a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat meat, poultry, or fish, but will eat animal byproducts such as milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. I asked her why she became a vegetarian, and promptly received, “I ate a chicken heart and afterwards I was horrified at myself.”

It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to think about, but many vegetarians, like Lexie, abstain from such animal meats because of moral or ethical reasons. Because vegetable products do not contain cholesterol, the vegetarian diet is also typically much lower in fats and cholesterol.

Lexie doesn’t find it difficult to stick to a vegetarian diet, but she did contend that some difficulties include finding good vegetarian restaurants and meal options, and making up for nutrients like protein that one would normally get from meat. Between bites of spaghetti, she announces, “Life is tough around Thanksgiving, and I hate salad, but the way I feel health-wise makes it worth it.”

I stabbed a “turkey” sausage onto my fork, promising to tell Sarah how it tasted. She’s a vegan and was munching on a carrot, debating whether or not to get a plate of the “turkey” links for herself. Starting in high school, Sarah became a vegan as a means to promote ethical treatment of animals and environmental issues, and was heavily influenced by the high prices of meat and movies such as “Food, Inc.”

Veganism promotes not only the elimination of all animal products and byproducts for ethical reasons like animal rights, but also environmental goals of revamping harmful animal agriculture and health-orientated goals that would reduce unhealthy animal fats and proteins that lead to issues like heart disease and obesity. To her, the only downsides are social ones, like being labeled a hippie or seeming rude when refusing certain foods.  The high price of vegan foods is still worth it because of the healthy, conscious-free way she eats.

Next to me, Michelle watched intently as I brought the vegan turkey sausage to my mouth. She’s a pescetarian, and has been for years since both her parents are pescetarians too. While the pescetarian diet excludes any meat from land animals, it includes fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, plus fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and grains found in other diets. Often used as a transitional diet to vegetarianism, pescetarianism is also adopted as a means to eat and live in a more environmental, ethical and healthy way.

For Michelle, the pros and cons of being a pescetarian include less saturated fat, more healthy fat, but also the expensive cost of fish and quality assurance of the meat. While eating in this diet is already habitual, Michelle confesses that “a lot of people think [she’s] weird to just eat fish since so many hate seafood” and that “it’s not so worthwhile because even though fish is yummy, there are too many limitations with getting fish cheaply and freshly.”

I took a bite. The vegan turkey sausage, while not as juicy (or greasy) as normal meat sausages, was surprisingly good. Lexie, Sarah, and Michelle all beamed at me.

“We are going to have to take you to some fantastic restaurants in the Berkeley area now!”

“Cheeseboard on Shattuck serves a great vegetarian pizza!”

“Or how about Cha-ya and Herbivore on Shattuck, too?”

“Oh, definitely Udupi Palace for Indian!”

As I sat back listening to my friends jabber about the multitude of vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Berkeley, I realized I still wasn’t an expert on every eating style; after all, there’s the Paleolithic diet, fruitarianism, variations of vegetarianism, and more, but Berkeley is the best place to learn and experience new things and ideologies of eating. For someone who loves food as much as I do, that is definitely a good thing. So I took another bite.

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Living La Vida Local

Spread out across the table was a variety of produce including persimmons, various apples, and an oddly shaped brown and orange colored object.

“It’s a humongous butternut squash,” Asali Echols tells me as I continued to stare quizzically at the crooked specimen.  Asali is a Cal senior who receives a CSA box at her doorstep each week, full of fresh local fruits and vegetables like the ones on their kitchen table.

Participating in a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, is a way for community members to support local farms and receive fresh produce in return.  Consumers usually pay the farms by the week or month and their money goes toward helping the farms with production.  Then, once a week they can go to a specified location and pick up a box full of whatever produce is in season and growing at the farm.

Asali’s box, which she also splits with her roommate, Nadia Kurd, works a little differently.  Instead of going to a drop-off site to pick up the produce, the box is delivered right to their door.

“It’s like Christmas every week,” she says as I ask more about the process.  The service they use is called Farm Fresh to You, which delivers produce from Capay Organic, a farm in Capay Valley, which is about 90 miles from San Francisco.

Asali tells me that supporting the local food system is important to her.  Participating in a CSA and receiving the weekly box of produce is a great way to lend support and to receive fresh, local, and healthy food.

Plus, it cuts down on traveling to buy produce at grocery stores or the farmers market and saves you more time to do other things, like cook.

“It will really expand your repertoire of cooking,” Asali tells me as she goes on to discuss some of the interesting contents of previous boxes.  The farm just provides what is in season so you really have to be creative sometimes, she explains.

Cooking with all the produce also forces you to eat healthfully since there are so many fresh fruits and vegetables.  It’s really good food too.  Even better than the grocery store, Asali adds.

Asali considers joining a CSA a good way for college students to help out local farmers and save time and fuel on transportation needed to get to grocery stores.  She says she’d also definitely recommend the Farm Fresh to You service.  Although the prices might seem high, at $25 for a small box, when you split the costs among roommates or friends as she and Nadia do, it’s quite reasonable.

Shop ’til you drop

Asali appreciates the CSA box because it allows her to get local food without having to head to a store or farmers market, especially when time is limited.  Even so, the farmers market can be another great outlet for purchasing local food and receiving high quality, fresh, and organic ingredients even if it means leaving the house or dorm.  In Berkeley there are three a week; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  On Thursdays, the market is all organic.  Times and locations can be found on the Berkeley Ecology Center website.  You can also find listings of vendors, special events, and more.

The good news is that students at Cal who are unable to shop at farmers markets can still get special access to wholesome farmers market food at a bargain price.  This is where The Local comes in.

By students, for students

The Local is a produce stand run by the ASUC Sustainability Team that is set up on Sproul every Monday from 10-2 p.m.  Members get the produce they sell from the Temescal Farmers’ Market every Sunday.  They receive fresh fruits and vegetables and other items that are in season from the farmers at a discounted price, often taking surplus goods off of their hands.

Not only is the produce sold conveniently right on campus, but because of the discounted prices from the farmers, The Local’s prices are greatly reduced.  You can find out what’s going to be on sale and their prices on The Local’s Facebook page.

Providing fresh food straight from the farmers market, The Local is a great source right on Sproul!

“Our goal is to increase the opportunity to buy local produce,” says Matt Quinn, a junior and conservation and resource studies major.  Since The Local makes no profit, their aim is to make fresh local produce available to students at an affordable price.  It serves as a place where students can support the local farming community without heading all the way to the farmers market, and in addition, the food is only traveling from the farm, a much shorter distance than a lot of the produce one might normally buy from the grocery store.

Mickey Davis, a junior and nutritional sciences major, tells me that this is The Local’s fourth year selling produce, and because they are out on Sproul consistently, rain or shine, they have been gaining customers.

As I stood by The Local’s stand watching people come and leave with fresh tomatoes, corn, and apples, I overheard a student say that his handful of fresh fruit was the best purchase of his day.  With local eating made this easy and this delicious, I’m sure it was!

Sydney Mayes is a second year, intended Public Health major. She loves dark chocolate and tennis and in her spare time enjoys running, trying new restaurants, and taking pictures of food.

Sources:

“Community Supported Agriculture.” National Agricultural Library. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. <http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csa.shtml>.

“Farm Fresh To You.” FFTY. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. <http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/index2.php?cmd=aboutourfarm>.

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More reasons to eat chocolate!

The Xocolate Bar is a true gem located on a quiet part of Solano Avenue. The owners, Malena and Clive, are worldly artists who began making chocolates five years ago. They embrace the concept of edible art by creating inspired, unique chocolates. The shop has only been around for a little over two years, but there are already many fans who adore the chocolates.

The chocolate confections are all made in small batches at the shop’s modestly-sized kitchen. The slow melting of chocolate adorns the entire shop with the deep, rich aroma of chocolate. Malena and Clive have created over one hundred chocolate treats and continue to invent new flavors.

All of the chocolates are artistically made, and inspired by world travels, art, eating, films, seasons, and more. Among the most popular are the aphrodisiac Make-Out truffle which is a dark chocolate with chai spices, chili, and maca shaped as a heart. Another favorite is the exotic Buddha truffle, also a dark chocolate, with tamarind and mango and shaped into a tiny golden Buddha. People come to the shop to indulge in truly one of a kind artisanal chocolates, from sight to taste.

The ever-inviting storefront of The Xocolate Bar.

Some other truffles found only at The Xocolate Bar are the salted chile, kalamata olive & salted caramel, Chinese five spice, rosemary, and cherry hibiscus. Many of the truffles are vegan, which is quite unprecedented in the world of chocolate. Malena believes dairy is not always necessary for creating a decadent truffle. In fact, sometimes the flavors are more pronounced without milk or cream. At The Xocolate Bar, even vegans have a lot to choose from.

According to Malena and Clive, the ingredients that go into the chocolates are almost all organic and often times locally sourced. For example, the Rangpur lime used in one of the truffles are from a neighbor’s backyard and the figs in the fig bar are from the backyard of Malena’s friend.

Being a small independent business managed by real people, The Xocolate Bar not only makes exceptional products, but also makes sure to reduce its carbon footprint. Malena and Clive make sure that production at the shop is low waste and energy efficient. Recyclable and compostable packaging is used whenever possible. Most importantly, they support local, organic agriculture.

As an employee of The Xocolate Bar, I love seeing people light up when they see the shelves and cases full of amazing chocolate creations. Customers also like to gaze at the Frida Kahlo paintings, jewelry made by Malena and Clive, or the huge chocolate Mayan calendar. The shop offers a stimulating experience that can not be found at corporate-owned chain stores.

An assortment of Malena and Clive's delectable creations!

The Xocolate Bar is a local, independently-owned business that deserves support and recognition from the community. Restaurants, cafes, and specialty food stores that use seasonal, local ingredients and practice sustainability are doing their part in changing the way we eat and think of food. By going to these places, we are supporting real people who are passionate about food. Not only are we benefitting the environment, local economy, and our health, but we are able to find the best food the area offers.

As Malena says, small businesses are “the good underdogs who contribute to a brighter future.”

Cindy Chen is a junior transfer student at UC Berkeley, majoring in Conservation and Resource Studies. She is employed at The Xocolate Bar and enjoys eating local food. Continue reading

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Dining in or Dining Out?

Which is healthier for my body, my relationships, and my diet?

By Winnie Chan

Everywhere around me, I heard people chatting in different languages with the people at their table, I smelled the sensual aroma of cooked food, and I tasted the delicious meal on the plate before my eyes. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the convenience of having prepared meals in a short time, or because I enjoyed eating in the company of my family and friends, that I frequently ate out in restaurants. It wasn’t until I saw my money vanishing from my wallet and learned more about the origins of restaurants’ processed food that I reconsidered my options of either dining out or dining in.

I wondered to myself, is it worth eating out because it’s convenient, even though I don’t know how the food is prepared or where it came from, or is it better cooking at home, even though it takes more time?

Availability and Accessibility

In college environments, fast-food restaurants welcome students with open arms and decent prices for meals, especially since they are often available within walking distance or with public transportation.

This applies for Brenda Tran, a 4th year Integrative Biology major, who said it was hard for her to purchase whole-food ingredients without access to nearby public transportation routes. Additionally, she “enjoys eating out because it saves her time and because she hates to cook.” For her, food tastes better in restaurants, where the chefs can prepare more savory dishes.

It’s a different story when she’s at home because she can enjoy her mom’s home-cooked meals. She sees that it’s beneficial for single people to eat out because it takes too much time to prepare different food for one meal, in contrast to a larger group of people who can benefit by cooking and eating with other people.

Although some college students can’t frequently experience the home-cooked meals that Brenda could, they can have similar experiences by cooking with roommates or friends. Through this, they can learn about the food they are cooking, appreciate their meals and time with others, and save money while also eating nutritious food.

Importance of Cooking and Eating together

A 3th year Computer Science major, David Tacmo, mentioned how he has recently started learning how to cook. Through his experiences, he felt “more satisfied eating his home cooked meals than eating meals at restaurants because he did it by himself and knows that it is healthier.”

Through purchasing the ingredients at the store and browsing through different recipes online, David has enjoyed learning about the nutritional values of each produce and understanding how different items mix with others.

He feels empowered with the ability to control the fat content of each meal and the power to cook what he wants. From the click of a button, anyone with internet access has the ability to research how to cook a certain meal or how to meet their daily nutritional needs, which is difficult at restaurants.

Similarly, Johnny Wu, a 4th year Landscape Architecture major, mentioned how he cooks two to three times a day, everyday. He prefers preparing savory dishes, with lots of fruits and vegetables, at home, rather than eating at restaurants, because he knows healthier ways to enhance the food’s taste than using MSG or butter.  He has been raised to understand the importance of eating well-balanced meals to have a healthier lifestyle.

Delicious Home-Made Pasta with Lots of Vegetables

Delicious Home-Made Pasta with Lots of Vegetables, made by the love of my boyfriend and I. This was one of the first time that I learned to make a delicious meal out of the 1st thing that I ever cooked – pasta with tomato sauce. Cooking is a way to be creative and to learn about the relationship between different ingredients; I still have lots to learn, but I’m up for the road of discovery.

Benefits and consequences

In a 2008 Rudd Report advocating for menu labeling in chain restaurants, researchers found that “Americans are consuming about a third of their calories from fast-food restaurants and food service vendors, which coincide with the rising rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”

Although restaurant meals may taste better and are more convenient, there are more advantages to devoting time to grocery shopping, cooking at home, and enjoying eating as a social experience.

One advantage is reducing your costs, since purchasing ingredients in bulk is often cheaper than buying fewer items. The price of two to three meals at a restaurant could easily be used to purchase a week’s worth of ingredients at the grocery store.

Secondly, preparing food at home is beneficial because you know what is in your food. By investing time to understand what you’re eating and what you should consume, you are reducing the chances of having illnesses or

Lastly, having a balanced diet can help you reduce stress and feel better about yourself.

All In All

Research indicates that the frequency of family meals is associated with better overall nutrition and with strengthening relationships. Additionally, studies have found that meals at home are significantly lower in calories and fat than meals eaten at restaurants and children have poorer diets on days when they eat at fast food restaurants (Fiese and Schwartz).

Home-Made Vegetarian Risotto- a Meal for 3 or More

Delicious Home-Made Pasta with Lots of Vegetables, made with the love of my boyfriend and I. This was one of the first time that I learned to make a delicious meal out of the 1st thing that I ever cooked – pasta with tomato sauce. Cooking is a way to be creative and to learn about the relationship between different ingredients; I still have lots to learn, but I’m up for the road of discovery.

I was awakened to this experience when I was at my boyfriend’s place, where his family always prepares home-cooked meals and eat together. Although it takes around 1 hour to finish cooking, it was important knowing that their foods are fresh and that they have a balanced meal. Because of this experience, I began cooking for my own mother, whose arthritis had made her less able to cook and had made her reliant on Ramen noodles and takeout food. I found that cooking with my mother strengthened our relationships and improved our health.

If you’re ever looking for a way to improve your diet, strengthen relationships, and save money, then cooking is a great way of doing them all.

Sources:

Fiese, Barbara H. and Marlene Schwartz. “Reclaiming the family Table: Mealtimes and Child Health and Well-Being. ” Social Policy Report, Vol XXII: No. IV (2008).

Rudd Report, “Menu Labeling in Chain Restaurants: Opportunities for Public Policy”. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Yale University (2008).

Winnie Chan is a fourth-year Sociology Major with a minor in Public Policy. She is always interested in trying new things and constantly challenging herself. Additionally, she is passionate about promoting higher education and healthy lifestyles to underserved communities.

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Beating Depression with Food

By Giovanni P.

It is not a secret that diet and nutrition are two of the most important factors in body chemistry—food is the source of all of the nutrients required by the body to perform all biochemical processes to run smoothly. Nutritional deficiencies, naturally, have a direct effect on how our organs and body process dysfunction. A good diet will reduce your risk of health problems. But emerging research has revealed that a good diet is also critical to good mental health.

Is it true that some foods are better for our brain that others, especially if we are depressed? A recent study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology (UK) has shown that there is a correlation between depressed patients and low levels of folic acid and vitamin B12 (Coppen, Bolander-Gouaille, 2005). Furthermore, researchers at the Clinical Research Center for Mental Health have linked inflammatory processes to clinical depression (Maes, et al., 2009).

Antidepressants Today

The current theories on the nature of depression include serotonergic and cortisol dysfunctions. These are neurotransmitters that are understood to regulate feelings of well-being. But their dysfunctions have not provided sufficient explanations for the nature of depression.

The antidepressant drugs on the market today mainly target serotonin (80% of which are located in the gut), and while these have been administered to patients for years, just over two-thirds of depressed patients achieve remission—the significant alleviation of their symptoms of depression (Maes).

There is clearly something that is missing from this reductionist view of treating depression, and what these papers suggest is that an anti-inflammatory diet, supplemented with antidepressants prescribed by your doctor, is a better treatment than drugs alone.

Critical Time for a Good Diet

The stresses of college life can he hard on certain people. Take it from me. My experience in dealing with stress—with especially difficult classes and social disorientation, supplemented with a diet of junk food and soda—did not help at all. Although this wasn’t my first time dealing with depression and anxiety, these academic and social stressors caused my mental wellbeing to collapse. But I found that changing my diet had a greater effect on my mood than just taking medication alone.

Even people who don’t suffer from clinical depression can benefit from these helpful guidelines:

The Anti-inflammatory Diet

In addition to helping lower your risk of serious illnesses, any diet full of fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits and healthy fats and low in refined carbohydrates and heavily-processed foods is beneficial. This is an anti-inflammatory diet. It is not specifically a special weight-loss program or a health fad, but a guideline for eating more whole foods and thus reducing inflammation factors.

The anti-inflammatory diet removes the risk of chronic inflammation, which is the root cause of most serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Inflammation occurs naturally in the body as a response to pathogenic attacks. But it can go haywire due to improper diet, attacking normal tissue.

The main culprit is refined carbohydrates and heavily-processed foods. This is because an overwhelming increase in simple sugars stimulates the production of inflammatory agents. Countering inflammation requires a diet with less refined breads, pastries, and junk foods and more of fresh vegetables, fruits and organic meats.

Omega 3s, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to fight inflammation, so natural sources of omega-3s such as fish, organic meat and dark, leafy greens are essential (Oh et al., 2010).

Deficiencies in folic acid and vitamin B12 have been also been linked with depression, and conversely, diets high in vitamin B12 and folic acid have been linked with better treatment outcomes of depression. Coppen suggests on the basis of current data that supplements of both folic acid and vitamin B12 should be considered to better treat depression. Natural sources are better, such as animal organs (liver, kidney), eggs, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, legumes, and more. Naturally, an anti-inflammatory diet will more than provide this.

Whatever mental state you may be in, a better diet is beneficial for your mood. Mental health, as well as physical health, is a direct outcome of everything that you do, including eating. But of course, my advice is no replacement for the professional advice of a medical professional. For more resources concerning depression, consider those provided by the University Health Services at the Tang Center.

Giovanni P. is a fifth-year Physics major at UC Berkeley. His greatest achievement in life is finding the perfect Mozart sonata to pair with the perfect three-course dinner. (K378 with salad, steamed chicken with persimmon sauce, and a pomegranate tart with vanilla ice cream).

Resources:
Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C. Treatment of depression: Time to consider folic acid and vitamin B-12. J Psychopharmacol. 2005; 19(1).
Maes, M, et al. The inflammatory & neurodegenerative (I&ND) hypothesis of depression: leads for future research and new drug developments in depression. Metab Brain Dis. 2009. Mar; 24(1):27-53.

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