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What are the best Pittsburgh restaurants using local produce?

Want to taste local produce being prepared in dishes at some of the best Pittsburgh restaurants? A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh, on Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, features more than a dozen local restaurants and cafés doing just that, including Salt of the Earth, Avenue B, Square Café, E2, Legume, Root 174, The Porch at Schenley, Cure, Alma, Casbah, Habitat, Industry Public House, Red Oak Café, Whole Foods Market and La Prima Espresso. There's also wine from Engine House 25 and organic and local beers.

The participating restaurants also are part of Grow Pittsburgh's many programs, which promote and teach urban agriculture and gardening. The Edible Schoolyard program brings gardening experts to schools in September and October to work with the kids. The Urban Farmer in Training program at Braddock Farms, the group's largest production site at Braddock Avenue and 10th Street, helps kids learn the value of veggies as they harvest and cook. Grow Pittsburgh also offers an apprentice program for adults wanting to learn to work on small-acre community farms, as well as community gardening lessons.
"It's really great to see 12-year-olds wanting their own garden plot, families working together," says Kate Hickey, the organization's director of operations.
"All the chefs are very approachable" at A Taste, she adds. "They love talking about what they are creating. New folks are coming into the city every year, and it's a great way to discover these restaurants."
This year's event, the largest yet, will raise $25-30,000 for the organization. Tickets may be purchased here. The event includes live music and a silent auction with jewelry from local designer Caesar Azzam of Caesar's Designs and other items.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kate Hickey, Grow Pittsburgh

What do kids bring to the table for solving childhood hunger?

Holly McGraw-Turkovic has spent April visiting local schools to teach kids about childhood hunger. As director of youth programs at Pittsburgh Cares, she has been using the national program called What Will You Bring to the Table? to teach them about the food problems they can see around them and those that may be invisible.
"They learn that when people depend on food banks they don't get the things we take for granted," she says. She has already taken the program to South Allegheny Middle School, Woodland Hills Junior High and West Mifflin Area Middle School, and is slated to bring it next to Propel Braddock Hills High School and Academy Charter School.
Participating kids experience educational games that illustrate how they can their time, talents and money toward the elimination of this problem. Some of the activities are designed to create empathy and illustrate the unequal distribution of wealth in the world, such as one in which one group is given a large bowl overflowing with snacks, another group is given just enough snacks for each person to enjoy a single choice and a third group is not given enough even for that.
The kids also hear guest speakers from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, then construct and paint a specially provided picnic table that will serve as a permanent location for, and reminder of, the school's anti-hunger project -- the last step in the program. One group's project is a "Birthday in a bag" drive, creating food-bank packages that contain cake mix and other supplies to help people celebrate family members' special occasions. Another group created "Pie a teacher to feed a child": For the donation of a canned good or a dollar, kids in their school will get to hit a teacher with a pie. Another school's "Can the principal" aims to fill their principal's office with canned goods to donate to their local food pantry, while a fourth group has simply set their collection goal at 1,000 pounds of food for a food bank.
McGraw-Turkovic says the program has been effective in bringing the issue of childhood hunger to the fore for these school children. "The kids describe experiences with friends and neighbors who are experiencing hunger," she says, "so they are definitely taking it personally and they are definitely taking it seriously."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Holly McGraw-Turkovic, Pittsburgh Cares

Cooking School heats up as healthy school cafeteria effort

When famed chef Jamie Oliver came to Pittsburgh last fall to start his 10,000 Tables program, aimed at getting more families to enjoy the benefits of home-cooked, television-free meals, Bobby Fry, one of the creators of Bar Marco in the Strip, asked him what local business owners and chefs could do.
"Your role is to inspire and empower people," Oliver answered, as Fry recalls.
"I likened it to the analogy of young musicians inspired by rock stars and taught by their music teachers," Fry says. So he decided: "Somebody in the community had to be supporting schools and school cafeterias."
Fry gathered other local organizations and teamed with Kelsey Weisgerber, food service director at the Environmental Charter School, to start the Cooking School movement. Their goals: "Find a group of kids, give them the tools, knowledge and experience and let them have higher standards for food, and that will change the system" toward healthier school lunches.
The group first approached Pittsburgh Obama 6-12. Fry knew the school had its own kitchen, but he found a dormant home-economics classroom. The group cleaned it, bought each student his or her own carving knife, sharpener and cutting board and brought in 120 cookbooks from Bar Marco's kitchen for them to choose among.
Lots of kids picked breakfast cookbooks, Fry says. "We realized breakfast is a problem for lots of these kids," who have to leave home too early to get it and pass nowhere along the way even worth shopping for breakfast foods.
Fry has been inspired by the level of interest in healthy eating that he found at the school. "I thought I'd have to go in and get the kids excited about cooking. Same with the administration. They were already really on board. Everybody is ready to change school lunches."
"We've got to get them skills here that will get them a job," he adds about the Cooking School effort. "For working in a professional kitchen, all you need to start are the proper cutting skills" -- but those are the hardest skills to master, too.
Now the Cooking School teaches at the Obama school every Tuesday afternoon and brings a new chef every week. The program is being aided by Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration and Katz Fellow in Marketing in Pitt's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, whose MBA students are preparing a video promoting it. Their early work is viewable here. Kids from other schools can submit proposals for the Cooking School to teach elsewhere. If applicant schools don't have a kitchen, perhaps the program will try to raise money to install one, Fry says.
You can help the Cooking School raise funds for cooking utensils and local produce through crowdrise and a current Facebook fundraiser.
Do Good:
Looking for additional ways to find out about local, healthier eating and bring the movement to your community. Check out the programs of Farm to Table Pittsburgh.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bobby Fry, The Cooking School

Want fresh fruits out of season? Learn canning, preserving, other local food help at Farm to Table

Would you like fresh local produce delivered to your workplace? How about a mid-winter dose of fresh tomatoes or homemade peach jam right from your own shelves?
The annual Farm to Table Conference March 22-23 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, with this year's theme of “Do It Yourself,” features demonstrations, speakers, samples and more than 65 exhibitors offering hands-on cooking demos, gardening tips and nutrition, health and wellness information.
The event is all about "treading more lightly on the earth and being more self-sufficient," says Erin Hart, director of health benefit services for American HealthCare Group, which runs the event. Local farms, restaurants, breweries, wineries, and personal chefs are attending the food-tasting event, while speakers will take on such topics as "Herbal Soap Making," "Fermentation 101," "Fresh Eggs Daily from your Backyard Chicken Flock," "Mycelium Mayhem: Mushrooms for Hobby, Income and Companion Planting," "Applying Farm to Table to Your Health," and "Food as Medicine: The Power of Food to Heal."
"It seems like people are getting more and more interested in canning and preserving" and other ways of providing themselves with food that's fresh and local instead of picked in Peru six months ago, says Hart. And Pittsburgh is getting more programs such as community gardens, schools bringing farm-to-table principles into their cafes and workplaces that are implementing Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop sites. CSAs are farms to which you can buy a kind of subscription for a certain amount and variety of produce when it is harvested. Having drop sites in industrial parks and office complexes is "making it easier for community members to buy local and source local," Hart notes. For instance, the Penn Corner Farm Alliance goes to Westinghouse's Cranberry office lobby once a week to sell CSA subscriptions and make deliveries to employees.
"Seven years ago, when we started doing this, people had never heard of CSAs," she adds. Now Farm to Table "is a way to get to the masses of people, where public health might be impacted. Every year it grows pretty significantly," from 3,000 people last year to -- she expects -- 3,500 this year.
Teachers can get complementary registration and Act 48 credits, and those using the state's WIC benefit can get free admission as well. For tickets, visit Showclix.com and search “Farm to Table."
Do Good:
Want to know more and connect with CSAs? Come to the CSA Fair at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on March 16. Get more information here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Erin Hart, American HealthCare Group

The family that eats together ... could have 10,000 new friends via Jamie Oliver

The benefits for families who eat home-cooked meals together and actually talk to each other, with the television off, are clear. According to the national Let’s Move! Campaign to decrease childhood obesity -- including Let's Move! Pittsburgh -- Americans already eat 31 percent more calories than we did in 1970, including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars or sweeteners. All that fast food is a big contributor to obesity in kids. Eating home-cooked food together, on the other hand, teaches kids what and how to eat.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (you have their cookbook, don't you?) has found 68 scientific studies that showed “the more a family ate together the less children consumed dietary components thought to be harmful to health."
And most home-cooking is simply healthier for you, says Jamie Oliver, famed British chef and television personality. He was in town this month to challenge attendees at the One Young World conference, and the world, to take action on this issue by joining his "Food Revolution." "Inspired by Jamie Oliver," says Liz Fetchin, Let's Move! Pittsburgh created 10,000 Tables, which aims to get 10,000 Pittsburgh families to add one more home-cooked, television-free meal to each week. Fetchin, spokesperson for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (whose head, Richard V. Piacentini, directs Let's Move! Pittsburgh), says the group wanted to come up with a reasonable initiative that could be accomplished over the next year.

Other local organizations also joined in. The City of Pittsburgh aims to increase farmers markets, bikeways and trails, and to increase participation in its CityFit Wellness at Work initiative for employees. Whole Foods will work through its school garden grant program, while the Eat'n Park Hospitality Group's LifeSmiles program will continue a $1 million/20,000 volunteer-hour investment in health and wellness initiatives for families. UPMC's Dining Smart program in 2013 will seek to bring healthier meal and vending choices to its more than 50,000 employees and promote it to other employers, and Propel Schools will increase its use of healthy food choices and My Plate Guidelines for its students.
"Most families are eating in front of the TV or are eating separately -- it's because they are so busy," Fetchin allows. Let's Move! hopes this movement to cook at home and eat together will encourage families to enjoy the health benefits more often.
Is the participation of 10,000 families realistic? "We sure hope so," Fetchin says. "We think that it will really catch on. We hope to do a lot of outreach," including to neighborhoods where fresh food is not as readily available. Let's Move! soon will be handing out recipes and shopping lists at Giant Eagles and other locations throughout the area, and will be offering cooking demonstrations there and elsewhere.
Jamie Oliver has not announced plans to come back to Pittsburgh yet, but, says Fetchin, Let's Move! hopes 10,000 Tables will be so successful that Oliver will be inspired to return to celebrate his Food Revolution again in Pittsburgh.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Liz Fetchin, Let's Move! Pittsburgh

Eat well and often at A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh event

Here's your chance to eat well and eat often, at the third annual A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh this Sunday at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts from 2:00 to 5:00.
Featured restaurants at the fundraiser include: Avenue B and Habitat, Salt of the Earth, The Porch at Schenley. E2, Abay, Alma, East End Food Co-op, Legume, Square Café, Root 174, Bar Marco, La Prima Espresso, Habitat, Casbah and Whole Foods.
While feasting, guests will be entertained by Chet Vincent and the Big Bend while sipping local wine from Engine House 25 Wines and organic & local brews.
The dozen local restaurants at the event have utilized organic produce from Grow Pittsburgh’s urban farming efforts, or fundraising events for the group.
Grow Pittsburgh is an urban agriculture organization with "a mission to demonstrate, teach and promote responsible urban food production." The group offers programming and education including the development of community food gardens in the region. It is also known for the Edible Schoolyard program they bring to local elementary schools in Pittsburgh.
Tickets are $75 for General Admission and $60 for Members of Grow Pittsburgh available through Showclix or call Grow Pittsburgh at (412) 362-4769.

Grant lets North Hills vacant lot garden get heirloom tomatoes, other special veggies to pantries

When food pantry patrons see heirloom tomatoes that aren't quite as perfect looking as the grocery-store variety, they are sometimes reluctant to pick up those veggies -- "even though they taste a lot better," says Rosie Wise, garden and youth coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach's two-vacant-lot garden in Bellevue. "The carrots will still have the greens on them, and people won't take them," she adds. "We really want people to understand what field produce looks like."
A new $10,000 grant from Whole Foods will help create an educational component to NCHO's Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, which opened just last year, after several years of clean up and preparation. Besides the heirloom tomatoes and carrots, it delivers kale, herbs, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, swiss chard, lettuce, summer and winter squash, spring peas and broccoli to NHCO's two food pantries in Bellevue and Allison Park and to another pantry in Sewickley.
The group is planting a fruit-tree orchard now for peaches, plums, cherries and apples to harvest in a few years, and building permaculture principles into the place -- using the natural insecticide of mint plants, for instance, to keep destructive bugs from the fruit trees. Members are still installing the high tunnel: an unheated greenhouse made from plastic sheeting over hoops that extends the growing season in those 800 square feet of garden from mid-March into December.
"What's unique about the garden is that there is no age limit for volunteering," Wise says. Kids help harvest and take ownership of their own area of the garden, and the Whole Foods funding "will be very helpful in getting more youth involved. The kids who come, some of them don't really know what a tomato plant looks like, or how things grow." NHCO plans to use the money to hire another part-time garden worker, buy tools and other supplies, and recruit more volunteers.
Whole Foods workers will also help with the garden, and have allowed the NHCO to set up an information table at the store. Overall, says Wise, the Whole Foods help "really gives us a support system -- not just funds but getting the word out about the garden."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rosie Wise, North Hills Community Outreach

Farm to Table Conference opens local-food possibilities -- for planting, buying and cooking

The hills around Pittsburgh and throughout Pennsylvania are good for more than dramatic views and traumatic bicycle rides -- they mean the state is inhospitable to large factory farms.
And that's a good thing, says Erin Hart, who works in business development for American HealthCare Group. In Pennsylvania, locals have a better chance of becoming locavores: people who eat locally grown foods and get the nutritional benefits of unprocessed meals that move quickly from farm to table.
The annual Farm to Table Conference, which Hart's organization runs, will be held March 23-24 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. It offers a taste of local farm products, a guide to preparing them and a chance to learn about the other health benefits of eating right.
The conference's farmers' market includes about 20 farms selling eggs, honey, maple syrup, teas and other products, such as seedlings and small plants. Vendors will offer new ways to prepare local foods in a healthy way, including live cooking demonstrations using local ingredients, alongside other demos of garden planting, canning, and heirloom seed use.
The many speakers, from educators to farmers and cooks, include Mark Buzzatto, a holistic dentist with a Bridgeville practice, who will talk about how food affects the health of teeth, and your health in general, as well as Christopher Rihn, a Greensburg internal medicine doc who counsels his patients to be locavores.
There's even an extra event -- a food tasting the evening of March 23rd, featuring 45 chefs, food producers and farms, all using local products for locally made foods.
"Agriculture is Pennsylvania's number one industry and we're exporting a lot of the food that's grown here," Hart says. "And we're importing food not just from other states but from all around the world." She hopes the Farm to Table Conference makes people aware that great local food "is everywhere," and that learning about the possibilities "makes it easier for people to eat from local farms, so that it becomes second nature."
"The best thing" about eating local foods, she concludes, "is that you're eating real food, not an invention."
Do Good:
Get ready for Citiparks' farmers markets; catch the schedule here.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Erin Hart, American HealthCare Group

Sculpting with cans and feeding the hungry: it's a balancing act

Past winners have included 8-foot tall cyclones, giant sphinx heads, outsized candelabra and other mammoth structures, all made out of aluminum cans and other food packages. The other winners of the CANstruction competition -- coming to Pittsburgh for the first time this fall -- will be the people fed when all the cans are donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

The giant sculptures take 1,000 or more cans each. While clear tape or wire can be used between cans, and cardboard can be slotted between can layers, none of that can be visible from the outside.

The canned art will be on display at 937 Liberty Ave., in the second-floor gallery, during the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Sept. 30 Gallery Crawl and will be part of a nationwide competition. Anyone can stop by and vote for the local fan favorite as well -- by leaving a can of food near it.

Anastasia Herk, chair of CANstruction Pittsburgh, says the competition is still looking for a few more teams to sign up by Aug. 15.

Anybody with a background in engineering, graphic design, architecture, or art can lead a team, since the Society for Design Administration, the AIA Pittsburgh Young Architects Forum and the American Society of Civil Engineers in Pittsburgh are sponsoring the event. Teams are responsible for getting the right number and color of cans to fit their design by securing a sponsor to donate the food (or money).

The teams are also responsible for picking the right food in the cans.

Notes Herk: "Structures built with Pringles cans are not going to be as well received as something built with green bean cans."
Do Good:
Form a team and sign up here, or contact Anastasia Herk for more information (call 412-605-4827 or click here).

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Anastasia Herk, CANstruction Pittsburgh
Image courtesy of CANstruction Pittsburgh

"An amusement park without the rides" -- Citiparks Farmers Markets

"People like knowing the source of what they're putting on their dinner tables," says Mike Radley, Citiparks director.

That's why they're welcoming the opening of this year's farmers markets, running now through Nov. 23. East Liberty's open on Mondays, South Side on Tuesdays, Carrick on Wednesdays, Bloomfield and Beechview on Thursdays, Downtown and the North Side on Fridays; for specific times and locations (including a new spot for Beechview), click here.

Patrons also appreciate the chance to buy local, to chat with the farmers, and to enjoy an open-air market relatively close to home, with ever-changing wares, adds Radley.

Mirella Ranallo, farmers market manager, calls the whole experience simply "an amusement park without the rides."

Well, no curly fries either. But there's as much fruit and veg as you imagine, plus meats, cheeses and bakery items, as well as flowers, gardening and gift items in several of the locations. There are also new vendors of homemade pretzels and of acai berry smoothies in some of the markets.

With all the emphasis on green living, there's also increasing pressure on the green in your wallet -- especially from food and gas prices. Farmers markets are still great buys and desirable experiences, says Radley -- "now more than ever."

Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Mike Radley and Mirella Ranallo, Citiparks

The Boy Scouts can, and you know you can -- if you have cans

Local Boy Scouts collect 7 million canned goods and other nonperishable food and household items each year as part of Scouting for Food. That sounds like a lot until you realize it can only help supplement local food banks for a single month.

"There is an issue of hunger in our region that most people are not aware of," says Bruce McDowell, director of Scouting for Food for the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The drive, in its 25th year, runs during all of April. "There are a lot of people on the fringe who rely on supplemental food support. They're glad to have help throughout the year."

That includes the underemployed, the unemployed, single-parent households and the elderly. "Food banks run out of a lot of food supplies in the spring," he notes, after the holiday food drives end. About 120,000 families in Allegheny County are registered with local food banks, and thousands more need help in Beaver, Washington, Greene, Westmoreland and Fayette counties, which Scouting for Food also covers.

Your place of work or worship, your school, union or other group can sign up to participate in the food drive. Scouts also collect door to door there will be 4-5,000 Scouts filling 100,000 bags this year, McDowell estimates. This year's chair is Diane Holder, head of UPMC Health Plan, while Pitt-Ohio Express is providing the transportation.

"Our premise is teaching boys that helping other people is an important value. You get taught at an early age by participation. It's the principle of a good turn: doing something for other people without expectation of reward."

Do Good:

• If you can't donate through Scouting for Food, you can give directly to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bruce McDowell, Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America
Image courtesy of Bruce McDowell, Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America

It's lunch time: Labor Day Eat-In happening at Mellon Park

On Labor Day, Slow Food Pittsburgh will be participating in the "Time for Lunch" National Eat-In & Day of Action. You're invited to join the party.

The goal of the event is to encourage a national conversation about getting real food into school lunch programs across the country and send a message to our nation's leaders that our children deserve better school lunches. More than 200 Slow Food chapters across the nation are planning Eat-Ins and inviting their communities to participate.

"There's a big difference between what's served in schools and at snack time and what we would call food," says Greg Boulos, western regional director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and an organizer of this event. "The better the nutrition, the better behaved they will be, the more attentive, the more cognizant they'll be at school."

You can get involved and add your voice to the discourse by attending the Eat-In, which happens on Monday at Mellon Park from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. If you go, you're asked to bring a potluck dish to share, a plate, any necessary silverware and a cloth.

In addition to dining and discussing, attendees are invited to use their cell phones to call legislators during the event (phone numbers and talking points will be provided). You'll also be asked to sign a petition about the importance of healthy school lunches for our nation's students.

You can sign up to attend the event at Slow Food USA's website. And check out the "Time for Lunch" Policy Platform.

Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Greg Boulos, PASA
Image courtesy of Slow Food Pittsburgh
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