Fast food | Low grades

I came across a study on Sloweb yesterday about the connection between fast food consumption and lowered test scores in children. Though the study is one of the first of its kind, and certainly more will need to be done for definitive analysis, it is the first to draw a conclusive link between eating higher-than-average amounts of fast food and lowered performance in school.

From a sample of 5,500 ten and eleven-year-olds, the study showed that students who ate higher-than-average amounts of fast food scored significantly lower than their peers on a range of literacy and math tests. Even when accounting for factors such as weight, parental income and race; the results showed that students who ate fast food between four and six times a week scored almost seven points below average, while students who ate fast food daily or multiple times daily scored between 16 and 19 points below average. [Telegraph. 5/22/09]

{ image from Richard Linklater's movie, Fast Food Nation }

Though the results have raised questions about whether fast food causes cognitive disorders that can effect academic performance, I can't help but wonder if the issue is that eating higher-than-average amounts of fast food means eating lower-than-average amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that we need for our wellness. That said, I am certainly not advocating for fast food, only questioning whether the greasy bagged meals alone should take the blame for lowered test scores as opposed to fast food as a part of a bigger trend in our diet and lifestyle. This question is exactly where the study of nutrition gets sticky; it is almost impossible to isolate particular foods for study, because eating more of one often means eating less of another.

Nonetheless, the results point to common sense. Whether it is fast food alone that may negatively affect academic test scores, or the coinciding lack of substantial nutrition, or a further unaccounted for factor like the connection between fast food and parental involvement with homework, it seems that there is a clear link between a diet heavy in drive-in meals and lowered classroom performance.

Hopefully, this test will be the first of many and we will soon learn more about the specifics of this connection. In the meantime, it seems more important than ever to promote healthy eating in the classroom through nutrition and nature education curriculum. Do you know of a family, school or district that is doing this particularly well? What seems to be working and what isn't?

Sweet Capogiro

It's no secret; I have a sweet tooth. This seemed normal enough when I was growing up. Most of my family shared a similar affinity to sweets, so it wasn't until after I left home and roommates started commenting on my tendency to enjoy a bit of chocolate after breakfast when I learned that not everyone loves chocolate and ice cream quite the way I do. And oh my, do I love ice cream. So naturally, gelato also gets my attention.

I couldn't tell you about the first time I tried gelato. It must not have been a memorable iced-cream experience. This shouldn't come as a surprise since gelato is about the best dessert in the world when done right, but can be just "meh" when done wrong. Sadly, most of my pre-Capogiro forays were forgettable. But I can absolutely pinpoint my first experience with
Capogiro, and many of them since then. It was post-sushi date in the city, spring of 2008 (I know, I was late to the game- the artisan gelato shop opened its doors in 2002). As usual, I needed something sweet to finish the meal and Capogiro's contemporary European storefront caught my attention. So did the line winding out the door and down the sidewalk. I figured whatever they had to offer must be worth the wait... And it was. Sweet Lord, it was.

{ the midtown village storefront, courtesy of the Capogiro website }

I was stunned by the variety of flavors; chocolate hazelnut, burnt sugar, rhubarb and avocado just to name a few. I settled on a Thai coconut milk and bittersweet chocolate combo that night, and the rest was history. I was hooked.

{ a peek at a few of the fruity flavors, photo by Richard Cress courtesy of }

But here's the best part. Owners Stephanie and John Reitano craft their flavors seasonally and source local ingredients first, including milk from grass-fed hormone-free cows, from farms in nearby Lancaster County. And in the Italian tradition that inspired them, they make the gelato in small batches each morning. That's a sweet treat I can feel good about eating... Even if it is before noon.

{ a shot of my most recent Capogiro experience at Dujour Market in Haverford; Lancaster County mint with bittersweet chocolate }

One Step at a Time

At its simplest, food is a good thing. The right kind of food nourishes us, comforts us and sustains us. But right there, we’ve already run into a hitch. The right kind of food. It’s not always easy to define, and filling my shopping cart with it can be even trickier. Loosely, many of us define the “right kind of food” as Seasonal, Local, Organic and Whole, having also been raised humanely and with respect for the land. My preference would be to always buy this kind food straight from the farmer, warm from the sun and still covered in dirt. During the Pennsylvania growing season when our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share starts up, I’m lucky enough to do that. But when that isn’t an option, I find myself at Whole Foods.

It’s there, standing in the entrance, that the seemingly infinite number of nutritional philosophies, environmental factors, political motivators, personal food preferences and cost issues that influence my food choices overwhelm me. So much that I am left paralyzed at the door, shopping cart idling away from me as tornado of competing priorities whirs through my head. When I regain consciousness, I’m left frazzled and feeling guilty for not doing enough to support the local food economy that I badly want to help build. And this is just after considering the short list of food choices for myself and my family. At other times I worry about all of the other people who do not have the time, energy or resources to devote to sorting out the issues of where to shop, what to buy, and what they can afford. Granted, I come from a long line of worriers and it has been said that I worry too much. But I wonder if there are any of you out there with some of the same concerns?

In a recent short essay on Superhero Journal titled, “Good Enough,” writer Andrea Scher aptly points out that many of us don’t allow ourselves to be satisfied with what we have done, and instead end up focusing on everything that we haven’t done yet. The result is constant stress and a nagging feeling of never being “good enough.” In the case of eating healthfully and contributing to a local food economy it’s easy to be overwhelmed by this feeling. The obstacles standing in the way of a network of local, organic and environmentally responsible food economies are large. For this reason and others, buying seasonal, local, organic, whole foods 100% of the time is simply not an option for most people. But this shouldn’t mean that we can’t enjoy our food, or take pride in the steps we are taking to support sustainable food systems.

Which brings us to One Step at a Time. This Fresh category will introduce manageable steps to providing the healthiest food for ourselves and our families, supporting local producers of organic, humanly raised food and even improving our environment and access to good food for our wider communities. You may find some of these ideas doable for you or you may find that you already use many of them, in which case please share! Others you just won’t have time for, and that’s okay too. The reality is that a huge number of factors influence our food systems. To this end, some of us may be most comfortable writing a letter to our congress person about the change we want to see, while others prefer to shop at organic farmer’s markets and let their consumer dollars do the talking. Either way, by focusing on one step at a time and taking stock of what we’ve already done, we can let go of the “never having done enough” feeling and start enjoying our food. Because in the end, it really is a good thing.


Does this all sound familiar? Do you all have ideas or specific concerns that you would like for me to address in upcoming One Step at a Time posts? If so, feel free to share them below.