Tag Archives: news

Goodbye Food Pyramid!

This past week, the USDA announced that it would be retiring its longstanding symbol of healthy eating, the Food Pyramid, in favor of a new, more family pleasing graphic, MyPlate.

In addition to the obvious shape and structure changes, the new MyPlate emphasizes fruits and veggies over the former Pyramid’s favoring of grains. The identifiable breakdown of a balanced meal relegates protein to side dish status and pushes the dairy component off the plate entirely. While exact serving size and categorization of food items is not immediately available on the new graphic, additional information is available on the USDA MyPlate site.

Proponents of the Plate criticize the Food Pyramid as incomprehensible to the average consumer. Translating the densely packed pyramid required a food preparer to pay strong attention to serving size, as well as keeping track of servings within servings of dishes. Translating the basic dietary guidelines to serve the average family allows everyone to understand the language of healthy eating.

Indeed, the plate is simple to understand, perhaps too simple, say some critics. How can the plate support healthy eating when little information beyond colorful blocks of generalized food groups are identified on the image? Criticism of the plate includes the complaint that the plate image gives no better understanding of what is considered healthy within each food group. Nutritious eating is far more complicated than its general categories may indicate, they argue, and the plate only misleads consumers. (Fruit juice, for example, contains natural sugars that metabolize in the body at rate similar to soda pop. Yet fruit juice can be considered a part of the “fruits” food group.)

Both sides make fair points. While daily nutrition is a far more complex issue than reflected on MyPlate, the new image is a step in the right direction for the USDA. They’re not claiming that this is the be-all, end-all of healthy eating directives. They simply wanted an image that would resonate in the kitchens of average consumers. While the Food Pyramid is something learned as a child and quickly disregarded, the Plate is a fairly easy ideal to put in place for every meal.

Still, I find myself agreeing mostly with USDA critics who dismiss the image of healthy eating as a minor issue in the fight for healthy eating. Even with a revitalized healthy eating campaign, the fact remains that for many, many Americans, a nutritious diet is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of economic status.

A great quote from Hank Cardello (and quoted in an opinion piece about the Plate in the LA Times) calls for a solution to one of the biggest obstacles in bringing fresh, healthy foods to populations who need them:

Perhaps there is another way to address the food desert dilemma. Instead of prompting grocers to enter unprofitable markets, why don’t we bring the inner city residents to the grocery stores? After all, there are over 30,000 supermarkets located in nearby suburban and non-rural areas. It’s just a question of finding an easy way to transport the shoppers.

Cardello’s point is apt: What good is an image defining a healthy manner of eating when the products themselves are not available to consumers? And encouraging grocery stores to open locations in markets that are financially unstable is a fool’s errand. But is the answer as simple as busing people out of the inner city to suburban markets? Would their income level jibe with the average prices in a suburban supermarket?

What do you think about the new MyPlate? Is the new image a tremendous step forward for healthy eating or is it missing the larger issues entirely?

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This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Eat Your Way Through the Neighborhood!

My feature on the Dormont-Brookline Patch this week is on Sylvia McCoy’s Burgh Bits and Bites Food Tours, specifically the fairly new Brookline tour, as well as the Dormont tour that is currently being planned for a summer debut. I sat down on Monday with Sylvia and Cory VanHorn, her intern designing the tour – as well as the genius behind the fabulous Culinary Cory blog – and it was an invigorating experience.

Why? Well, as a food blogger, it can sometimes feel like you’re making a whole lot of fuss out of something fairly mundane. It’s easy to feel at home when you’re immersed in the world of food writing (both print and online), but it’s tougher when you find yourself going on and on about the history of pierogi in Western PA and you suddenly realize that your dining companions are bored stiff. Even worse than boring, it’s very easy to feel bad about the amount of time you talk about food. Talking and writing about food can come off as trivial to those who concern themselves with matters of seemingly much greater importance. To be honest, when comparing and contrasting the topics, it’s a fair enough assessment. Who cares which Pittsburgh neighborhood has the most pizza places when the city is enduring socioeconomic troubles that threaten every aspect of living in the region?

Sitting down with folks who are invested in food history and knowledge the way that you are can be such a relief. Having Sylvia really sell me on the meles at Colangelo’s in the Strip District, or finding out that Cory shares my high opinion of Square Cafe, or even just knowing that if I recommended a place that they should try sometime, they would actively consider the recommendation… knowing that we shared this very fundamental common interest made for a really easy-going, engaging conversation. This may have been one of the easiest stories I have written for the Patch.

I highly recommend checking out the Burgh Bits and Bites. Sylvia is an extremely intelligent, warm person who I bet leads a hell of tour, and if Cory is any indication of the quality of her tour guides, the rest of the people involved with the tours must be just as friendly and knowledgeable as she is. As Cory said in our interview, “It’s a great way to be a tourist in your own city.” I, for one, can’t wait to try one.

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Sugar, Sugar!

So normally, I am about five steps behind the happenings around town. Recently, I’ve become more in the know about newly opening restaurants, the buzzed about places, the comings and goings of the food life in Pittsburgh. Yet, I’m never on top of a story.

Well, when you live down the street from a hotly anticipated, soon-to-open cafe, you keep your eyes peeled for signs of life. But how I found out that the Sugar Cafe was going to open on Friday morning wasn’t good scouting, but some terrific luck. My pal, Jackie, who lives right down the street from me on West Liberty Avenue, was walking back from my apartment on Broadway sometime after midnight on Thursday, when she spied that the slowly deteriorating paper shrouding the big windows of Sugar Cafe had finally been torn down. I received a text and that was that.

What a little blurb on the blog doesn’t tell you is that I have become borderline obsessed with this place. Okay, that’s a bit of a hyperbole. But for someone who has trouble working at home, it’s become a minor godsend. I get off the T a stop early at Potomac, stroll down to the cafe, have a cup of coffee, pastry (I’m just pretending that everything in the cafe is magic and doesn’t have calories), and sit down to write for a while. I know the whole thing of going to a cafe to write is seen as sort of pretentious, and maybe it is. You know what else it is? FRIGGIN SWEET.

For my first weekday evening in the cafe, I got to sit down with the owner, Kelly James, to discuss her fantastic opening weekend. I definitely suggest reading the article, but more importantly, I highly recommend the Sugar Cafe. Come by any weekday between 5:30 and 6:00, and you’ll likely me see there, typing and sipping away.

(Note: Article is not live on the site as of yet. I will update post when it is active.)

Sugar Cafe on Urbanspoon

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Neighborhood Options for Local Sweethearts on Valentine’s Day

I really need to get out of the habit of writing event or holiday – specific posts, but this week’s article on the Dormont-Brookline Patch focuses on neighborhood establishments that are offering a little something special for Valentine’s Day. If you live in the South Hills area and need a place to take your loved one on February 14th, definitely check out my article. It could be the difference between life AND death. Or, you know, it could just steer you to my favorite gyro restaurant in town, It’s Greek to Me on Brookline Boulevard. Either way…

As for my V-Day plans, I’ll be hanging with my partner and all will be swell. I don’t really go in for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a single-person bitterness thing, cause I’ve had plenty of relationships during the “holiday,” it’s just a sense of pointlessness that is too overpowering for me to enjoy the manufactured nature of the celebrations. Say what you will about the “commercialism” of Christmas, that time of year still seems to mean something more than what is given and received. That time of year has so much meaning to so many different people of the world, it seems ridiculous to dismiss it based off of American capitalist tendencies.

Whereas Valentine’s Day, although it is sweet that we have a day dedicated to the celebration of courtly love, is not even a traditional Christian holiday anymore. Why? Cause in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church presented the question: Who was St. Valentine, and why do we have a big ass holiday to honor him? And when they couldn’t come up with a good enough response (“…. he was… a martyr…?”), they decided that while it was all well and good that people were going to continue to celebrate the holiday, they would no longer honor it as an official church-sanctioned occasion. Good riddance, I say.

Still, I find the holiday a little unsettling in how it encourages people to save open expressions of love for a specific day of the year. Not that all who celebrate V-Day do that. As a matter of fact, most of the couples I know who do something special on February 14th are the kind of couples who are openly and expressively in love with one another. They don’t need the day to tell them to appreciate and celebrate their love, but they take it anyway, cause why the hell not?

But a holiday that at best is unnecessary and at worst a commercial waste of time, money, and intellect is not a holiday for me. Maybe I’m completely missing the full picture.

Anyone out there doing something special for Valentine’s Day?

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Filling Out Your Super Bowl Spread with Local Eats and Treats

As mentioned last week, I’ve become the food features writer for the Dormont-Brookline Patch. I eased into the position with a more straightforward piece about the struggling Dormont Fresh Market, but this week begins my recurring column, The Local Table.

The first Local Table focuses on what you can find in Super Bowl – appropriate foods right in the neighborhoods of Dormont and Brookline. Turns out there was way more than I could have ever directly featured, but this general overview serves to guide the reader through the deli, salty snacks, sweet treats, and miscellaneous delicious offerings of the many great food establishments we have in this part of town. Among the places visited: Pita Land, Kribel’s, Las Palmas, Potomac Bakery, Fredo’s, The Good Life Market, DeWalt’s World of Health, Party Cake Shop, Vinnie’s Pretzels…. and the list goes on.

If you’re getting ready for a Super Bowl party, or you’re just interested in where to find these things in the South Hills, check it out!

Check Me Out On the Dormont-Brookline Patch

I recently became a contributing writer for the Dormont-Brookline Patch, an online newsletter for the Dormont and Brookline neighborhoods. Started in early January, the site is steadily building a readership locally and in the surrounding Pittsburgh area, and I’m happy to be a part of the growth of this project.

My first article for the site has been posted. It’s a news feature on the struggling Dormont Fresh Market. If you live in or around the South Hills, or are just passing through via the Red Line T, do yourself and Cher Murphy a favor and stop by the market. She’s really built a store from a personal philosophy and is trying to bring fresh, affordable goods within reach of the entire community. The fact that she is struggling to sustain when so many people could benefit from her services is damn criminal, and an example of how communities fail their small businesses.

Click on the excerpt to visit the article!

Expecting a drop in business with the low foot traffic on Potomac Avenue, Murphy expected to make up the difference with grocery deliveries. The service, announced in October, is provided to Dormont, Brookline, and Beechview residents and is free for senior citizens. But aside from some loyal patrons, the service has yet to take off.

Now, disappointing in-store business is echoed by a delivery service that hasn’t yet justified the extra inventory it requires. Murphy predicts that if business doesn’t pick up soon, she will have no more than six weeks left.

Lunchtime Link: Bad News Day

The Post-Gazette ran a story today about the closing of Le Cordon Bleu Downtown and the potential effect it will have on local dining. Didn’t realize it had an effect on local dining? Psshaw:

Graduates of the 25-year-old program, previously known as the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, fill many of the top spots at notable restaurants around town, including Danielle Cain, executive chef at Soba in Shadyside; Kevin Sousa, chef-owner of Salt of the Earth in Garfield; Justin Severino, executive chef and partner at Elements, Downtown; and Richard DeShantz, chef-owner of Nine on Nine, Downtown.

Anyone else going to sincerely miss seeing the white-clad culinary students Downtown?