From the category archives:

Trends and Issues


By Kirsten Lee

America the Beautiful, written in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates, sings of amber waves of grain. Upon driving through Western Kansas in June, many sightseers will see field after field of this amber wheat. Wheat grown in Kansas has a rich background filled with stories of heritage and multiple settlements.

Wheat is not native to the Kansas plains and valleys. What is this story?

The railroad company used posters such as this to recruit immigrants to Kansas.

It begins in the 1700s when 25,000 German settlers moved into Russia along the banks of the Volga and Karaman rivers. The settlers were first attracted to Russia by Czars who promised independence and exemption from military services. They became known as Volga Germans. Their close-knit colonies flourished, maintaining strong German customs and language within the Russian prairie lands.

Volga Germans came to the United States in 1874 after much encouragement from Carl Bernhard Schmidt, a German-speaking Santa Fe railroad agent, and  the promise of farmland and free living accommodations from the Santa Fe Company which would assist them in settling in Russell, Rush, and Ellis counties.

After the Russian Czar Alexander II withdrew his promises, the German settlers were looking for such an opportunity as this, and took it.

Bring Russian plains agriculture to Kansas

With this move to Kansas, Volga Germans brought their years of experience in Russian prairie agriculture and expanded the wheat production exponentially in Western Kansas.

The Kansas Historical Society states that Volga Germans “In 1874 alone added an estimated one million dollars to the Kansas economy.” In June 1902 the Kansas City Star remarked upon their success saying, “They refute the statement so often heard in Kansas that a farmer cannot make money growing wheat alone. They have grown nothing except wheat for twenty-five years and are prosperous.”

Janice Dinkel, a professor of social work at Kansas State University, who shares this Volga German heritage and the desire of carrying on their traditions, stated that “with this mass production of wheat, many Volga recipes show flour and grains as a staple ingredient.”

Dinkel also stated that it was a norm to see larger families in Roman Catholic Volga communities. “Everything had dumpling, bread, or flour in it. This really allowed it to stretch and feed the many mouths of the family,” she said.

One recipe that Dinkel remembers is called Pudding and Dumplings, which she found to be “chocolate pudding served over dumplings.” “It was a Friday staple for my ancestors. Yuck! But it was cheap and since they couldn’t have meat on Fridays, it was what worked,” she said.

Professor keeps family food heritage alive

There were several other recipes Dinkel brought to the table. One was a family recipe for bierocks. Dinkel said that her Aunt Butch bequeathed the recipe to her and now it her responsibility to make them for every Christmas.

She said that one Christmas she tried something different with the recipe and her whole family knew it. “Believe me, they rejected it. I can’t get away with anything different. They are just that much of a tradition in our family.”

Another recipe Dinkel described was one for galuskies, also known as cabbage rolls.

In her family, these rolls are made for every Thanksgiving, which is once more a strong tradition that can’t be changed or knocked. These recipe calls for steamed cabbage leaves filled and rolled with a mixture of hamburger, pork, rice, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. After being prepared, the rolls marinate in a crock with sauerkraut for about an hour and a half.

“These rolls do not have the flour base, but they were known for being an inexpensive meal that still carried on the strong German ties of sauerkraut, pork, and hamburger,” she said.

Festivals dot the landscape

If one is not advantageous enough to try out one of the many Volga German recipes from scratch, one way for Kansans to get the taste of this delectable food heritage is to visit Hays Kansas for their Midwest Deutsches Oktoberfest, not to be confused with the Fort Hays State University Oktoberfest.

The Midwest Deutsches Oktoberfest Associates started this separate festival due to the digression from the original celebration of Volga German heritage, to a celebration surrounding the homecoming festivities of Fort Hays State University.

The Midwest Deutsche Oktoberfest is an annual celebration of the Germans from Russia heritage of Ellis and Rush County. Admission is free, and is held at Ellis County Fairgrounds. Festivities include abundant varieties of food booths, refreshments, beer, crafts, and activities for guests alike to enjoy.

As they state on their website www.midwestdeutschefest.com, “The immigrants who settled in this area during the 1870’s used recipes that evolved from Germany to Russia and now America.  Although some of the ingredients and names for the foods they prepared varied from village to village, if you had eggs, flour, potatoes and cream, then you could always make a delicious meal!”

Bierocks Family Recipe
From Janice Dinkel

For dough
2 ¼-ounce packages  yeast (proof with some of the water and a little sugar)
6 – 6 ½  cups flour
½ cup sugar + 2 tablespoons
2 cups warm water
2 eggs, well beaten
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter + 2 tablespoons, melted

Combine proofed yeast, 2 cups flour, sugar, water, eggs, salt and butter. Then add 4 to 4 ½ cups flour to make a sticky dough. Knead and let rise 45 minutes or until double.  Roll out a little thicker than a pie crust.  When ready to fill, cut in 3-to 5-inch squares.

“The filling consists of hamburger, finely chopped onions, cabbage, salt and pepper.  Sometimes I add garlic salt.  Cook all of this until the hamburger is browned and the vegetables are very soft.  Drain, drain, drain – filling can’t have much fluid in it when you put on dough,” Dinkel said.

Bake at 375 for about 20 to 22 minutes (golden brown).

Galuskies Family Recipe
From Janice Dinkel

1 large cabbage
1 pound ground beef, 85/15 lean to fat ratio
1/3 pound ground pork
1 cup rice
1 medium onion chopped fine
Garlic salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
2 pounds sauerkraut

Steam cabbage until outer leaves are soft.  Remove from pot and cut out core.  Remove soft leaves and return to pot to soften inner leaves, continue process.  Drain leaves.

Combine beef, pork, rice, onion, garlic salt and pepper. Shape into ovals.  Wrap ovals tightly in cooked cabbage leaves.

Put sauerkraut in large crockpot. Add cabbage rolls and cook until meat is done and rice is cooked, about 1 1/2 hours.

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By Ben Marshall

LENEXA – For two days in late June, the air near Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa fills with equal parts competitive spirit and sweet, hickory barbecue smoke.

A competitor grills his meat to perfection at the 2010 Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle.

Four Men and a Pig, Five Guys and a Grill and other cleverly named teams from across the country converge on the Kansas City suburb to put their sauces, rubs and meats to the test, vying for the title of Grand Champion of the Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle, Kansas State Champion.

Started in 1982, the Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle features live entertainment, children’s activities and a healthy dose of competition-quality barbecue samples.  This year’s event – the 30th annual – will be on June 24 and 25.

According to Dawn Grosdidier, assistant parks and recreation director, the Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle is one of the largest and longest-running competitions in the country.  In 2010, the contest hosted 195 teams and nearly 20,000 visitors.  This year, Grosdidier said she expects 200 teams to cook for around 240 judges – a far cry from the event’s humble beginnings.

Pat Dalton, long-time Lenexa resident and co-founder of the event, said the idea for the Lenexa Barbeque was born after he and friend Alan Uhl attended the second American Royal Barbeque in Kansas City, Mo., in 1981.

“As we were going through it, having a wonderful time, we said, ‘Wouldn’t this be a wonderful addition to the Lenexa Fourth of July celebration weekend?’” Dalton said.  “So we both agreed that if the city council would permit us, we would produce it.”

Dalton and Uhl appeared before the Lenexa City Council, received approval and, with the help of the city manager, started the contest.

“We drew up a set of rules for competition and got it going,” Dalton said.

The first barbecue was on July 3, 1982, and featured just 12 contestants and 12 judges.

As the event’s reputation grew so did its registration numbers.  Dalton said the number of contestants basically doubled each year – spurred in large part by then-Governor John Carlin who, on April 27, 1984, signed a proclamation declaring the Grand Champion of the Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle as the official Kansas State Champion.

When the event outgrew its original location, organizers were forced to move to another area of the park.  The barbecue eventually became such an undertaking that Dalton and Uhl needed assistance to keep it running.  After about eight years of managing it themselves, the founders sought more help from the city of Lenexa.

For two days each June, Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa transforms to a barbecuer's paradise.

By then, Dalton and Uhl’s initial set of rules also changed.  The Kansas City Barbeque Society – a national organization that sanctions hundreds of barbecue contests – officially sanctioned the Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle in 1994, giving it a standard set of rules and judging procedures.

“We have seven different categories and we have 10 places that we award in each of those seven different meat categories,” Grosdidier said.  “There’s brisket, chicken, sausage, pork ribs, pork, whole animal, miscellaneous.”

The contest also awards overall winners – third place, reserve grand champion and grand champion.  Grosdidier said winners receive a monetary prize and ribbons, and the grand champion gets a large banner denoting them as the Kansas State Champion.

“The effort to judge it properly has helped us grow a reputation for being an excellent competition,” Dalton said.

Special for the 30th anniversary celebration, each team will receive green aprons instead of white.  The event will also feature live musical entertainment both days – rather than just Friday night like in the past.  The Nace Brothers Band is set to play 7-10 p.m. Friday and 12:30-2:30 Saturday afternoon.  Grosdidier emphasized that while the Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle is a barbecue competition first and foremost, it is also a family-focused event.

“It’s a community event.  Our sponsors provide free samples, we have a band and various forms of entertainment, and we also have a children’s area with lots of games and activities for them,” Grosdidier said.  “We just like to make sure it runs smoothly and safely and everyone has fun.”

While Dalton is not as involved as he once was, he and Uhl still take part in the festivities.  On Saturday, the duo presents the Founder’s Trophy – an award given to a team who they think epitomizes what they believe every barbecue competition team should be like.

And, according to Dalton, there are a lot of worthy teams from which to choose.

“I think we are second to none in terms of the product that the contestants produce,” he said.  “I think the Lenexa barbecue contest is as good as any in the United States.”

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By Annarose Hart

“My little sister loved to eat coconut until she was 7 and her best friend Marcy told her she didn’t.”

Dr. Edgar Chambers IV, distinguished professor of sensory analysis and consumer behavior and director of Kansas State University’s Sensory Analysis Center, begins a story. Now Chamber’s little sister won’t touch the soft white flakes. A less abrasive way to experience peer pressure is through food and restaurant critics.

Food critics and restaurant reviewers are the privilege persons responsible for apprising culinary industry professionals for their ability to match talents with public demands.

Often food critics spread awareness about the next big thing in the culinary world. This happens before most people are willing to venture out for their own adventure.  The public trusts people who are skeptical and have clear, concise opinions. Therefore most widely recognized food critics tend to have a distinct attitude.

According to Chambers, “To be the best prepared food critic, you must have a sense of what other people would enjoy. Otherwise it is worthless to write about something that few people would agree with,” he said. Truly gifted reviewers have the talent to be objective and observant.

Chambers explained, “The movie Ratatouille is a classic example of a good restaurant critic. The critic was presented with a very simple, very basic dish. It was blended, not under or overcooked, and everything worked together.”

The meal doesn’t have to be fancy, but there must be an evident ingredient; focus.

Chambers elaborates on necessary questions to ask oneself as an objective critic, “Are the flavors blended together? Is everything cooked correctly and not underdone or over cooked? What is the texture? Does the dish grow and bloom in the mouth?” A reviewer must be trained in the art of observation, and have all senses elevated. He must record what crunches, sizzles, floats, and soothes.

There are many secrets to get a “wow” from the taste buds. “There has to be a lot of flavors, with an appropriate amount of time lingering on the senses,” Chambers said.

With great bloom, comes great food; Chambers has completed research on  preference of Italian Gelato or  American ice-cream.  Gelato is most popular by far.

Chambers thinks the reason is the level of authenticity. “With Italian Gelato the flavors are correct,” he said. Gesturing with his hands he added, “The flavors bloom in your mouth. After the first taste, you think, Ohhh! Pear!”

Every food critic and restaurant reviewer is on the quest to find dishes that pull all the correct senses together, to provide the reader with perfect flavors. Ultimately the critic peer pressures the reader to hop in their car, grab the subway and sit down at the table to cultivate their own perspective and sensory vocabulary.

Typically when people go to a restaurant, they want a step up from what they would be willing to create at home. People do not want something that could be sold at Taco Bell to be served at a high end Mexican restaurant.

A critic does not have the luxury of only trying one type of food and must learn to appreciate the wide breath of food there is to taste. It is a food critics mission to describe food for the qualities it possess, and can be nothing more than objective journalism, with a dash of creativity.

“A food critic must think of not only their own senses, but also the senses of foodies from every kitchen and hotdog stand around the world,” says Chambers.

Without these qualities, a critic is worthless.

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By Allie Coulter

“I don’t like seafood.” Dr. Edgar Chambers IV asked, so I told him.

Then he commented, “You must be from the Midwest. Many people around here do not enjoy seafood.” As a child I remember my parents fixing orange roughy and then forcing my sisters and I to eat it. Not only did I not enjoy the taste and texture but also the smell was enough to do me in.

The professor continued his interrogation.

“What did you eat yesterday?” he asked.

“Cereal.”

“What type of cereal? “

“Special K with chocolate.”

“What do you like about that cereal?”

“I like that it is crunchy, sweet, and it’s fast.”

Chambers, head of Kansas State University’s sensory analysis program, was illustrating a point. We choose to eat the certain foods for two reasons, he said. “First we decide whether or not we like it, and second what are the characteristics we like about the food.”

Food as rite of passate

Food can be seen as a rite of passage. Alcohol and coffee are examples, Chambers said. They may be seen as a sense of adulthood. The beverages may not necessarily be enjoyed the first time they are tried but with time evolve into something that is very much enjoyable.

Many factors come into play when we choose a food. For instance would you get a potato chip if it didn’t have the crunch? Probably not. This is because many products are linked to a certain characteristic that a consumer likes. The potato chip is known for its crunch, chocolate for its sweetness, and lemons for their sourness, Chambers explained.

How we taste is a deciding factor on what we put into our mouth. Chambers stated, “We don’t eat foods we don’t enjoy.” How do we decide what we like and what we don’t? Trial and error.

Food preferences change. When it comes to taste the individual decides what they like and what they don’t like. Then the characteristics of the food are divided into likes and dislikes. One person may like the fishiness of seafood while another person may not.

Chambers has a Ph.D. in sensory analysis and he studies the sensation of taste, smell, touch, and the other senses.

Tasting panel defines definitions

He uses a tasting panel to determine fine characteristics of food. For example, the panel tested a Pepsi product. It had a hint of citrus that consumers may or may not notice, Chambers said. The tasters investigated which of the 45 different types of lemon flavors ranging from lemon drop to furniture oil lemon they found in the soda.

In 2006 he was granted David R. Peryam Award. It is the highest award offered in his area of scientific research. He has worked on many research projects here in Manhattan, a few unconventional research projects in his lab included dog food testing, paper towel sniffing, and face feeling after a fresh shaved. The book Odder Jobs by Nancy Rica Schiff included these occupations. Those pages from the book were proudly framed in Chambers office.

Chambers wasn’t allowed in home economics courses as a kid growing up. Well, not that he wasn’t allowed, but he said “that the teacher would quit if he was let in.” So he joined 4-H. This is how he began exploring his interest in sensory analysis.

Exploring food is something Chamber encouraged he stated “eat as much as possible.”

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By Caitlin Adams

Rhonda Janke’s sustainability work began with her hands in the dirt. Playing and working outside was normal for Janke who grew up on a farm in Kansas. She lives, teaches and believes in the power of sustainability.

The farming experience Janke has led her to become an activist for sustainability. Finding less harmful alternatives to modern chemicals has become her passion. She carries out her passion at work and home with ranching, gardening, public policy reform and her specialty, an herb garden. She also looks at public policy on farming practices for solutions to the present-day problem of subsidizing unsustainable farming methods. The journey to her way of living started in childhood and continues as she gains resources and educates herself on sustainability.

Specializing in soil

Janke is an associate professor and extension specialist at Kansas State University in the Department of Horticulture, Forestry and Recreation Resources. Her areas of specialty include soil and water quality, medicinal herbs, alternative crops and sustainable cropping systems.

Although Janke grew up eating the food grown on the family farm, her parents did not practice organic farming. She grew up in the 1960s when chemicals were new and seen as the modern way of farming. Along with others from her generation, the professor questioned putting chemicals into her food. Her opinion of modern farming is different from her parents’, but the practical knowledge of farming she grew up with stays with her today.

Janke gardens for pleasure, too. She has 10 acres with fruit trees, vegetables, chickens, sheep, herbs, nuts, and flower and dye plants. She makes a small income from selling her crops, but really enjoys eating what she grows because she knows where it comes from and can share it with others.

The herb garden is a specialty of Janke. Basil, sage and oregano, which are cooking staples, were among her first attempts at organic herb gardening. She also grows medicinal herbs including her favorite, Echinacea, which supports the immune system. She heals herself of common ailments such as colds and sore throats with the herbs, which she has found to work better than pharmaceuticals. “Medicinal herbs work with your body to help it cure itself, rather than taking a toxin to kill an organism in your body,” She explains.  “Organic farming methods work with nature and take care of soil, rather than ‘fighting’ against pests,” she said.

Who stole the ‘green’ movement?

Janke is excited about the new “green” movement, but concerned about companies’ advertisements against companies with sustainable products. They promote misinformation about sustainability and organic farming. Janke cites one example:  “Industrial food is difficult to keep clean, and has been documented to have more pesticide residue, higher likelihood of E. coli contamination, etc. Opponents of organic food try to critique organic as being unsafe- when the exact opposite is true – it is safer.” She believes that consumers can vote for sustainable products by purchasing from reputable sustainable companies.

The government still supports the traditional way of farming by subsidizing chemical fertilizer and pesticides making it unrealistic for most farmers to be able to switch to organic farming. Janke supports this fact by saying, “Prices for fertilizers are still going up, but farmers will buy them as long as crop prices are high and/or the Farm Bill supports the prices.” She continues by explaining that until the price of organic farming compared to traditional farming is equal, most farmers will not consider changing their ways. Because of the lack of evidence of immediate negative effects, changing to sustainable farming is still out of reach.

Janke sees hope for the future as more consumers and farmers join in the sustainability movement. It will take time to change attitudes, but as the public changes their view, companies, the government and producers will start to take notice.

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By Kirsten Lee

The movie Star Wars, a common interest that was shared by Justin Kastner and Jason Ackleson, is what brought these multifaceted men together while attending college. Upon their galaxy formed friendship, they found other shared interests that overlapped in many regards to cover what is now within the Frontier program for the historical studies of border security, food security and trade policy.

In1998  Kastner and Ackleson founded the Frontier program, and in 2004, they  placed the formalizing touches to it. Kastner stated that the word “Frontier” was a play on words in that its literal meaning is to “cross or intersect borders”, but figuratively within the program it encourages students to “cross the frontiers of their disciplines and into others.”

Focusing of student field studies

The Frontier program is primarily a “scholarly community to provide students not only curricular educations, but experiential educations as well.” Within the program, students are able to attend “field studies” in which they get to experience firsthand what international trading, border security, and food security are all about, explained Kastner, assistant professor in food safety and security.

Field studies have included trips to Boston to see a working trading port, a visit to the Mexican border to see the livestock trade and how it’s handled, and to Washington DC for training in food safety and security.

Edward Nyambok, a graduate student at Kansas State University, spoke about field studies that he has attended within the program. In Wisconsin students and specialists exchanged knowledge in food safety at the international, regional, and state levels. They dissected the complexity of the food chain found within the United States and explored the extent in which it requires international efforts of public and private partnerships to secure the U.S. food supply.

The trade and security complexity of a hamburger

Nyambok recalled a firm image representative of the complexity of international food trade and security.

The image was of a hamburger.

Nyambok recounted the quote underneath this image:  “the ingredients in one hamburger come from upwards of twenty or more different suppliers from countries around the world.” He laughed and said that the number of countries involved in such a small unit of food was unimaginable to his mind at that time. Yet, this image has proven very steadfast in his dealings with the subject matter in his current studies.

The current climate change is a topic much discussed within the Frontier program at this time. Kastner and Nyambok study how the changes affect the world’s food security.

Math and climate change

Nyambok is a firm believer in the current climate change, but knows that there is much debate surrounding the issue. Climate change has caused mass flooding in Australia, and the winter cold front that swept across the majority of the United States and concluded that these types of climate changes affect developed countries, and undeveloped countries in terms of purchasing power, he said.

Nyambok then used simple math to illustrate what purchasing power is to a country.

He laid out the basics first. “Countries have one hundred dollars to spend on food. In one country, food is more expensive because it’s less available; therefore that country spends fifty dollars of their allotted one hundred on food. In the other country, food is less expensive because it is more readily available; therefore that country spends ten dollars of their allotted one hundred on food. This makes the country that spends ten dollars on food the one with the greater purchasing power due having more disposable income.”

“Underdeveloped countries that undergo a climate change may have fewer crops produced because of it and this affects their food security. Due to this, the country also ends up having less purchasing power, which leads to food increasing in expense, which in turn decreases food security in the country even more. It is really a vicious cycle.”

This illustration along with others that were shared did bring round to the fact that the subjects of border security, food security, and trade policy all intertwined do make for a very complex subject at hand.

Kastner hopes that the students today will help create learning experiences for students of the future.

“The lights are on because of students,” he said, adding that it’s the professor’s job to educate and lead the student to the best sources of experience.

Through this program the student learns that it’s not just about him but ultimately the Frontier programs goal is to see what goes into the student come out of the student in regards to touching the world around them.

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By Kelly Leonard

KANSAS CITY – Under the guidelines of the National School Lunch Program Flamin’ Hot Cheetos qualify for inclusion in children’s school lunches, but locally sourced tofu, a product that has considerably more to offer nutritionally than the Cheetos, is not allowed on the children’s plates.

Since Kiersten Firquain started Bistro Kids, a farm-to-school lunch program located in Kansas City, she has come up against the counterintuitive rules and complex politics involved with school lunches of which most of the American public is unaware.

Firquain trained as a chef at a culinary school in Napa Valley, California, and holds a master’s degree in business. She established Bistro Kids four years ago when she witnessed first-hand the poor quality of lunches her son was given at school.

Known as a “farm to school” program, Bistro Kids partners with Good Natured Family Farms, an alliance of more than one hundred farmers that are located within a 200-mile radius of Kansas City, to provide locally sourced, antibiotic and hormone free milk and meat, and organic fruits and vegetables to schools located in Kansas and Missouri.

Firquain is on a mission to bring this healthful food to as many kids as possible; however, many conflicting interests are involved in school lunches, making change difficult.

Since the establishment of the National School Lunch Program in 1946, politics have been inextricably linked with the mission of providing meals to children.

As Quentin Burdick, a senator from North Dakota in the 1960s summed it up, “The entire nation gains from this program because it helps assure a strong, well-fed youth, a larger income for the farmer, a huge market for the food trades…constructive outlets for abundant commodities, a well-nourished student who is more receptive to instruction and a healthier nation.”

The program wasn’t just established to provide nutritious meals to students; it also was a way for the agriculture industry to distribute surplus commodities such as meat, dairy, and processed foods which often resulted in a limited and inconsistent choice of foods for the schools.

From 1946 to 1972, children who paid to participate in the National School Lunch Program were served a hot lunch with the major food groups; however, the composition of the meals drastically changed when the concept of free and reduced price lunches was introduced in order to subsidize poor children’s lunches.  With less paying children and not enough assistance from the federal government, local school districts had a shortfall in their lunchroom budgets.  As a result, they turned to the private food industry to help cover the shortfall. At the same time, the United States Department of Agriculture lowered the school lunch standards, famously allowing ketchup to be considered as a vegetable.  Privatization, fast-food, and the introduction of national brands altered the composition of school lunches and might explain the presence of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on a school lunch tray.

Fast forward to 2011 and one in three children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Parents and schools are searching for solutions to reverse that alarming trend.

Firquain founded Bistro Kids to hopefully become one of those solutions.

The program provides, as Firquain puts it, “healthy takes on kid-friendly favorites” such as Macaroni and Cheese and Bison Sloppy Joes.  Each school has its own chef that tailors the menu to fit the students’ taste preferences.  Not only that, but Bistro Kids also provides hands on cooking classes, nutrition education in the classroom, field trips to the farms it partners with, and a school garden.

A day at the Oakhill Day School in Gladstone, Missouri provides an example of the Bistro Kids’ experience.  Lunch on “Fun Fridays” consists of a salad bar with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The menu also includes baked Parmesan chicken, and the kids swear that it is better than any they have tasted in Italian restaurants.

During a nutrition education class given by Chef Mark Zukaitis, Jr., third graders gobble up “beet sticks” and help make a bulgur wheat salad with beet leaves, spinach, fennel and peppers.  One third grader proclaims, “Spinach is one of my favorites!”

Responses from the parents, the kids, and the teachers at the schools Firquain services have been overwhelmingly positive; however, she has faced some challenges in getting the program into more schools. Her meals cost twice the federal reimbursement which is currently around $2.89.  Although many of the schools that participate in Bistro Kids make up that shortfall with grants, that cost would be prohibitive for most public schools.

Also, Firquain feels that changes need to come from the top down in school districts instead of grassroots efforts.  Firquain faced this with her own son’s parochial school, the source of inspiration that sparked the development of Bistro Kids.  Even with broad parental support, she was unable to get the school to participate in her program due to resistance from the administration.

She has also faced issues with the National School Lunch Program standards, of which she must meet in order to service schools with over 60 percent of students receiving free and reduced price lunches.  Her voice filled with frustration describing clashes with a state administrator over allowing veggie burgers and the aforementioned tofu to be served.

She currently has the capabilities to add one to two new schools a year but plans on partnering with a large company that will allow her to expand even more rapidly.

Firquain faces an uphill battle to change the landscape of American school food.  Industries, such as the food service and agriculture industry, with powerful resources and interests other than providing the healthiest meal for children have been involved in the National School Lunch Program since the beginning and won’t give up their lucrative toehold easily.

But Firquain feels she’s up to the challenge of meeting her mission “to feed as many kids as possible healthy, organic meals.”

For more information about the program, visit www.bistrokids.com.

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