By Mike Lauterborn
(For Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – Meat eaters, tofu munchers, young and old. They were all gathered together to learn about, prepare and share healthy food choices.
Held early Wednesday evening at Roger Ludlowe Middle School, “Feeding the Mixed Table”, a free program aligned with Fairfield Library’s One Book One Town effort, addressed how to cook healthy and tasty food that both omnivores and vegetarians could enjoy. About 20 people pre-registered for the session, which was conducted in the school’s Food Lab. Robin Glowa, a self-described passionate food professional, health counselor certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and columnist, led the activity.
“The main book selected for our One Book One Town program is ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer,” said Nicole Scherer, Head of Teen Services at Fairfield Library and Chair of the One Book One Town campaign, “and one of its prime concerns is food and family participation when someone’s diet changes. In this case, the author became a vegetarian. He raised a lot of questions about the role of food and family. These days, more and more young people are deciding to become vegetarians, which can cause stress at the family table, especially if parents remain omnivores.”
Scherer said that Cheryl Beatty, a librarian at Roger Ludlowe and One Book One Town committee member, came up with the idea for the evening’s program and called in Glowa to help suggest meal solutions.
“We’re not here to tell people to stop eating meat, but to try and incorporate more vegetables, beans, etc. into their diet once or twice a week,” said Glowa. To this regard, she distributed recipes to the group for several healthy food options: double bean burritos, mixed vegetarian minestrone, ancient Aztec quinoa salad, double tomato bruschetta, fruit salsa and cinnamon chips, and vegan dark chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache. Attendees, the majority of whom identified themselves as meat eaters, were then divided into five teams and assumed separate cooking stations.
The Pierz family of Fairfield – Robbin, husband Walter and daughter Lindsey – chose to make cupcakes. They were prime targets for the talk.
“I’ve been an on-and-off vegetarian for 20 years and, last January, Lindsey decided to become a pescatarian,” said Robbin.
“I end up making my own dinner – chicken, beef, barbecue,” said Walter.
“I’m hoping to get Walter to take vegetarianism more seriously, as a lifestyle possibility,” said Robbin.
Others, like Liz Beardsley of Shelton, just wanted to know about healthy options. “I’m interested in learning more about holistic, natural and vegetarian cooking from someone with the qualifications Robin has,” she said.
As the chop chop of kitchen knives began, steam curled from pots and ingredients were stirred in bowls, Michelle Flashman, liaison for the Family and Consumer Sciences department at Roger Ludlowe, hopped from group to group to provide assistance.
“It’s really been over the last few years that we’ve adopted a whole foods curriculum,” Flashman said. “Ancient grains and lean proteins are what we talk about. This aligns well with our programming.”
Chopping fresh basil for bruschetta, Samantha Heilweil of Fairfield, said a recent film steered her to healthier food choices.
“Ever since I saw the movie ‘Food Inc.’, I haven’t been able to eat a hamburger or farm raised food,” she said. “I’m happier eating more organic foods.”
As all the cooking aromas mixed together in the room, Glowa exclaimed, “It’s really starting to smell great in here! Look at that beautiful basil!”
Mariko Bender of Trumbull, who was born and raised in Fukushima, Japan, which had been stricken by a recent earthquake and tsunami, was just glad to have something else to occupy her for a little while than worries about family there.
“I try to choose healthy food,” she said, preparing quinoa salad, “and often go to Catch a Healthy Habit Café here in town. I try not to eat too much meat, but it’s challenging to translate that to my family. My husband is a big meat eater.”
Debra Jones, a social studies teacher at Roger Ludlowe, was enjoying the social aspect of the gathering. “How great is this? I’ve spent an hour with these people and I could write their life story,” she said. “We’ve been cooking and chatting up a storm.”
As they finished their creations, the teams set them out on platters at their stations and grabbed plates and bowls to go around and secure a small portion of each menu item.
“This is the best part of the whole event,” said Bender. “I’m hungry!”