I have helped to make the arrangements for the food served at Council meetings for ten years. But the 2012 Critical Issues Seminar was different. In staff meetings leading up to the recent Eating Well: For Ourselves, For Our Neighbors, For Our Planet Critical Issues Seminar, one remark kept coming up. “We have to be sure to get the food we serve right.”
As a self-professed Southern foodie who grew up eating pork at practically every meal, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to meet the challenge. But with the help of others on the staff, I began to understand what getting the food right meant. We researched all of the caterers in the area, looking for cost efficient, reliable options. But this year, we added more criteria: organic, locally produced food that would be both delicious and healthy; environmentally friendly packaging; options for vegetarian and gluten-free requests; and nutritional information on the food prepared. California Fresh Catering quickly rose to the top of the list. We were impressed that their profits would go to other non-profits. And they did do a fantastic job.
After many phone calls and e-mails to work out the menu, we finalized a meal that met all of our criteria. The usual plastic packaging for their sandwich meals was changed to a paper bag. They provided a gluten-free option that even included a dessert of chocolate meringue kisses that were a special treat for guests who needed the gluten-free meal. Side dishes of a bean-corn salad and Moravian slaw were healthier alternatives to the usual chips or pasta salad.
Our sandwich choices used eggs from cage-free hens that are fed pure grains with no antibiotics; turkey raised in spacious conditions with fresh air and a healthy vegetarian diet with no hormones or artificial growth promotants; produce that was locally and naturally grown and pesticide free. The chicken salad was made with a low-fat alternative to mayonnaise; the pimiento cheese was made from cheese produced in Ashe County, North Carolina. And finally, each sandwich was served on fresh home-baked bread using all natural ingredients. Even the cookies and brownies in the meal were made with portion-control in mind.
In addition to the lunch, we changed our usual bagels and breakfast pastries to healthy granola bars. We also provided organic apples on each table at lunch. We tried to get each detail right, in keeping with all of the information being shared in the workshops during the day.
The night before the seminar, I was treated to a night out that included a meal from a fine restaurant. My husband and I were celebrating an anniversary and he wanted us to “eat well.” A quick glance at the menu told me this was indeed a fancy place. It featured choices like south Texas antelope, duck, foie gras, escargot and many other delicacies that could not possibly be local food. I also noticed that my meal was going to cost five times more than my seminar lunch the next day. When my meal arrived, it was so heavily sauced and seasoned that I found it unpalatable and I did not enjoy the food. In my mind, I was comparing the two examples of ‘eating well.’ I thought about the delicious, healthy, inexpensive, environmentally friendly meal to come that would far exceed what was before me.
Evaluations from attendees tell us that we did indeed ‘get it right.’ Thanks to all of the staff of the Council and California Fresh Catering who successfully illustrated what “eating well” is really all about.
–Rose Gurkin, Program Associate for Administration