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June 2004

Laptop Lunch Times: June 2004

June 2004

June is here! Don't forget to set aside some time for a picnic with friends and family.

The school year is coming to a close, and the kids are anxious for summer vacation to begin. The farmers' markets are getting into full swing here in Santa Cruz, and there's much more fresh local produce available. And--speaking of produce--we recently learned something new that we'd like to share with you.

You know those irritating little stickers you find on fruits and vegetables? Well, as it turns out, the numbers on those stickers contain valuable information. If the sticker has a four-digit number, the fruit or vegetable was conventionally grown. If it's organic, it has a five-digit number beginning with 9. Genetically modified products have stickers with five-digit numbers beginning with 8. Now, that's good to know!


In this issue, you'll find:

  • Picnic Menus
  • Bulk Bin Basics
  • Denver Stores: The Bookies Bookstore and The Tattered Cover Bookstore
  • Laptop Lunches: A Kit for Mobile Meals (The Washington Post, 4/5/04)
  • Alice Waters--Slow Food, Slow Schools: Transforming Education through a School Lunch Curriculum
  • Featured Web site:
  • What works...Success Stories

Picnic Menus

Need to throw together a (waste-free) picnic in record time? Try some of these quick and easy ideas!

#1: Fresh Feast

  • Steamed edamame (whole soy beans in the pod), cooled
  • Veggies & Dip--carrots, red bell peppers, green beans, and cucs with dip
  • Low-fat cheese plate with whole-grain bread or crackers
  • Watermelon, cut up.

#2: Salad Spread

  • Four bean salad--Steam green beans and add to 1 (drained) can each of kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans. Add 4 tbs. sliced red onion. Toss in mustard vinaigrette dressing. (2 tsp Dijon-style mustard, 3 tbs balsamic vinegar, 2 tbs olive oil, and 1 tbs water)

  • Tomato Salad--Slice fresh tomatoes into thick slices. Top with fresh basil leaves, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and grated parmesan cheese.
  • Sliced whole-wheat bread topped with goat cheese.
  • Fruit salad--Cut up fruits of different colors and textures and sprinkle with fresh orange juice. Apples, oranges, melon, bananas, blueberries and peaches work especially well together.

#3: Yogurt Party

  • Nonfat yogurt
  • Fresh organic fruit or fruit salad
  • Low-fat granola (buy in bulk!)
  • Tamari roasted almonds
  • Herbal iced tea or iced barley tea

Bulk Bin Basics

Purchasing from bulk bins is a great way to save money and reduce the amount of packaging you send to the landfill.

Here's why more and more people are shopping in the bulk section...

  • It's cheaper. A typical shopper spends 2 of every 10 dollars on packaging.

  • It creates less trash. It has been estimated that packaging makes up 1/3 of all trash thrown away in the US About 15% comes from consumer products.

  • It's flexible. Buy in the quantity that's right for you--what you know you will eat. Since you won't need to store foods for a long time, you can buy products that are preservative-free.

  • It saves trees. Buying in bulk eliminates paper and cardboard packaging.

  • It reduces the need for petroleum products such as disposable plastic containers.

  • It prevents toxic dyes, inks, plastics, and other manufacturing chemicals from entering the environment.

Here are a few bulk bin buying tips:

  • Read bulk labels carefully. Just because it's in a bulk bin, doesn't mean it's good for you. Look at the ingredients label and the nutrition label of every item before deciding whether or not to buy.

  • Reuse your plastic containers, plastic (or cloth!) bags, and even your twist ties. Keep them in the car so you won't forget them. (Make it part of your shopping ritual. After all, would you even consider going to the store without your wallet?)

  • Buy in reasonable quantities. Don't buy more that you can (or should) eat!

  • Buy organic whenever possible.

  • Buy locally grown products whenever you can.

  • Look for whole-grain products.

  • Favor unsulphured dried fruits. They taste better and they're better for you. Since they do not contain preservatives, buy only what you know you will eat.

  • Buy (unsalted) nuts. Although they're high in fat and calories, they reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Think outside the box. Look around your natural foods store to see what items they carry in bulk--and make the switch. Many stores offer more than just spices, spice mixes, coffees & teas, nut butters, grains, beans, cereals, and snacks. Look for health & beauty products, cleaning products, and soaps & shampoos.

  • Purchase pet food in bulk.

  • Use bulk shopping as an opportunity to teach your children about packaging, marketing, pricing, and nutrition. Teach them to evaluate purchases based on the quality and quantity of food and not on colorful, landfill-bound packaging.
  • Involve your children by encouraging them to help scoop, label, count, and weigh bulk purchases.
  • Fine-tune your own buying habits. What do you base your purchasing decisions on? What, if anything, would you like to do differently?

  • Take your own grocery bags to the store when you go shopping. When you're asked whether you'd like paper or plastic, the answer--"neither"-- will make you feel good.

  • Remember, 25% to 50% of a product's cost goes to packaging and marketing. If you buy in bulk, you eliminate these costs.

  • Don't forget to pack bulk items in your Laptop Lunch for school, work, camp, and summer picnics!!

A special thanks to Kai Conners at Sunridge Farms, purveyors of award-winning organic and natural foods, for providing us with these bulk bin tips! For more information, visit the Sunridge Farms Web site at

Laptop Lunches in Denver

If you're looking for Laptop Lunches in the Denver area, check out these fine stores:

Time for summer camp!

The Bookies Bookstore
4315 East Mississippi Avenue, Denver
Telephone: (303) 759-1117

(The Bookies Bookstore has books and gifts for everyone: teachers, parents, children, grandparents. Everything is discounted, so stop in for a good deal!)

Tattered Cover Bookstore (Cherry Creek)
2955 East First Avenue, Denver
Telephone: (303) 322-7727

Tattered Cover Bookstore (LoDo)
1628 16th Street, Denver
Telephone: (303) 436-1070

Support these independent booksellers by passing this information on to your friends and relatives in the Denver area!

Laptop Lunches in the News

The Washington Post (April 25, 2004)

"Paper bags leak, take-out styrofoam is sloppy and dashboards make for treacherous tabletops. Even airplane meal trays are one bump away from disaster. To make in-flight or roadside dining a more civilized affair, Laptop Lunches offers a square meal, literally. The deep plastic container pops open to expose five colored ones -- like a Bento box made by Lego -- and a slot for a metal spoon and fork (included). The varied sizes allow for a balanced meal: The larger tubs can fit a small salad or about six sushi rolls, the medium-sizers a scoop of fat berries or a hill of jelly beans, and the baby of the bunch can hold dressings or dips."

--Andrea Sachs, Travel Editor

What Works...Success Stories

  • "I am very impressed by your service and will be sure to tell admiring moms to go to My kids are ages one and four, and I have two of the lunch boxes for them. We all share our packed lunch, so when we go out we're saving money on food and eating healthy. They love the variety and colors, and the boxes even fit inside their character insulated lunch totes, so they can have it all! "

       --Kathy Andres, Columbus, OH


  • "Thanks for the newsletter. I always look forward to recipes, information about how people are changing systems (especially schools), and environmental reminders."

       --Sarah Geschke , Spokane, WA

Do you have a success story to share? Email it to us at [email protected].

Slow Food, Slow Schools

Transforming Education through a School Lunch Curriculum

Delivered by Alice Waters
at the Slow Food International Congress
Naples, Italy
October 2003

NOTE: This piece is longer than most pieces we publish in the Laptop Lunch Times. We've included it because it's well worth the read. Find a quiet moment when you can sit down and truly enjoy what she has to say.

For me life is given meaning and beauty by the daily ritual of the table--a ritual that can express tradition, character, sustainability, and diversity. These are some of the values that I learned almost unconsciously at my family table as a child. But what beliefs and values do today's children learn at the table? And at whose table do they dine?

The family meal has undergone a steady devaluation from its one time role at the center of human life, when it was the daily enactment of shared necessity and ritualized cooperation. Today, as never before in history, the meals of children are likely to have been cooked by strangers, to consist of highly processed foods that are produced far away, and are likely to be taken casually, greedily, in haste, and, all too often, alone.

I believe public education must help restore the daily ritual of the table in all our children's lives. Public education has the required democratic reach. And it desperately needs a curriculum that offers alternatives to the fast-food messages that saturate our contemporary culture. These messages tell us that food is cheap and abundant. That abundance is permanent; that resources are infinite; that it's okay to waste; that standardization is more important than quality; and that speed is a virtue above all others.

Fast food values are pervasive (especially in poor communities) and often where they least belong. The Museum of Natural History, for example, celebrates the astonishing diversity of world cultures, the beauty of human workmanship, and the wonders of nature. It even houses an impressive collection of artifacts relating to food: tools and depictions of hunting, foraging, agriculture, food preparation, and the hearth.

But in the museum cafeteria, crowds of people queue up in a poorly lit, depressing space as if in a diorama of late-twentieth century life, surrounded by that unmistakable steam table smell of pre-cooked, portion-controlled food. In this marvelous museum, surrounded on all sides by splendid exhibits that celebrate the complexity of life and the diversity of human achievement, people appear to have stopped thinking when it comes to their very own everyday experience. People appear to be oblivious that the cafeteria represents the antitheses of the values celebrated in the museum.

Yet a museum cafeteria could have delighted the senses. It could have been beautiful and made you think. It could have served delicious meals in ways that teach where food comes from and how it is made. And when you returned your tray you could have learned something about composting and recycling. You could even have a little friendly human interaction, had the cafeteria been designed to encourage it. It could have inspired you to head out of the museum and see the world in a different way. Instead it was like a filling station.

Our system of public education operates in the same strange, no-context zone of hollow fast-food values. Maurice Holt, professor emeritus of the University of Colorado, has observed that public education today has little philosophical grounding and is relatively unconcerned with tradition and character. In school cafeterias, students learn how little we care about the way they nourish themselves-we've sold them to the lowest bidder. Soda machines line the hallways. At best we serve them government-subsidized agricultural surplus, at worst we invite fast food restaurants to open on school grounds. Children need only compare the slickness of the nearest mall to the condition of their school and the quality of its library to learn that they are more important as consumers than as students.

What we need is a systematic overhaul of education inspired by the Slow Food movement. This is exactly what Maurice Holt has proposed. "Slow Schools" would promote community by allowing room for discovery and room for paying attention. Concentration and judgment and all the other slow food values that testing cannot measure would be given a chance to flourish.

How do we begin to turn the public schools into slow schools? The Edible Schoolyard at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, in Berkeley, California, provides a hopeful model. King School is a public school with about 1,000 students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. It is an astonishingly diverse group, socially, economically, and culturally-over twenty languages are spoken in the students' homes. A decade ago, this school was surrounded by large schoolyard covered with blacktop. The school's cafeteria had been closed because it was no longer large enough to accommodate all the students. Microwaved, packaged food was sold from a shack at the end of the parking lot.

Members of the community dismayed by the state of the school began speaking with other parents and teachers. We noticed that the blacktop schoolyard was large enough for an enormous garden and talked about initiating an edible landscape. We suggested that the students could plant and care for a garden and even learn to cook, serve, and sit down and eat together in a renovated cafeteria and lunchroom. These ideas would have been nothing more than well-intentioned fantasies had King School not had an enlightened principal. He understood that a new school garden and a renovated cafeteria and lunchroom meant more than just the beautification of school grounds. He understood that these were the central elements of a revolution in both the lunch program and the entire school curriculum.

Presently the Edible Schoolyard consists of a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen-classroom. In the garden, students are involved in all aspects of planting and cultivation; and in the kitchen-classroom, they prepare, serve, and eat food, some of which they have grown themselves. These activities are woven into the curriculum and are part of the school day. A new ecologically designed cafeteria is being built and the program is preparing for the transformation of the school lunch program. When the cafeteria has been built, lunch will be an everyday, hands-on experience and an essential part of the life of the school.

Such a curriculum is not a new idea in education. Waldorf schools and Montessori schools, among others, practice similar experiential, value-oriented approaches to learning based on participation. This kind of participatory learning makes all the difference when it comes to opening minds. The Edible Schoolyard, for instance, has shown that if you offer children a new dish, there's no better than a fifty-fifty chance they will choose it. But if they've been introduced to the dish ahead of time, and if they have helped prepare it, they will all want to try it.

Learning is supposed to be a pleasure, and a food-centered curriculum is a way to reach kids in a way that is truly pleasurable. At first, the kids may not quite believe that they are allowed to have so much fun outside in the garden. But before long, they all know what compost is. And all know what's ripe and what's not ripe, and when. This is knowledge they have learned without realizing it from experiences like picking the raspberry patch clean every morning. While they are touching, and smelling, and tasting, so much information floods in-because they are using all of their senses. What better way to learn about geography than by combining twenty seven aromatic spices to make an Indian curry?

This is the beauty of a sensory education: the way all the doors into your mind are thrown wide open at once. The senses are also truly the great equalizer. They are the key to a beautiful life, a really fulfilling life, and they are available to anybody.

A slow school education is an opportunity that should be universally available--the more so because kids aren't eating at home with their families anymore. In fact, in the United States, many children never eat with their families (an observation confirmed by our experience at King School). Our most democratic institution, the public school system, now has an obligation to feed our children in a civilized way around a table. And students should be asked to participate--not just as a practical life exercise, but as a way of putting beauty and meaning into their lives.

There are countless ways to weave a food program into the curriculum at every level of education. The creation of the Slow Food University clearly shows the seriousness and wide reach of an eco-gastronomic perspective. The depth and breadth of the subject--its relevance in ecology, anthropology, history, physiology, and art--assures it could easily be integrated into academic studies of every school, from the kindergarten to the university.

If every school had a lunch program that served its students only local products that had been sustainably farmed, imagine what it would mean for agriculture. Today, twenty percent of the population of the United States is in school. If all these students were eating lunch together, consuming local, organic food, agriculture would change overnight to meet the demand. Our domestic food culture would change as well, as people again grew up learning how to cook affordable, wholesome, and delicious food.

To make this a reality we need more model programs at all levels; when these models are good enough, we will have the momentum to seek the mandate and the money to make them a reality throughout the country. We know from experience that it can be done.

Forty years ago, a presidential commission in America told us our children were physically unfit and that we had to launch a national physical fitness program. The country responded by building gymnasiums, buying equipment and training new physical education teachers, and by making physical education a required part of the curriculum in every school. Today we are worried anew over the health of our children. Child obesity is on the rise, and at the present rate of increase, one out of every three children can be expected to develop diabetes. We must respond by bringing real food, nutritious food, back into the schools and into the curriculum. We must create new incentives for educators to integrate real food into the lives of their students. Perhaps the best and most radical way to do this is to give credit for school lunch, just as credit is given for physical education or for math or science. This would add a new dimension of integrity to the lunchroom, placing it on a par with the classroom, and breathing new life and dignity into learning how to eat.

What we are calling for is a revolution in public education-a real Delicious Revolution. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.

Alice Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. Over the last three decades, Chez Panisse has cultivated a network of local farmers who share the restaurant's commitment to sustainable agriculture. In 2001, Chez Panisse was named best restaurant in the United States by Gourmet Magazine. Alice Waters initiated the Edible Schoolyard project in 1995 which incorporates her ideas about food and culture into the public school curriculum. She is author of eight books, the most recent of which is Chez Panisse Fruit (HarperCollins, 2002).

For more information on the Edible Classroom at King School in Oakland, CA, visit

Featured Web Site:

Do you have something that you don't want? Are you looking to get something for free or at a minimal cost? Our local Santa Cruz materials exchange program at is just one of many programs worldwide. They've got everything from supplies and equipment for your office to horse manure for your garden. At Obentec we've found lots of great items for free, including slightly used shipping envelopes and boxes. By using a materials exchange program, you'll keep usable items out of the landfill, and it's a great way to lower your costs. To see if there's a materials exchange program in your area, visit and click on "materials exchanges" in the lower left-hand corner.

July Highlights

Wholesome travel menus, gardening tips, and eco-travel resources!

Comments, questions, concerns? Please email us at [email protected].

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June 2004, by Obentec, Inc.


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