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Published: Sunday, 4/5/2009

Speaking of food

Amelia Contreras, left, author Marion Nestle, and Paula Ross, founder of Slow Food Maumee Valley, at a dinner party in Mrs. Ross' home. Amelia Contreras, left, author Marion Nestle, and Paula Ross, founder of Slow Food Maumee Valley, at a dinner party in Mrs. Ross' home.

Food has a way of bringing together people from all walks of life.

The University of Toledo Women and Sustainable Agriculture Series is no different: the programs are bringing students, faculty, Toledo residents and consumers, food celebrities, and food activists to the same table.

The series recently featured a keynote address by world-renown food expert Marion Nestle and a sustainable dinner with the help of Toledo s Slow Food, using produce from the Chef s Garden in Huron, Ohio. Upcoming events will feature global and organic food presentations.

Best of all, a campus garden is being planned.

When Ms. Nestle spoke at the University of Toledo Women and Sustainable Agriculture Series last month, a dinner was held at the home of Paula Ross and her husband, John Ross. Mrs. Ross, who is the founder of Slow Food Maumee Valley, enlisted the culinary expertise of Slow Food member Amelia Contreras of Egg and Honey cooking services.

Mrs. Ross purchased fresh produce from Lee Jones of the Chef s Garden for the dinner for 30 guests, including Ms. Nestle.

This event is bringing people together who have the same interest, said Ashley Pryor that night. She is UT associate professor of women s and gender studies, and organized the series with assistant professor of environmental sciences Ann E. Krause and Stacy M. Philpott, assistant professor of environmental sciences with a $16,000 Strategic Enhancement Award.

The film series related to food and agriculture with a focus on how women are affected by the large farm system, she said.

Paula Ross makes a plate of endive with dip for her dinner party for author Marion Nestle and other guests. Paula Ross makes a plate of endive with dip for her dinner party for author Marion Nestle and other guests.

Talking food

Attending the dinner were members of the University of Toledo faculty, including nutrition instructor and registered dietitian Debra Boardley, researcher Jonathan Frantz of the USDA, Slow Food member Michael Szuberla of Toledo Grows, Lucy Long of Bowling Green State University, who specializes in folklore and foodways, and Katie Bibish, a Toledo native and Russian food expert who works for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Slow Food brings local knowledge about food, said Ms. Pryor. When you eat those little radishes you can taste good food.

We want to talk about how we change our habits for sustainability and how we can promote small businesses such as the Phoenix Food Co-Op and Organic Bliss.

Also attending was Lee Jones of the Chef s Garden, which specializes in gourmet produce for high-end chefs nationwide. The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan offers agri-culinary experiences in a top venue. With all of these resources available to northwest Ohio, more focus on women s local and global agricultural issues is the dream of the organizers.

The program

Ms. Nestle, author of What To Eat and Food Politics, brought a unique perspective as keynote speaker at the lecture at UT Memorial Field House. She talked about agriculture, food, nutrition, and public health as it relates to obesity and food safety. There was no shortage of examples for the audience in the full auditorium of how food is everywhere. When did it become OK to eat in bookstores? she asked.

She cautioned that nutritionism should not be a distraction from the number of calories in a food product, even though companies use health claims to sell them. In trying to market, companies set up their own system of evaluating nutrition, she said.

With all the food recalls of the past few years, there is more and more interest in locally grown foods. Food has become a social movement. But there s also the personal responsibility of eating food in smaller portions, buying local food, cooking at home, and teaching kids to cook.

Upcoming events

The organizers of the series and other interested UT faculty will establish a UT Outdoor Classroom Garden, which is pending approval. The garden will be planted on the main campus and will be a space open to the campus community with student volunteers, according to Ms. Philpott. Composting, food preservation, and urban homesteading will be taught. For information, contact stacy.philpott@utoledo.edu.

On April 15, Catherine Badgley of the University of Michigan will speak about how organic food can feed the world.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be at 7:30 p.m. in Room 1045 of the Bowman-Oddy Laboratories on the UT campus.

Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor.

Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.

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