A Fine Night of Dining for a Fine Cause

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a dinner dedicated to bringing professionals together from around the city to discuss the issue of childhood obesity. The dinner was sponsored by the Tyler School of Art Temple Contemporary and The Vetri Foundation. I realize that these two organizations sound like an odd pair for hosting this event, so here’s some context.

When Tyler School of Art moved from Elkins Park to Temple’s main campus in North Philly, they decided that a portion of their exhibits would be dedicated to addressing social issues. They put together a board of professionals from a range of disciplines from across the city, of which I’m a part of, to raise the issues that affect this city. The gallery then supports installations that explore the answers, and this dinner was one of them.

They found a perfect partner in the Vetri Foundation. Many people from the “foodie” side of the food movement have most likely heard of Marc Vetri and his storied resume of restaurants. But for people from the social justice side of the food movement, this organization is doing some very impressive work. Their Eatiquette program is a very innovative take on promoting change in school lunch. Rather than just advocate for healthier options, the foundation sends professional chefs into the school to educate students on how to prepare whole meals. But more importantly, the meals are modeled after family style eating. The tables are round, intimate settings where a “table chef” (usually one of the students) serves out food from one single large plate, thus teaching the students sharing, portion control and table etiquette. I was tasked with this role at my table that night, and was instantly able to make a much more intimate connection with my dinner dates than if we were just placed at the table and served the food from a waiter. We also had the privilege of eating one of the set meals that the students eat: braised white fish, beets with crouton dressing, salad, and green beans. Everything was made from scratch with whole foods.

The Vetri foundation has implemented this program in 5 different schools. After the school goes through the curriculum, the foundation leaves the school with the meal plans and a donation to implement their own program. Sometimes when well meaning organizations leave their program to the schools, they run the risk of losing direction. But as we heard from faculty of the People To People Charter school (where the event was held) their lunchroom went from the normal chaos of any lunchroom to the calm din of a dining room.

The entire program made for some really great conversation at my table from a diverse group of perspectives such as our one diner who was making the lone vegan stance in her family of processed food eaters. Or the perspective of a social worker who digs deeper into the systemic reasons for why children don’t have access to healthy foods rather than why they don’t eat them. It was a great night put on by some really great innovators and I was happy to be a part of it. For more info on the Vetri Foundation check out www.vetrifoundation.org and if you haven’t already, please check out the Tyler School of Art Temple Contemporary located at 2001 N. 13th St. Philadelphia.

Posted by Nic on 10/18 at 04:04 PM

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