Opening the conversation on healthy eating

Do you know about the Policy School’s Open Class­room series? I didn’t until I stum­bled into the tail end of last week’s ses­sion on the obe­sity epidemic.

Here’s the deal, in the OC’s* own words: “Each semester we select one graduate-​​level sem­inar and open it up to the public.… Each week we fea­ture promi­nent guest lec­turers with real-​​world exper­tise and experience.”

This semester the topic is “Food and Amer­ican Society: An Urban Per­spec­tive” and last week’s dis­cus­sion included North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers Katy Tucker (Pro­fessor of Health Sci­ences and Director of the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study) and Richard Day­nard (Pro­fessor of Law and Director of the Public Health Advo­cacy Insti­tute)  as well BU School of Med­i­cine fac­ulty member Alan Meyers.

I was attending a lec­ture in the same class­room right after this dis­cus­sion and totally missed it…however, I man­aged to walk out with a free copy of a book penned by North­eastern
alum Jeff Bene­dict called “Poi­soned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Out­break That Changed the Way Amer­i­cans Eat.” It tells the tale of the infa­mous Jack in the Box scandal that brought E. Coli into the public eye (actu­ally, the sci­en­tific eye as well — no one knew about it before this!). The pop­ular food chain was serving under­cooked ham­burgers, which resulted in 600 ill­nesses and the death of four chil­dren. I’ve only just begun reading the book, but Bene­dict presents the per­spec­tives of all sides — from the fam­i­lies who lost chil­dren to Jack in the Box executives.

The whole tur­moil ended with new stan­dards for fast food chains. But not until last month, almost two decades later, was pink slime, the “beef-​​based food addi­tive,” outed and banned from school lunches in sev­eral cities (including Boston). Huh? Sounds like the con­ver­sa­tion is still in full swing.

Tucker told me a couple months ago that while trying to under­stand what keeps Boston stu­dents from eating healthy, she learned that many (if not all?) of the city’s public schools lack a real kitchen. Instead they take their cues from Delta and United, microwaving pre-​​made plates of food.

If you’re inter­ested in being a part of this con­ver­sa­tion, there are three ses­sions left in this semester’s Open Class­room series. Maybe I’ll see you there: Par­tic­i­pa­tion is free and open to the public. If you’re too busy to attend, videos of the lec­tures are posted on the web­site after each class.


*No rela­tion to my favorite (until you know who died) teenie bopper tele­vi­sion show

Photo: chichacha, “Here’s another shot of Ham­burger!” March 9, 2008 via Flickr. Cre­ative Com­mons attribution.