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Part I: Barbara Gates
Barbara Cole-Gates is the Director of Lean & Green Kids. She is the mother of two smart and spirited teens, Jack and Lucy. She earned her BFA from San Diego State University in drama/acting, and now and again works as a professional actress in Southern California (barbaracoleacts.com). She has been working to teach kids about healthier foods since her son entered kindergarten – Jack is a Jr. in high school now!
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today, and I am really looking forward to today’s show because I have a couple of people on that I really enjoy talking to, so I hope you will enjoy listening. I think it’s going to be fun for me. The first thing that I want to talk about is how important it is to get our lives started on the right path, and parents that are raising children what a great gift you give your children when you teach them about healthy foods early on. How many people struggle as adults with weight and bad food habits. Some of them succeed with changing them and getting on a healthy path, but how much better would it be if we didn’t start out with problems and we started out with good, healthy-food habits. So we are going to hear a little bit about that from my first guest Barbara Cole-Gates. She is the director of Lean And Green Kids. She is the mother of two smart and spirited teens, Jack and Lucy. She has a BSA from San Diego State University in Drama/Acting and works as a professional actress from time to time in Southern California, and she has been working to teach kids about healthier foods since her son entered kindergarten. Jack is a senior in high school now. Lean And Green Kids has a website that can be found at LeanAndGreenKids.org. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Barbara.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Hi, Caryn. It’s been a long, long time.
Caryn Hartglass: I know, but it feels like you are an old, old friend.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Definitely, and I consider that a privilege.
Caryn Hartglass: We have done a little work together, and it didn’t take up much time, but there was a really profound connection I had with you because I really admire your work.
Barbara Cole-Gates: You bring up a good point. We didn’t work that hard, but we accomplished something really amazing. If I leave your listeners with any one thought, it would be that it’s pretty true that small steps can create big changes even though it seems daunting and overwhelming. I wanted to tap into this resolution in California but I had no clue what I was doing. I was a stay-at-home mom working out of the playroom. Thanks to the internet I put out an email, and people forwarded it, saying would anyone like to join me in Sacramento to try to get this resolution passed, and you came plus two other dynamic women! It took one day of hanging out with cool chicks, and we got a resolution passed!
Caryn Hartglass: I am living in New York and was in New York at that time also, but I was doing a lot of traveling to California. I just liked what you were doing and knew I was going to be nearby, and thought “okay, I’ll learn something in the process.” More people need to do this sort of thing also, such as lobbying and going to your representatives. We discovered it was not that easy, and there weren’t any people that wanted to talk, but some did. So we did get some good responses, but it takes a little courage.
Barbara Cole-Gates: And also a little sense of adventure. There has to be a willingness to have them say no, and realize you’re no worse off than where you started.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m thinking that maybe a background in theatre and performing arts kind of helps with rejection because there are so many opportunities for that when you put yourself out there for auditions. I know that personally. You may get a few, and they’re great, but there are many that you don’t, so you just move on.
Barbara Cole-Gates: It’s not a coincidence that you would say that because I say that to myself all of the time. I think the rejection from pursuing a career in acting has conditioned me to really believe in the idea of never giving up. One of the things I know is that trying to change school lunches and the way our children are fed and consume is a huge undertaking, and there are so many different avenues to approach this, but I discovered something when I was re-enacting one of the original suffragettes who was working for the women’s right to vote. It took over 100 years for women to get the right to vote, and some of the women who started the movement never saw that day, but now we look back and think how could that have ever been, women not voting. So I think someday we will look back when whole plant-based meals are the normal way to eat and say “how could it have been any other way?”
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, there is a lot of that, and I take inspiration from that from time to time, because when I see all of the work that has to be done, I will look back and say look at all the progress that has already happened. So we are moving forward, and it seems a long time from some perspectives, but with other things it seems like a relatively short time.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Yes, I remember when I started this when my son was in kindergarten–he is a senior in high school now—I called the vegetarian resource group for some guidance, and he said, “oh, we’ll be talking in five years, you’ll still be doing this.” I had taken a break at that point. Five years later we had passed the resolution, and I had taken a break to resume raising my family, but now ten years later I’m still at it. I just say to myself that I really want to be part of the change, and I may not see it in my lifetime, but I can’t just sit by and do nothing.
Caryn Hartglass: You are there for other people that are discovering things, and you are a great support for them, I imagine. What changes have you seen since you started?
Barbara Cole-Gates: I’ve seen a change in the perception that eating plant-based meals is “whacked out.” I was just on a Martha Stewart website, and it was promoting all plant-based foods, and now we have meatless Mondays which is in partnership with the John Blumberg School of Health. Now I know I’m in California and you are in New York, so I think there is a big swath of the American population who still thinks this is pretty “whacked out;” however, I’m not sure, but I think there are a lot of movements started in our progressive states.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. There has been a lot of positive change. It’s just not fast enough!
Barbara Cole-Gates: Yes, and when women needed the right to vote, it absolutely was a crisis for humanity, just as I believe gay people should have the right to get married. It’s a civil rights offense; moreover, with our food crisis, the thing that drives me is that our planet is depending on it, our children’s future depends on it, so that’s what drives me and feeds my passion. I honestly want to save the planet.
Caryn Hartglass: It affects all life on earth!
Barbara Cole-Gates: Yes, all life, and I still talk to educated, professional, esteemed human beings who are regarded as highly intelligent, and I will just simply say, “are you aware that raising animals for protein causes more greenhouse gas than all transportation combined?” They will say they had no idea, which I think is unfathomable. So, our goal at Lean & Green Kids is to not only teach kids about the healthiest food choices but to instill in them that those choices are also the best choices for our planet, and that all animals and plants depend on that. I think we engage them in current issues that they care about which makes the nutrition education that much more engaging for the kids.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so tell me more about Lean And Green Kids. What is it and what do you do?
Barbara Cole-Gates: Well, Lean And Green Kids is a nonprofit, 501c3 organization. You and I helped pass the resolution in 2003. I took a break, and then in 2008, five years later, two things happened that sparked the re-invigoration of this effort on my part. One thing was that I moved and was pursuing acting. I started working part time as a substitute teacher which I completely enjoy, but as an actor you have to ask yourself okay what else can I do that would bring me fulfillment, and the only other thing I could think of was this mission of teaching kids about how to eat well and trying to change the way they are fed in the school lunch program. The other catalyst in addition to my soul searching, I also realized that In 2008 a report was due from The California Department of Education on programs and progress toward implementing the lunch revolution that called for daily plant-based, vegetarian lunches to be served in schools on the same cycle of repeat as traditional meat-based and cheese-based entrees. So, I called the Department of Education in 2008 as I was starting to explore this idea of getting back to the mission, and they explained to me that the person who was assigned to writing or facilitating the report had been killed in a car crash, tragically, and they said they were so sorry that this project had just fallen through the cracks. The next person who was assigned to the project retired a year later, but the next person whom was assigned to it has taken up the cause. I really trust that this person wants to work with Lean And Green Kids and work towards a positive change. The exciting news is that since 2008, four years (it’s now 2012), the report has just been issued, and there are some exciting developments. I’m very encouraged.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we read that report somewhere?
Barbara Cole-Gates: I do have some highlights here whom a friend/volunteer from Lean And Green Kids has researched for me. I can read some of these highlights such as one of the things they are going to do is provide training for state and school district staff on vegetarian meal requirements, creative menu planning, and resources to provide vegetarian lunches. This is a recommendation they are making, and they are also going to release a bulletin to all school districts, county offices of education, after school programs, and other relevant partners to identify resources, classes, webinars, web sites, and technical assistance opportunities for providing vegetarian, vegan, and cultural school meals. So that’s a mouthful, a lot to take in, but they are talking about validating it, promoting it, training, so I am very excited. They have reached out saying they would like to work with Lean And Green Kids. It really is uncharted territory, so they just want to figure out strategies for the change.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of parents struggle with getting their kids to eat well. They think that they are offering the right things to their children, but they don’t want to eat them. I am not in all of these households, so I don’t know what’s going on, but what are some of the things that enable children to eat better?
Barbara Cole-Gates: Now you are talking to me as a mom, and actually this all started when I called the Vegetarian Resource Group so many years ago when they said that I would still be doing this years from now. They did put me in touch with Antonia Demas, Ph.D., who has an incredible curriculum called Food Is Elementary, which she has gotten into over 1,000 schools. So at the elementary school where my kids went, we instituted this cooking program which consisted of a nutrition and multi-cultural curriculum where kids cooked from around the world. What we learned from that and what became so obvious is that when kids are included in the preparation and they get to own what’s going on, exploring with their hands, using their senses of smell and touch, there was nothing they wouldn’t eat. None of them rejected any of these very unusual foods that they were making. We made things like soul stew where we worked with a lot of greens. Everything was plant based so we worked with every different kind of bean, and the kids embraced it, loved it, and devoured it. So, I have always included my kids in the kitchen, and I’m really proud to say that they eat almost anything.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m always talking about people needing to find their kitchen and back there because we have gotten so far away from it. This starts when we are young, and then there are so many benefits. As you are saying, when children participate in the making of food, they are going to want to eat it.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Absolutely, and so that brings up the next dilemma. So few parents are making food, and I get that because when I have to go back to work, it’s exhausting at the end of the day. It’s exhausting to make meals, and I’m not sure what the answer is, but all I can say is once I start, I get a second wind. It seems more daunting than it actually is. It’s worth it, as hard as it might seem, and usually you will have great leftovers and great school lunches to pack up. Also I want to say that I was an old fashioned mom, and I know there are two schools of thought, the old school which is you’re going to finish your vegetables or at least you are going to try them, which is the way I was. Then there is the newer philosophy which is put the vegetables on the plate and they will pick up what they want, their bodies and minds telling them what they need. I have yet to buy into the newer philosophy. I am old school so you eat what is served to you or at least try it, and if you can discuss it with your kids and you are really open with them and explain why it is so important, how it can save the planet and save lives, then they will want to do the right thing. Kids want to do the right thing.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with you, and I’m not sure if it’s because I like to control things or a combination of things, but I think children need to be guided. I’ve seen a lot of parents where they just empower their children so much, even though they are not ready to make all of these choices.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Hallelujah!
Caryn Hartglass: They just aren’t ready! I’m sorry, a six-year-old doesn’t know what to make or eat for dinner!
Barbara Cole-Gates: Neither does a 46-year-old some of the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, because they didn’t learn it at six!
Barbara Cole-Gates: Right, and you are developing habits. That’s the thing. It’s so hard as an adult to change, and if we develop bad habits at a young age because, for example, it takes more effort to chop vegetables, like when my mother came over and we were making a stew or soup, and there were a lot of vegetables to cut, and she said, “my gosh there’s so much chopping.” That’s real food, though, and everyone should have a food processor, every mother. That was the greatest wedding gift I ever got, my food processor.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and it should be a big one!
Barbara Cole-Gates: Right, and it does the chopping for you. So the habits are learned young, and then if they are healthy eaters, what I’ve noticed with my kids is that they take a lot of pride in that. Then they won’t have to change when they are older when it is to the point where it is life or death.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I can’t agree with you enough, and I know that some people think they are trying not to give their children baggage, problems, or stress related to food because they have memories of their parents telling them to eat certain things and if they didn’t, they’d have to go to their room or wouldn’t get dessert; or, eat everything on your plate because there are people starving in Europe, or whatever. They’d be given a guilt trip. There are some parents that consciously don’t want to give their children any related baggage around food, and that’s fine, but I also think, as we mentioned before, that children need guidance, and just making it a free-for-all—hey, what do you want for dinner…..
Barbara Cole-Gates: You know, Caryn, you bring up a pretty big issue because a lot of parents don’t know.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, so they are asking their kids what they want for dinner because they don’t know what to make.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Yes, and like my mother objecting to all the chopping of vegetables, I have met a lot of mothers who don’t really know where to start, and with our kids you can offer the healthiest foods and educate them, but if it is not happening at home, it’s not going to be as productive. So, I just encourage parents to really take this seriously. I want moms to know that the life they may save could be their child or their husband, and I’m not a real old fashioned gal. I consider myself a feminist and I consider myself a strong woman, but I do think that at the end of the day, hopefully, it’s a partnership in the kitchen, but the mom just kind of naturally takes the lead in a lot of situations, and that’s not a bad thing. Mothers and women are nurturers, and we need to nurture our families, and one of the best ways we can nurture our family is with foods. So, moms really have a critical role in raising their children so they can live long lives, also putting their foot down with their husbands too. I hear a lot of women saying their husband will never change, but I think we have to fight for this, just like we had to fight for the right to vote, because the other life we might save is our husband’s, and I know I want my husband to be around for a long, long time, so we’ve just got to take a stand. So, moms, it’s time for us to take back the kitchen and take a stand because we are talking about saving our children’s lives.
Caryn Hartglass: Also your own life.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Right, and I can’t think of anything more important for a mom to do.
Caryn Hartglass: Can you make any recommendations for how to get started, if you’re clueless.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Well, we need to be informed. I used to love getting Vegetarian Times. I felt like I was getting a gift in the mail. Every month I would get this pretty, colorful magazine with brief articles and new recipes. Some of the recipes are vegetarian and some are vegan, but that certainly helped me. It’s really important to have an attitude of a sense of adventure. It really is a whole new world, a return to the garden of Eden. It’s exciting, and I think if you can have that attitude about it, you can incorporate, maybe, just one new recipe a week. Also, it is the art of substitution. So instead of meatballs in your spaghetti you are going to put mushrooms and kidney beans. Instead of meat and cheese in your tacos, you are going to grow some veggies and throw some black beans in. So it is the art of substitution for a lot of traditional recipes.
Caryn Hartglass: Personally, I think it’s really simple, but I can’t speak objectively because I have been doing it almost forever, for at least 30 years. So it’s just second nature, but I think especially for people who don’t cook, it’s challenging. For people who do cook and have that sense of adventure when they make food, I think they do better. For those that are completely lost, it’s challenging.
Barbara Cole-Gates: You know, we all came to this at a young age, and we were just willing to experiment.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and bless the internet. You can find a recipe for anything on the internet. I have my own website ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com, my nonprofit, where we post recipes all of the time, and there certainly is no lack there. Also, vegan cookbooks are exploding. There are so many great ones. So it just takes that little “kick in the butt.” Just do it!
Barbara Cole-Gates: Yeah, and we need to think of it as saving lives and saving the planet, and how important and vital that is in our role as parents. I do want to say that Lean And Green Kids is not a vegan organization. I’m going to leave that up to the animal rights activists. Lean And Green Kids is a health and environmental organization, Eco health organization, and we just want people to embrace the idea of making more and eventually most of their meals plant-based, so that isn’t something that is so foreign. Then if people decide to go all the way for the animals, that is even better.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen, and I think it is an approach that would welcome a lot of people, more than something that advocates doing it only one way. So, that’s good. So many people just need to kind of peer into the crack in the door on the other side, the world of fruits and vegetables when they don’t want to jump right in.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Yeah, everybody needs to take it at the pace that’s right for them. I really would like to inspire those parents who are pretty far along on the quest for better eating–because they understand that plant-based eating and organic farming are so important–to give them a call to action that they get on their school districts wellness councils. A lot of people are not aware that in the mid-2000s a federal mandate was passed down that required all schools that are using the National School Lunch Program to create a wellness policy and a wellness council to implement the policy. So each school district and each public school and many charter schools who are utilizing the USDA National Lunch Program should have a wellness council, and parents really, really should be involved in this council advocating for better school lunches and a healthier school environment.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and I didn’t know that existed. I will have to look into this.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Please do! That’s mostly how Lean And Green Kids is making headway by working with food service and by working with teachers and administrators, working with the people who are in charge of making these changes. They do need parents. Wellness councils want and need parents, and they want and need community members. You don’t have to be a parent or even a relative. It’s a forum of health professionals, educators, and community members who are invested. So, please anyone who is listening, call your local school district, whether or not you have a child there, and ask when the next wellness council is, and they might find out that the school district doesn’t have a wellness council because there hasn’t been a leader to make it happen. They are required to have this, so if your district doesn’t have one, you can meet with the superintendent and say, “hey, I want to be on a wellness council, and we need to get this reinstated because it is mandated by federal law.”
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and just one last question before we go. I wanted to talk about your kids. How are they doing?
Barbara Cole-Gates: Oh my gosh. Okay, I’m going to knock on wood while we are talking because, honestly, I don’t know if it’s the food. I know the food is a big part of it because they are academic stars, and I know I sound like I’m bragging, but I just really, really believe in my heart that food is the foundation for a vital, happy, healthy ethical life. So my kids, besides being academic stars, are very well-adjusted socially and are kind, kind people. They are also star athletes. So, “the proof is in the pudding.” Also, they started an animal rights club, with the help of their mother. Using the experiences that I’ve had with Lean And Green Kids, I’ve been able to kind of guide them being an activist for a more compassionate world, and I can tell you that they’ve already saved at least three lives, I believe. They volunteer for the shelter, and three of their club members have adopted dogs and cats.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you, Barbara, for joining me on It’s All About Food. You are an inspiration to all moms and all people.
Barbara Cole-Gates: Thank you, and thanks for helping us get the word out.
Caryn Hartglass: LeanAndGreenKids.org! Okay, thank you. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. We are going to take a quick break and be back Dr. Milton Mills.
Transcribed by Ann Dungey, 3/10/2013