Interviews with Kim Barnouin and Amie Hamlin





Part I: Kim Barnouin
Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps

She is the co-author of the New York Times Bestseller Skinny Bitch, and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, as well as Skinny Bitchin, Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven, and Skinny Bastard. She released her first solo book Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook in October of 2010. She is the founder of her website, a fun and informative green living guide for women.


Part II: Amie Hamlin
NY Coalition for Healthy School Lunches

Amie Hamlin began as Executive Director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food in when the organization was founded in 2004 and has worked to expand the reach of her organizations work over the years. NYCHSF currently partners with the New York City Office of SchoolFood and the Ithaca City School District Child Nutrition Program, offering plant-based entrees to over 17,000 students. NYCHSF also offers Wellness Wakeup Call, a nutrition education program available in K-5 and 6-12 versions, written by Registered Dietitians. Amie has worked in the non-profit world since 1996 when she was Director of a Tobacco-Free Coalition and then of two environmental non-profits.



Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It is an absolutely gorgeous day here in New York City on March 14th, 2012. I am so happy to be here this hour to talk to you, especially about my favorite subject: food. It’s going to be a good one today, a good hour. So, you know we talk about food and how food affects all life on earth: the health of the planet, the health of ourselves personally, our friends, our families…and certainly effects on the other species that we share this home planet Earth with. We cover lots of different subjects on this show and the one thing that I love is that I get to talk to so many different people who are helping make this world a better place, helping people in so many different ways eat a better diet, a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, raw nuts and seeds. Helping us all move along the food continuum to a better place. A lot of people they do all different kinds of things. Different people appeal to different messages and that’s why…this is a diverse world and it’s great that we have so many different people telling this story, sharing this message in very different ways. OK. So today we have a great guest to start with. We have one of the co-authors of the Skinny Bitch series: Kim Barnouin. She is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Skinny Bitch, along with Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, Skinny Bitchin’, Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven, and Skinny Bastard. She has a master of science in holistic nutrition. She’s a former model and has successfully counseled models, actors, athletes, and other professionals using the Skinny Bitch method. She lives in Los Angeles.


(Caryn) Welcome to It’s All About Food!

(Kim) Hi there, how are you?

(Caryn) Hi, I’m great. It’s gorgeous here. How is it in California?

(Kim) It’s always pretty nice in California too.

(Caryn) That’s good. I’m really happy to be able to talk to you today. You and Rory Friedman have made quite a sensation in the vegan world and in the mainstream world getting this message out.

(Kim) Yeah, I’m very fortunate to have kind of started from what would be a small community back in 2005 when the book came out to a really big growing and followers from all walks of life and all ages. It’s been translated into twenty-one different languages. It’s really done well and we’re very proud.

(Caryn) Well, it’s interesting. I got into this scene a long time ago. I became a vegan in 1988 and I was vegetarian for a long time before that and things were very different then. There were different books to kind of tell the message but we definitely got some great momentum going in the last ten years or so, and your books are definitely a part of that, which is very exciting.

(Kim) It’s nice to be a part of something that is so big and growing and changing because, you know, you’re right. I think when you were vegetarian and vegan that was such a cute era of hippie, crunchy granola people and it was looked upon so different that you guys really had something going on way back then that took the rest of us a lot longer to figure out. But it’s a nice movement; people are really embracing it. It’s funny. I was just catching up on my TV show Cupcake Wars and they had a whole show dedicated to vegan cupcakes and I thought, “Wow, this is great. We’ve come so far.”

(Caryn) Right. Well, Doron Petersan was the winner of a few of those vegan cupcake wars or “the” Cupcake Wars.

(Kim) It’s such a good thing. I think even there was one contest where the vegan cupcake beat out the regular cupcake with dairy.

(Caryn) That’s right. And it should.

(Kim) Yes, exactly. And it shows that you can have vegan treats that are so great and they don’t have to taste weird.

(Caryn) They don’t taste weird. They can taste normal and I personally think they taste better than normal because when I’m eating, especially after all these years of doing the kind of eating that I’ve been doing and thinking about it, I connect the dots. One of the ways I got myself off dairy a long time ago…you know a lot of people—you know this—say “Oh, I can’t give up cheese and I love my ice cream, etc….I used to think about what it was. I used to think about the cows; I used to think about the veal calves that were associated with the cows that needed to become pregnant in order to make milk in order to get us that milk and then those veal calves, of course, would be slaughtered at an early age. I would think about all of the diseases it was linked with so that milk didn’t taste good to me anymore.

(Kim) That’s a good way to put it. I think a lot of people are starting to get that when you explain to them where it’s coming from, that nowadays it’s not just this cute little cow getting milked by one little farmer and then going straight to your breakfast table but the things that they’re putting into the animals like the hormones, the steroids, the antibiotics. Everything that animal’s getting we’re ingesting too. When people hear that, that’s another thing that sort of makes them scratch their head and think about that a little bit.

(Caryn) I love your story, how you came around to being passionate about food and how you found your way. People love stories like that, especially in the United States where we want to think that everybody has a chance and everybody can make it and everybody can follow their dream. You’re a pretty good example of that.

(Kim) I’ve just been really fortunate and I still to this day always am so grateful of the past that’s been in front of me and what I’m doing. I was just some girl who had dropped out of high school and was sort of lost and trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. I know that I was passionate about helping people in some way but I didn’t know how. Then after being sick myself for quite a few years…I’d just been so frustrated that I said “OK, that’s it. I need to start figuring out what’s wrong with me. I don’t have health insurance. I’m going to start messing with my diet because it’s the one thing I have control over.” So I changed my diet, got rid of a lot of the bad stuff, and slowly I started feeling so much better. A light bulb went off. I knew that I had gotten to something really incredible—that food had the power to heal me so I knew I wanted to share everything that I’d been going through with other people. Obviously a book is a great way to do it. I was waitressing for years and hoping the book would do well and I’m pregnant and I’m waitressing, finishing the book, going to school and fortunately the universe kind of came to meet me and it worked out in a really wonderful way.

(Caryn) I wish that there was a book like this that had been available back in 1988 but part of this book puts together so many other pieces of so many other people who have created all of these transition and helpful products.

(Kim) Yeah, it was really because of people that had done a lot of work, a lot of research, and put a lot of time into studying nutrition and animals and where our food’s coming from. It’s people like John Robbins and David Steinmen; they’d done such great work before me so I really had some wonderful shoes whose footsteps to follow in. They were pioneers.

(Caryn) I’m reading the book—and I’ve used, I don’t know how many of these products but so many of them—and I keep thinking that gosh, it took so many different people. Like one person had to come up with deciding to create a mayonnaise and somebody else decided they’re going to make a vegan sour cream and somebody is going to make a vegan cheese and a vegan burger. They’re not all the same company and a lot of these started as small, little entrepreneurial start-ups. That’s one of the things I was reflecting on when I was reviewing your book and how great that was.

(Kim) There are wonderful products out there and the funny thing is there’s going to be so many more because we just had the natural product expo in California. I didn’t go because I was traveling out of town but people were telling me there were so many vendors and they were introducing so many new vegan food and vegan cheese and really wonderful things. We’re just getting a lot more choices now, which is a great thing.

(Caryn) I was reading an article in the New York Times this past weekend by Mark Bittman, the food writer. I don’t know if you caught it. He was talking about chicken and how we’re now at a point where there are many different faux chickens—these vegetarian chickens—that are, in certain dishes, are indistinguishable from its real counterpart and that he was even fooled—a culinary expert by one of the faux chickens that someone gave him. The point was that if you could have the taste, the flavor, the texture in a food, wouldn’t it be better to get it from a cruelty-free, planet-friendly source?

(Kim) Exactly. And I think once people start to taste, they open their minds and they start to taste these different products and see that they’re not weird. They don’t taste like cardboard. They get so scared at the thought of a “fake” product but they’re getting healthier, they’re getting tastier. And then look, you have no cholesterol, low saturated fat. It’s just an all-around benefit for everybody.

(Caryn) So you’re still studying nutrition. You’re working on your PhD now?

(Kim) Yes.

(Caryn) We’re going to be calling you Dr. Barnouin. I like that!

(Kim) It might take me some time but I’m going to get there.

(Caryn) The thing is, there are all different kinds of vegan diets and you could have a very healthy one and a not-so-healthy one depending on what you choose to eat. I personally think that it’s easy to maintain your weight on this kind of diet and much easier than any other kind of diet but it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be slim.

(Kim) Right. I do get a lot of people that ask me that. “You know, I’ve been on this diet for a while. I haven’t lost any weight. What am I doing wrong?” And there are so many variables in there because you don’t know if they’re eating a healthy diet or if it’s well-balanced. Because when I first went vegetarian, I was happy that I wasn’t eating meat but I was still eating junk food so it didn’t really do me much good. I really had to pay attention to getting the good sources of protein and including whole grains in my diet. It was definitely a two-year progression of really learning how to eat well and incorporating exercise.

(Caryn) Yep. All of that’s important. It’s not just a diet, it is a lifestyle.

(Kim) And that’s what people don’t realize. That it isn’t just…we’re not vegans or following a specific diet like that for short term like, “Oh, we’ve got a high school reunion, we need to drop a few pounds,” which you could do. But it is a lifestyle. It is about being healthy and really incorporating new things into your everyday life for good.

(Caryn) I think it’s easier once you take on that attitude that this isn’t a diet, this is just a way to be.

(Kim) Right, exactly. Then it’s just so much fun. Then it isn’t a short-term fix. You just know, wow, I’m going to make this change and I found this product and it’s so good and it isn’t for the next two weeks. This is for good and I’m going to give it to my family. It’s a wonderful thing to embrace as a lifestyle.

(Caryn) OK, now let’s talk about family. Your husband is French. Does he eat the way you do?

(Kim) He does most of the time but he’s not a vegan because, you know, the French and their cheese. He’d divorce me if I asked him to give up the cheese.

(Caryn) I know. I was serious. I lived in France for four years—with a Frenchman. I never met a vegetarian while I was there. I know they have since come out of the closet and they’re a lot more vocal than they were back in the ’90s. It’s an interesting thing. I thought it was curious that you came up with this particular book, the book Vegan Swaps, because I know in France it really drives them crazy when you call something by a name and it’s not what it really is. You know what I’m talking about?

(Kim) Yeah, exactly.

(Caryn) Like when I would make a cassoulet, a white bean casserole, which traditionally has meats in it, I don’t use meat. I just use all the herbs and Dijon mustard and it has a lot of the flavors. Sometimes I might put tofu or tempeh or some kind of meat analogue but it’s not vrai cassoulet. It’s not a real cassoulet.

(Kim) Right. That’s funny because my husband just maybe three nights ago made the big, white, flat bean cassoulet. So he made two: he made one that had the meat in it for him and my son and then he made one for me that had seitan in it. He was teasing me that mine wasn’t the real cassoulet.

(Caryn) You see, what did I tell you?

(Kim) Right, exactly.

(Caryn) It’s hard for the French. We forgive them.

(Kim) I know. I’m very kind of laid-back in the sense that this is a choice that I made. I met my husband when I was vegetarian. He eats extremely healthy. He works in a restaurant so if he’s going to eat crazy steaks and stuff, he’ll do it there. But I’m not about to break up with someone because they eat meat and I choose not to.

(Caryn) Right. Well, I think the whole point is to get…I was talking before you came on about moving along the food continuum. Here in the United States, and unfortunately it’s happening all over the world now, we’re moving kind of in the wrong direction towards too many animal products and too many unhealthy junk foods—a lot of artificial stuff. We really need to move along that line back to more natural whole foods and more fruits and vegetables. In my personal heart, I would love the whole world to be vegan. I know that’s not going to happen. I would really like to see people get healthy. I’d like to see the environment not be so impacted by factory farming.

(Kim) Right. You know what was interesting? I think it was yesterday there was this news report that came out. I think it was a study by Harvard. It was in the USA Today. They talked about how they had done a twenty-year study with thousands of men. They were studying the effects of red meat and cancer. The study showed that if you’re eating one serving of red meat every single day, it promoted premature death by twelve percent. Any kind of, like, hot dog products or bacon, increased your chance of premature death by twenty percent.

(Caryn) Those are good numbers.

(Kim) Interesting to see that…and these are big, big organizations doing the studies. It’s sort of a happy day for people that…

(Caryn) …who have been talking about it for years and years and years.

(Kim) Right. And even if people do just cut it down from what they’re normally eating, that’s already such a great asset to their health.

(Caryn) I’m not familiar with that study and I will definitely check it out. The thing is—sometimes the unfortunate thing is—when people read they shouldn’t be eating red meat, they swap with the wrong foods. They don’t do vegan swaps, they do chicken and fish and that’s really not a healthier option.

(Kim) No. It’s so true. That was one of the things that I was talking about with another radio station (that) was saying there’s that wonderful campaign Meatless Mondays and I’ve been trying to talk about that with people and say one night a week you can give up your meat, your chicken, your fish and have a nice vegetarian or vegan meal. It gives your body such a break. It’s so good for the animals, the planet, your health. Anyone can do one day a week.

(Caryn) I think so.

(Kim) One day. Come on, people. Try it.

(Caryn) People say—you’ve probably heard this too—that this diet is not easy. I don’t know. I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t see doing otherwise. It’s not hard for me and I’ve traveled all around the world. Sometimes I find interesting foods and sometimes I don’t. I never thought of it as difficult. I just thought of it as a choice and I couldn’t do otherwise and I’m at peace with that. But the diet really isn’t difficult. What is it that makes people say it’s difficult?

(Kim) They have this preconceived idea that—something so drastic in their mind—that they couldn’t comprehend, “How could I give up all that stuff?” It seems daunting and overwhelming and so different than anything that they’ve known that they put it in this category of, “Oh my God, it’s just so difficult and hard.” But the truth of the matter is I was the biggest junk food eater. I loved meat, ribs, all of that stuff, and I’ve done it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s just a matter of educating yourself to different foods that are out there, finding new grocery stores, finding farmers’ markets, slowly changing the way you’re eating—until it gets to be a new habit. It’s just something that…you’re learning something new. It’s like if you started a new job. You might not be great at it in the beginning but you’re going to learn about it and you’re going to be great at it in no time.

(Caryn) That’s right. I love the way you just followed your intuition to solve a problem because I think we all know inside what’s good for us and what’s healthy for us. We just need to tune in to the frequency.

(Kim) It’s so true. It’s so true. Our body will tell us if we can just listen.

(Caryn) OK. Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps. I’m looking at it now and the first thing that I like about it is the binding.

(Kim) Yeah. It’s a really fun, easy guide that you can put in your purse, put in your bag and kind of flip through, turn it over, keep it on one page when you’re in the grocery store or you’re trying to figure out where to go eat. Just a nice, fun user guide for tons of information.

(Caryn) Right. Very good. And I was very glad to see that you had some of my favorites in here. Now, I have to confess I try to eat whole foods and minimally processed foods as much as possible. I do have a variety of must-have items but I’m not a big prepared food eater, except when I’m traveling. That’s kind of a fun time because when I’m in a hotel and I’m not near restaurants, that’s when I go to a supermarket and I see what’s in the frozen department and see what kind of new vegan prepared meals are out and I get to try them… But one of my favorites is the Trader Joe’s Black Bean Enchiladas. And you had them in here.

(Kim) They are so good, aren’t they?

(Caryn) That’s one of my few when I’m too lazy to make food that I allow myself to have.

(Kim) I’m the same way. I really love to cook. Especially when you have a husband and a kid, you can’t just get something from the freezer section and (say), “Here you go guys. I heated this up in the oven.” I try to…we make things from scratch every day so when I have those foods, it’s the same. It’s a nice, special treat for me as well.

(Caryn) Yes. Let’s see. What’s amazing is there are so many different things in here. I also like that you mention May Wah because I don’t see a lot of people talking about May Wah outside of New York.

(Kim) Yes. They’ve got the most amazing vegan bacon strips. I love them. It wasn’t easy to find this. I had to find a Web site for people to get it. I always tell people, “When you find this, you need to get it.”

(Caryn) They have a store in Chinatown in Manhattan.

(Kim) Of course.

(Caryn) You can see it all and it’s just amazing. I’ve spoken to them. Unfortunately, none of the products come from here. So many of them…meats that are made there, these vegan meats, are like age-old recipes by monks and Buddhists that come from Taiwan.

(Kim) Wow! That’s really neat.

(Caryn) It is! I’m just wondering if we’ll ever learn how to do it. There’s one—I didn’t see in here—that I really love that I don’t have very often because it’s very decadent…it’s a drumstick.

(Kim) Oh. Is it from that same company?

(Caryn) Oh, you have VegeCyber vegan drumsticks in here and I get them from May Wah and they are just crazy.

(Kim) I haven’t tried those but I’ve heard great things about them. I figured that if people go to the Web site, maybe they’ll see a bunch of the other products and kind of take their pick from all of their great stuff.

(Caryn) We have some restaurants here that serve them up in a variety of different ways. That’s like the closest thing to the real thing without having the part of the real thing that I don’t like to taste. Really, really good. I don’t have those too often because they’re like too addicting.

(Kim) I think once you find some products like that that you really love, it’s nice to find. I try not to do too many…I don’t do a lot of fake meats but there are just sometimes when a girl needs to have a little riblet here and there.

(Caryn) Absolutely. That just made me think right now that I’m not hearing any foul language in this conversation.

(Kim) I’m trying to be very good.

(Caryn) I didn’t even think about it until just now but this voice in the book doesn’t sound like the same voice.

(Kim) Nope. Definitely trying to be on my best behavior.

(Caryn) That’s OK. We don’t mind.

(Kim) Some stations are OK with it and some aren’t.

(Caryn) I think we’re cool. You can relax.

(Kim) OK.

(Caryn) How old is your son?

(Kim) My son is five.

(Caryn) That’s a great age.

(Kim) He is a foodie already. My husband cooks. I cook. We’ve just been cooking with him since he was a baby.

(Caryn) Which is so important.

(Kim) It is. I think that’s why he’s into food because we’ve always included him on making…we’d stick him on the counter and give him things to do. Now he has a stool and he stands next to us and helps us. I just finished a baking book and he was literally with me with the standing mixer pouring things in for me. He’s definitely got an amazing palette and he’s willing to try anything. We’re very proud.

(Caryn) Kids need to be involved with food from the beginning. I’m sorry that home economics and other food programs aren’t in the schools. We need to bring them back; we need to develop them. Kids, when they’re introduced to food—healthy food, how to make food—at a very young age, they’re just so better off for their future.

(Kim) I so agree. And you’re right about home ec. That’s such a shame because I remember having it when I was in school and it was so much fun. So many times you hear stories like Jamie Oliver’s where he’s showing different vegetables to kids and they don’t even know what it is. That’s very disappointing that they’re not more involved in what they’re eating and knowing what is going to be on their plate.

(Caryn) OK. So, one of the titles is Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, one of the Skinny Bitch series. I’m always talking about getting people back in the kitchen. How do we get people to prepare their own food?

(Kim) I know, I know. This is one of the reasons I ended up doing a second cookbook too, The Ultimate Everyday Cookbook because I wanted people to say, “OK, I’ve got a couple different cookbooks. I want to try some new food. I’m going to get in there and have some fun.” I think it’s important for people to…even if you think of it economically. You’re spending so much money when you go out to eat when you can get a few ingredients at the grocery store and put together a really fresh, delicious meal that you’ve created from start to finish. People just need to make it fun. Include your friends, include your family, turn on some good music. Have something to drink—whatever it might be and just try to have fun with it. It’s funny. When I took a couple cooking classes, a lot of people were telling me because the economy got so bad, they needed to learn how to cook so they were enrolling in cooking classes.

(Caryn) I always like to look at the bright side and there’s all kind of good things that come out of bad economies: a lot of innovation and people start to eat better because they can’t afford to eat out. That doesn’t always happen because some people go for the $1 meal and some people go for the really cheap food. A lot of impoverished communities, they go for the beans and the grains. That’s really a good foundation of food.

(Kim) It is. And when you focus on that being your staple then it makes a good strong foundation for everyday eating and gets you in the habit of making better food choices.

(Caryn) Does your son know about the Skinny Bitch?

(Kim) He does…a little bit.

(Caryn) I was just curious when he was going to learn about that.

(Kim) He’s not too sure what mom does but I get to be home with him when I’m working. Sometimes I kick him out when I have work to do from my office but he likes to do whatever it is that I’m doing. No, he doesn’t get it too much yet.

(Caryn) Well, I’m always talking about how we could really change the world with media, with the image, because people are so influenced by what the media tells us: newspapers, television, movies, and celebrities, and this whole image. I don’t know who came up with the title but it’s really terrific. It really appeals to so many people on so many different levels. I’m so glad you came up with it because it really just helped to move us into the mainstream.

(Kim) Thank you. I appreciate that. People either love it or they hate it. It was really just for marketing because selling a vegan diet isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It wasn’t back then even in 2005. We just wanted to really make it funny and grab people’s attention and then you hit them with all of your information in the book.

(Caryn) Right. I always say, “Don’t read your press; weigh it.” It got you a lot of attention and that’s a good thing. The information that’s in the books is great. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and thank you for everything that you’ve been doing and you’re going to keep doing.

(Kim) Thank you so much for having me and thanks for your discussion on healthy eating as well.

(Caryn) OK. Have a great day.

(Kim) You too. Bye-bye.

(Caryn) Bye. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food with Kim Barnouin who has a new book: Skinny Bitch Book of Vegan Swaps. For more great healthy tips and all kinds of things on plant-based living, visit my Web site: We’re going to take a quick break right now. We’ll be back with Amie Hamlin of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food.


Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. In the next portion of the show we are going to be talking about an organization called the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, and I have the executive director, Amie Hamlin on the line, and we are going to be talking about all the great things that this organization is doing. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Amie.

Amie Hamlin: Thank you. Hello!

Caryn Hartglass: Hi. So, give me a little history on this New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. How did it get started?

Amie Hamlin: Well, back in 2004 a group of people decided they would like to see a New York State legislative resolution encouraging that there be a plant-based entrée on the menu every day in every school. So we set out to write this resolution. We wrote it, and it passed unanimously. Now, a resolution is not a law, but it is voted on as if it is a law, so it is a recommendation. After it passed we decided we need to have an organization to implement these recommendations, or to help schools implement these recommendations.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. That’s funny I didn’t know that’s how you began. I live in New York. I’m a New Yorker, and yet I helped in California to get a similar resolution passed in early 2000s, so it’s certainly a very good thing. As you said it’s not a law, so it’s not anything that requires anyone to do anything, but it’s definitely a very important step to make sure who’s on the same page.

Amie Hamlin: It serves a great educational purpose and encourages movement in that direction.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. So it’s been seven or eight years, and what has happened in that time period.

Amie Hamlin: Well, I have to say that so many things have happened, and we can hardly believe it ourselves–so many wonderful things. For example, we are in a formal partnership with the New York City Office of School Food, and we serve plant-based entrées in 18 schools right now.

Caryn Hartglass: Eighteen?

Amie Hamlin: Yes, 18 schools right now. So, that’s very exciting. We have done a lot of education of the upper level management in the New York City offices of School Food, as well as the kitchen staff in each school, and a number of the teachers in each school. Also, in the cafeteria we talk to the students, encouraging them to try the food and sometimes showing them what the ingredients are in the food. One thing is that we need more people on the ground in the schools. So, if there are any of your listeners in the city who would love to come into the schools during lunchtime during the week, we would love to hear from them.

Caryn Hartglass: So, what would they be doing?

Amie Hamlin: Well, they would be doing a number of things. They would be both observing and interacting with the children, seeing how the food looks and tastes, encouraging the kids to try it, observing if they’re eating it or if it’s going into the garbage. It’s important to know these things.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. That’s a good point. I know that’s one of the challenges in that, certainly, you can get the food and make it look good, taste good, but to get kids to eat it is really a critical step, and there are so many different things working against us to get kids to even just try something.

Amie Hamlin: Well, you’re right. The problem is that so many children are used to eating fast foods and maybe not used to eating bean dishes, and all these recipes are bean based because that is the only whole food, plant food, that counts as a protein for reimbursement through the Federal School Meal Program.

Caryn Hartglass: So, let’s just take a pause for a moment and praise the bean because it is definitely an acceptable food, what we call a commodity food, I think, that is approved by the USDA for school lunches.

Amie Hamlin: Yes, schools can get beans through the commodity program which has now been renamed USDA Food.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great. So, beans are inexpensive, and they have a lot of great nutrition. You can do so many different things with them. They are satisfying, and they’re just a great food.

Amie Hamlin: They are amazing. What we are constantly telling people is that they are a whole food, plant-based protein. That means they contain no cholesterol, since cholesterol is only found in the animal products. They are loaded with fiber and phytonutrients, and you only find phytonutrients in plant foods. So they really are very filling, delicious, and very versatile. You can make burgers and loafs. You can use them on enchiladas, burritos, make casseroles and gumbos. You can do just so many different things, and there are so many different kinds of beans.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so back to the issue of kids throwing the food away, we have seen images of the trays having apples and oranges and different things on them that go from the tray to the garbage, which is heartbreaking to me. How do you get kids to want to eat better foods?

Amie Hamlin: Yes, there are a couple of issues. One reason that a lot of food goes in the garbage, whether it’s our healthy food or any food that’s served in schools, is that they need a longer lunch period. This is the time they get to socialize, and maybe they only have a 20-minute lunch period with part of it having to stand in line. Sometimes kids only have five to ten minutes to eat by the time they sit down. They also really want to socialize with their friends. So this is one of the biggest issues. The other big issue is that in many schools–this is not so true in the New York City Schools, but we also have this program in the upstate schools as well–there are too many choices. In the very limited schools around the country where they have decided that all of their food is going to be unprocessed, super healthy, no artificial ingredients, the kids eat the food, and that’s because there aren’t other choices.

Caryn Hartglass: Right, because they are hungry, so they take something that looks okay, and they eat it.

Amie Hamlin: Right. The other thing is that with our foods we don’t just put it on the menu we do taste testing and ask the kids for feedback. We have a voting ballot and a voting box. We also show them what ingredients are in the food, and in upstate what we do is we get music and balloons which is sometimes a little harder to do in some of the New York City schools. So, we try to make it festive, fun, and something that the kids want to try. Our program is called Cool School Food, so we are implementing a program of Cool School Food ambassadors which are children who will help promote the food to their friends. By the way, it is called Cool School Food because it’s cool, it’s great, and it’s fun, but also it contributes less to global warming. So instead of it being a food that causes global warming, it’s a cool food.

Caryn Hartglass: I like that. That’s cool!

Amie Hamlin: Double meaning!

Caryn Hartglass: I had no idea that kids really don’t have enough time to eat. That is kind of fascinating me, and I have this image of the long lunches in the Mediterranean countries, like in the South of France and Italy where people take a leisurely amount of time to eat, and then there is this slow food movement. There really is an important factor that I never even thought about, taking time to eat food.

Amie Hamlin: It’s very critical. We have heard a couple of negative things in the news about healthy food being thrown in the garbage, but the truth is that in some of those studies they are really only looking at the healthy foods; but, actually, if they looked at the healthy foods and the regular foods, they would find out that a lot of food, in general, is going into the garbage just because they don’t have enough time to eat.

Caryn Hartglass: So, they grab a candy bar, or something, if they’re hungry.

Amie Hamlin: If that’s available. Actually, candy bars are not supposed to be available in schools. On the laws there is a list of certain foods that cannot be offered in schools.

Caryn Hartglass: They could have them in their backpack, can’t they?

Amie Hamlin: That’s right. Many kids bring really unhealthy food to eat also, but the bottom line is that if there are unhealthy choices, it’s easy for kids to take the familiar food, the one they are used to, and eat it.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s part of childhood. Kids want stability and familiarity. There are so many other things in their lives that are changing, they want things that they know, and food is a big part of it.

Amie Hamlin: And yet, if we do the right thing to introduce it to them in the right way, they find it is delicious, and they like it.

Caryn Hartglass: Of course!

Amie Hamlin: In three of our schools we offer only these entrées with the option of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but no option of another hot entrée. These are in elementary schools, and in those schools you will see the vast majority of the kids eating our entrées. So, they end up eating it and liking it.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I have to say that peanut butter is a very important part of my adult life.

Amie Hamlin: Yes, it is not a bad option to have as long as it is made healthfully. In fact, we are going to be doing a little campaign about peanut butter and jelly and showing people how to make a healthy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, because often times in schools—and when I’m talking about these things, I’m not just talking about any one school district. It is a nation-wide program, the school meal program, so what I’m saying is across the board, across the country—but about the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, often times the peanut butter has added sugar, added oil, hydrogenated oils, added salt, and the jelly often has high fructose corn syrup. The bread often has high fructose corn syrup and too much sodium, and oftentimes it is white bread. So, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which could be really healthy oftentimes in schools is not. So that is something we are looking to address as well.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s important, because here you could take something that is familiar that people like and just mysteriously add things that shouldn’t be there, but it will still seem familiar. I’m always screaming to people, “what’s in your peanut butter?” because all that should be in it is peanuts and nothing else.

Amie Hamlin: That’s right, and there is a company, which I’m not going to name, that makes packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are round with no crust and crimped edges, and the list of ingredients, of which I think there are over 100, is just horrendous, but the reason the schools like to use this particular peanut and butter jelly sandwich is because it is pre-packaged in a factory. So, with the peanut issue with allergies, they aren’t working with the peanut butter in the cafeteria, and they feel it is a little bit safer in terms of cross-contamination. I would like to see this company making a healthier option peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I need to call them and talk to them about it.

Caryn Hartglass: I think one of our big issues with food today, and I hope that it is changing—I know that it is changing, but I hope it gets very dramatic—is that we have gone from local small scale farming to food production with all these giant businesses that make things on a very large scale, often with serious reduction in and adding bad ingredients. That goes from growing food with giant agribusiness, big farms, monocropping, and using lots of herbicides and pesticides, and then shipping things around. In the process everything becomes low quality and not healthy. So we need small farms in local areas bringing fresh foods to people, and the schools need to get back to making whole, fresh food instead of buying things in these packages, these powders, and just mixing them up and serving them.

Amie Hamlin: Well, I’ll tell you, there are a couple of issues that make it difficult. First of all for the average school meal the food cost that is in the meal is 90 cents for the average school lunch. That does not include labor and overhead, benefits, and all of that, but the food itself in the average school lunch across the country has a value of 90 cents, and that is for five components that must be offered which includes a protein, a grain, a vegetable, a fruit, and a milk. Milk is required to be offered because it would take an act of congress, literally, to change that. You know that if you go to the Harvard School of Public Health website and if you search under dairy, the first article you will get talks about dairy and prostate cancer and some of the other health problems with milk which are pretty well proven at this point. They talk about how yes it’s a source of calcium but it is not the best source of calcium. You can get it from other places, and the dairy industry can’t even advertise milk as being for strong bones anymore because the research really does not bear that out. Yes, we need calcium but the idea of drinking milk for calcium is a little bit strange. I don’t know if you have covered this on your show, but…..

Caryn Hartglass: Many times, but yes, please repeat it.

Amie Hamlin: Mammals milk is made for baby mammals, and we are the only species that continues drinking milk after weaning, and we drink the milk of another species. Actually, even with all the promotion of low-fat and fat-free milk, milk has other problems with it. It’s not just the fat. So that is one thing. Another thing is that most people don’t even have that, not that it’s healthy, but dairy products are the biggest source of saturated fat in the American diet, and some kids are having milk four times a day, breakfast, lunch, after school snack, and dinner. So, it’s just a huge amount of saturated fat that kids are getting. In schools they are now only serving low-fat and fat-free milk, but again, there are all these issues about milk other than just the fat. There is the casein which is one of the milk’s proteins which has actually been found to be very carcinogenic.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s a strange thing about our culture, the things we want for our children. I would think we would want the very best for our children to build a healthy, smart future society, and yet we are somehow wrapped up in other things. I don’t even know if people realize what we are giving our kids in schools.

Amie Hamlin: I think oftentimes they don’t, and in the case of the milk, most people still think this is a really healthy thing. Now one of the good things that is happening in schools is that schools are now required to offer water for free at mealtime, and unless there is an actual water fountain within the cafeteria, schools must offer drinkable water. One of the reasons kids drink so much milk at school is that oftentimes there is not another choice, and they are using it to wash down their food they are eating so quickly. So, now that water is available, and if it isn’t yet you can talk to your school because it should be. It’s the law now.

Caryn Hartglass: Water! Oh gosh.

Amie Hamlin: Yes, water! They have to make a law about it which is kind of crazy. Hopefully children should have access to water. I certainly have been in many schools where I have seen that the law has not been implemented yet. I have to talk for a minute in defense of the school’s food directors and staff because what’s going on in the cafeteria is not their choice. They work under very strict regulations with very limited budgets, and unlike the rest of what goes on in schools that is paid for by the school budget that comes from property taxes, the school meal program has to be a self-supporting program. That makes no sense. Imagine if we said that the math program needs to go out and raise its own budget. We wouldn’t do that, and yet food and learning how to eat healthfully is really a life skill. It is just as important, if not more important, as many of the other skills that kids learn in schools because they will grow up, and the vast majority will get these diet-related diseases. If we could teach children how to eat healthfully that would be an amazing life skill they would have, and there are so many food advocates who, even long before me, have worked so, so hard on this issue to create change. First Lady, Michelle Obama, has actually finally brought a lot of attention to this issue. So now in a much more mainstream way, people are just beginning to understand what some of these issues are and what we need to do about it. So you are seeing more farm-to-school programs, and in fact in upstate New York where we have our program we actually use local, organic beans from our local bean farm.

Caryn Hartglass: Neat!

Amie Hamlin: Yes, Cayuga Pure Organics, they are called, and you can actually by Cayuga Pure Organic items in New York City such as beans and grains. They are really wonderful. So there is a lot going on, and the schools are very receptive to working with community groups, and they want things to be better. They know they aren’t good, and they are frustrated by all of the limitations they have placed upon them. So one thing I really want to emphasize is that going in and getting mad at your school food service director is not the way to go because what they need to hear is, “how can I help you?” So, don’t complain, and get involved.

Caryn Hartglass: Exactly, and that is a lesson that applies to most anything, of course. If you see a problem, getting angry is not a solution, but helping definitely is. This whole situation is like a microcosm of so many ills in our society and how they are all connected. Just a few of the things you have mentioned such as, to begin with, 90 cents goes toward a child’s meal in school, and that’s not even the real cost because so many of those foods are already subsidized by our tax dollars.

Amie Hamlin: That’s right. I don’t know if you have seen those subsidy pyramids which show that the amounts towards subsidies of foods are directly opposite of the amount of those foods we are supposed to eat. So the foods we are supposed to eat less have the most subsidies, and the foods we are supposed to eat more have the least subsidies, but it just goes to show how powerful the food industry is.

Caryn Hartglass: Exactly, and I keep saying if we had some really clever, sexy advertising for fruits and vegetables, people would be eating them. That’s all it takes, making it look cool, making it look fun, making it look good, and making it look like that’s what everybody’s doing.

Amie Hamlin: Also, making it affordable because a lot of people say they aren’t affordable, and the truth is that if everybody in a family ate the amount of fruits and vegetables they are supposed to eat, and not just the cheapest ones on sale, but a variety, it really does cost more than many processed foods. That’s not always true, but it is often true. So it is sometimes really hard to afford all of the fruits and vegetables we are supposed to be eating. I know from working with the school districts upstate that when you try to add more fruits and vegetables, they are doing it, but it is not so easy because it is more expensive than many of the processed foods.

Caryn Hartglass: We have enough information now that shows when you put healthy food into the schools and kids eat it, you see so many dramatic changes. They learn better, their behavior is better, it’s just a win-win situation, and some schools have demonstrated that it doesn’t cost more.

Amie Hamlin: Right. It’s possible to do, and one of the ways it is possible is that the more students who eat the meals, the more money the school gets, and therefore it becomes more affordable to do, but when they have so many unhealthy choices as options, then not as many are getting the reimbursable meal. So if you could get every student, or nearly every student, in the school to eat a reimbursable meal, the school would have a lot more money to work with.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so where is the resistance coming from?

Amie Hamlin: Well, I would say it is coming from the food industry. We have a new law, The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act which was called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, and the regulations for that just got finalized in January, and those regulations had to be modified because the original ones that were proposed limited white potatoes to one time a week. This is just an example which was in the media quite a bit, and the potato industry went nuts, saying that potatoes are healthy, but the point was to be serving more green, orange, and red vegetables. That was the point of it, not that potatoes are necessarily so horrible. I contacted the USDA, and I said why don’t you count them as a grain because at home when we are making our dinner, we have rice or potatoes as the starch which fills in for the grain. We don’t usually have rice and potatoes and broccoli. So, the idea was to replace the potatoes, which are really inexpensive and very affordable for the schools, with more nutrient-dense, lower calorie vegetables, but the potato industry went nuts. Part of it was that they said potatoes are healthy, and part of it was they said that schools can’t afford the other vegetables, but they could have done this easy, creative solution, and yet they didn’t. So now there is a new rule that every week there has to be an orange or red vegetable once a week, a green vegetable once a week, and legumes have to be served once a week; however, legumes can count as a vegetable or a protein in the school program as well as the US dietary guidelines. So they are requiring legumes to be served as a vegetable. I also suggested that the legumes be required to be served as a protein. That way the legume, like the potato, wouldn’t be taking the place of a green or orange vegetable. It would be nicer to have the legumes be served as a protein with a green or orange vegetable.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it is so frustrating.

Amie Hamlin: But we just keep plugging away because that is all we can do. We can try to make people more aware. We offer the food to the students and get them interested in trying it, and little by little a lot of changes are being made. I think even plant-based diets have entered the mainstream awareness like never before thanks to the great talk-show hosts like Oprah, Ellen, Dr. Oz, and Martha Stewart, all these talk-show hosts who have done these shows on plant-based diets.

Caryn Hartglass: I think a real important piece of this are the parents of the children because if the parents are aware and want their children to eat well, knowing a little bit about nutrition and the importance of fruits and vegetables and wanting their children to eat them, then they are going to get more involved in the schools. Then when there is that sort of focus and pressure from demanding parents, then the schools would sort of budges a little bit.

Amie Hamlin: Well, it’s true, but the problem is that many parents have swallowed the food industry’s take on what is healthy. My feeling is that only healthy schools should be offered in the schools. It’s our tax-payer dollars, and as I said before, it’s not part of the school budget where the money comes from but reimbursable meals. So for children receiving free and reduced-priced meals, those are reimbursed by the federal government and sometimes the state government. In New York State there is a small reimbursement too. Plus the money that children pay who are paying full price for their meals, and even though they are paying full price, actually, there is a small subsidy for those meals as well. So the parents believe what they hear, so my strong feeling is let’s tell people the truth. It’s a free country so people can eat whatever they want, so let’s tell people the truth about what we know about nutrition, and then let them make the decision. Sometimes you hear, in this heart disease reversal research, there was this PBS documentary on Dean Ornish’s research, and of course Caldwell Esselstyn is the other one who did the great heart disease reversal research; but years ago there was this PBS special “Avoiding the Surgeon’s Knife, “ and it followed Dr. Ornish’s patients for a year, and it concluded that it really worked and worked very well. It reversed heart disease without drugs, without surgery, and it worked great. The last thing they ended the show with was that it is so hard that most people won’t be willing to do it. Then the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine did some research to see how close patients would stick to their doctor’s advice, having doctors recommending a certain level of fat in their diet, and they found out whatever level of fat they were told to eat, the patients stuck pretty close to what they were told. So, it is a matter of telling people the truth about nutrition, and that involves the food industry not being able to misrepresent themselves.

Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely, and not dumbing us down. It’s so frustrating when doctors and other authorities assume we are not going to do things. We need to be brought up and not dumbed down.

Amie Hamlin: The doctors need it too because most doctors are not required to have nutrition training, and even if they were they would get the standard nutrition training, but we are making progress. The new U.S. dietary guidelines came out in 2010 with the associated plate guide. In case anyone doesn’t know, the food pyramid has been retired and we now have the plate guide, and here is how the plate guide works: 75% of the plate is definitely plant-based, and the other 25% is optionally plant-based. In fact the new dietary guidelines devote a whole page just to vegan diets. They have another page for vegetarian diets, so they are acknowledging that this is a very healthy way to eat. All the research points to this.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it is definitely an improvement, and I like to think we are going in a very positive direction. We are out of time. Amie, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. I want to mention the website

Amie Hamlin: Actually, is our updated website, even though the one you said works.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so

Amie Hamlin: Thank you so much.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you, Amie, and keep going! I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you have been listening to It’s All About Food. Have a very delicious week.

Transcribed by Ann Dungey, 4/1/2013

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *