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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.

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