Sixty-three children, ages 3 to 5, participated in a recent taste test as part of a study by Stanford University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. When offered samples of food, one on a plain tray and the other in a McDonald's wrapper, the children overwhelmingly agreed that the sample in the McDonald's wrapper "tasted better."
The food in the wrappers and on the trays was exactly the same.
The research, which appears in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and was reported on by CNN, illustrates the power that advertising wields over us from a very early age.
That's no surprise to Louis Yuhasz. As executive director of Louie's Kids, he has seen firsthand the poor food and lifestyle choices that advertising influences us to make. For the last seven years, Louie's Kids has been tackling the American epidemic of childhood obesity head-on as a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating kids and families about weight loss, behavior modification, and healthy living.
The current interest in sustainable and local food choices in Charleston is only helping Louis' cause. In fact, Charleston's vibrant cuisine scene gave him an amazing idea for simultaneously raising funds for his educational summer camp, asking an old friend to visit the United States, and providing local foodies with a cool itinerary for August.
Ten years ago while in Tuscany, Louis met Italian chef Carmelita Caruana. They became friends and maintained correspondence over the years. He was impressed with the ease with which the Italian cooking style incorporated healthy and sustainable food choices. With food tourism (and a special interest in Italy) booming, bringing Carmelita to Charleston to host a series of workshops was an obvious choice.
Carmelita, a BBC celebrity chef and international traveler, is a huge proponent of the Slow Food movement and favors the use of local, in-season food. "If you eat real food and cook with fresh, not processed, ingredients, a healthy lifestyle comes naturally," she says. "The trash in the kitchen should contain peelings and zucchini tops, not cans and wrappers."
Her sincere love of cooking and using food as the centerpiece for intimate gatherings has earned Carmelita numerous accolades, including a Sunday Times of London nomination for her Cook Italy school as one of the six best Italian Cookery Schools.
The eight-day series of fundraisers for Louie's Kids centers on the culture, lifestyle, and magic of food in Italy and offers the opportunity to not only learn food preparation and classic recipes firsthand from a master of Italian cuisine but also to appreciate the Mediterranean style of savoring food, shopping and setting the table together, and rediscovering the joy of unrushed dining.
"Taking the time to eat together as a family is so important," says Louis Yuhasz. "Serving good food, providing children with healthy options, and allowing them to be involved in the kitchen can make such a difference." He has seen that difference in the lives of attendees, parents, and children alike, at the Louie's Kids summer camps.
The best thing that can come of the current series of fundraisers with Carmelita (aside from additional funds for the Louie's Kids summer camp program, of course), in his estimation, is a top-down effect. Parents who learn a healthier, happier approach to cooking and dining will share that inspiration with their children, and entire families will benefit as a result.
Carmelita's visit to the Lowcountry began last Wednesday with a welcome reception featuring a wealth of talent from Maverick Southern Kitchens: Chefs Anthony Gray of High Cotton, Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad, Tim Armstrong of the Old Village Post House, and Danielle Wecksler of Charleston Cooks!
The wrap-up for the fundraising series, featuring Italian wines and appetizers, will be Thurs., Aug. 17 from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Square Onion in I'On, Mt. Pleasant.
In addition to sharing insights into Italian cuisine with the Lowcountry, Carmelita has taken the opportunity to gain an appreciation of Southern cooking — including her very first taste of cornbread and Southern biscuits — during her inaugural visit to Charleston.
"I can see what the attraction is," she says.
Culture, Lifestyle, and Magic of Food in Italy events
For general information on Louie's Kids or this series of fundraising events:
Slow Food-Inspired Farm Lunch
232 Meeting St.
805-5900 for reservations
$65 minimum donation
Wed., Aug. 15
Tuscan Farm Fare
194 East Bay St.
Wed., Aug. 15
Fri., Aug. 17
Classes are full, but there is a waiting list
Italian Wines & Appetizers
The Square Onion
18 Resolute LaneMt. Pleasant
856-4246 for reservations
$45 per person
Thurs., Aug. 16