Filmmaker Amy Kafala said, “I had a lot of health issues as a kid, not dramatic but a lot of allergies. I never really felt well.”
Kafala took medication as a child but did not notice a change until after she married her husband and met his family in France. She described them as having an obsession with food.
“They would spend hours over a meal,” said Kafala.
Before she learned French, she would turn to her husband and say, “What are they talking about now?” He would say, “Food.”
Kalafa would go grocery shopping with her mother-in-law. They went to the local farmer’s market, the local baker, and local butcher. She realized the people in France rarely went to the grocery store.
“I learned over time that I actually felt better when I ate their food,” Kalafa said.
Saturday, March 29, Emmanuel Church in Chestertown hosted the event Kalafa spoke at for the Locavore Lit Fest.
Kathy Thornton, program and intern coordinator for the Center for Environment and Society at Washington College, said, “Not only is her talk part of the Locavore Lit Fest but is also part of the Recipes for Change Series.”
This series involves coordination between CES and C.V. Starr Center as well as the Department of Anthropology. This year they invited Kalafa as one of the speakers.
“Amy is a holistic health and nutrition counselor and a Lyme disease consultant,” said Thornton. “For over 25 years, Kalafa has produced award-winning films, television programs, and magazine articles in the field of health education.”
Kalafa worked as an independent filmmaker and then started working on “Two Angry Moms” when her eldest daughter was in high school and her youngest in middle school.
It was not until then that she said, “I started just recognizing that their friends that they brought over all had a lot of kind of strange problems.”
They had behavioral disorders, and one girl was declared the youngest girl in Connecticut to have anorexia at 11 years old. Finally her daughter vturned to Kalafa and asked, “Mom, does this mean we’re the normal ones?”
Kalafa and her family used to hide their healthy eating habits. Kalafa said, “People would make fun of us.” However, she then realized she had to do something.
“I’m a filmmaker. I decided to make a movie,” Kalafa said. “I wanted to make a movie that was positive and showed you what to do instead of just being scary.”
Kalafa started doing research. She went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York and checked out her daughter’s middle school to see what all she had bought.
“I’ve been sending them [her daughters] with a healthy packed lunch,” Kalafa said, but she did have money put on a school account in case they forgot their lunch or wanted a snack. She found out her daughter had bought food items such as fries, chips, cake, and rice crispy treats.
In conducting her research, Kalafa found that one in three kids born in the 2000s will have diabetes, one in four will have heart disease, and one in four will take prescription medicine daily. A child will eat 3,000 school meals on average that include affordable yet unhealthy choices from major food industries. She learned about certain things that go into the processed foods that Kalafa likes to call “The Scary Six.”
First is residues from herbicides, pesticides, and hormones added to animals. The second is flavorings such as MSG.
“If I have the slightest bit of MSG, I get a migraine-headache,” Kalafa said. It turns out MSG will stimulate your neurons and actually assist in creating ADD and ADHD.
The next of “The Scary Six” is additives such as colorings and preservatives. These preservatives that keep food from going bad also keep them from breaking down naturally in the human body. The fourth thing is “bad fats.”
“Most schools have really made an effort to get rid of the worst of bad fats,” Kalafa said. However they still allow some trans fats in their food.
The fifth item was “sweet stuff.” Kalafa presented a graph that showed how in the 2000s, the American population consumed over 100 pounds of sugar a year.
“There’s your obesity crisis right there,” Kalafa said.
The last thing is “GMO: Genetically Modified Organisms.”
“Our children and future generations are right now being used as a massive science experiment because we don’t know what the impact of consuming of food that are made from genetically modified organisms will be like,” said Kalafa.
According to Kalafa, our national standards “are lower than McDonalds.” However, there are some model programs Kalafa was able to find.
“I traveled around to find the best practices I could find,” Kalafa said, “and I was shooting that film in 2006 and 2007, and it was really hard to find communities that were doing really innovative things, you know sourcing locally and hiring chefs.”
When she did find schools with these model programs, she noticed that they had salad bars and sourced from local farms. They had whole grains, legumes, fewer choices, healthy vending machines, and even education on healthy eating.
Kalafa compiled all this research into her film “Two Angry Moms” and posted it on a website for parents to learn from.
Then, she said, “I ended up taking all my research and writing a book so this is more of a how-to manual, and it’s organized into chapters.” Her book “Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health” is divided into different chapters for different resources.
People just like Kalafa call out for communities to take action for healthier eating standards in schools. She provided tips such as finding partners in the community looking for a change, hiring a professional auditor to visit the school cafeteria, fundraising, training staff members, or finding alternatives.
“We can’t blame it all on food,” Kalafa said, “There are air quality issues, and there are water issues. But the one thing we really can control is what we eat.”