Foodies of the Lehigh Valley

By Kathleen Shannon

Bethlehem, like many cities across the country, is experiencing a new wave of food awareness stemming from concern that nutritional needs are not met by processed and fast food.  Obesity, pesticides and chemicals, plus cost and environmental awareness are creating a social movement.

Farmers’ markets for fresh, local produce have always been around, but the movement is more than that.

Groups are getting together, people are talking and action is being taken to not only educate people but to help them create healthier lives, originating with what they eat.

Cedar Crest College grad Jaime Karpovich personifies the rapidly growing foodscape in Bethlehem:  smart, fun, engaging and totally committed to action.

When she needed a red pepper for a recipe and had to drive 40 minutes round trip to get one, Karpovich told her friend and neighbor, Cathy Frankenburg, who told Jaime about the food co-op she had belonged to in Pittsburgh, and then – well, it just happened.

Over 70 Bethlehem area residents are now working to put together a food co-op that will serve the community.  Slated to open in 2014 – but perhaps sooner – organizers are planning a space that will not only provide the freshest food available at the lowest possible price, but also host a coffee nook, a classroom for cooking classes and a health food section.

Karpovich is closely tied to the foodie scene with her “Save the Kales” blog, full of recipes like Steamed Veggies over Quinoa with Tahini Sauce, Green Pizza (Herb Dough with Roasted Cabbage, Asparagus and Kale) and Orange Poppy Seed Salad with Brussels Sprouts and Golden Beets.  Many of the recipes are available from her home-based cooking company.

Karpovich was a major force in making Bethlehem’s first VegFest a reality in September 2011.  Food,  along with cooking demos, health advice, adult beverages and festival type fun attracted 10,000 to Southside Bethlehem’s Greenway, with the second VegFest scheduled for September 8, 2012.

Karpovich and Frankenberg host “Green Drinks” one Wednesday night monthly at the Bethlehem Brew Works, where people gather and mingle to share ideas about planning the food co-op, sustainable life-styles, gardening and recipes with like-minded folks.   So far, the co-op has 690 Facebook friends but everyone likes to get together to talk face to face, not just message back and forth.

Maybe serendipity will bring them in contact with Breena Holland, a political science professor at Lehigh University who recently gave a presentation on food equity at Bethlehem’s town hall.  Holland works with Lehigh students in their community gardens and younger people from Broughal Middle School;  they have a garden at Lehigh, too.

In her presentation Holland addressed the problem of hunger that still persists nationwide and the lack of access to fresh and affordable food.  There is growing awareness, she said, of food insecurity: not having enough money to buy what’s needed for the pantry.

Holland wants to see cooking classes made available to families eager to break away from processed and fast foods.  She acknowledges that getting back to healthy eating habits is something many people need to do, showing slides demonstrating food expenditures by income group; and the high end often needs some education, too.

When cigarette taxes rose, people quit smoking, Holland said.  The same thing could happen with foods that don’t work for people, such as sugar, hydrogenated oils, over processed grains:  make them expensive so people won’t buy them.

Dr. Mariah King works with Holland at Lehigh and teaches Urban Agriculture in the summer at the community gardens.  Students plant everything and get some hands-on organic training; later in the season some produce is donated to New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem. She says one communal garden, the Maze on Third Street in Bethlehem, welcomes anyone, whether it’s to plant or to harvest.

Eric Ruth of the Kellyn Foundation, a local non-profit focusing on health and wellness issues, helped plan Holland’s public presentation.  He’s also in touch with Cathy Frankenburg of the co-op planning group.  Ruth believes that as a society, we’re undergoing a social movement that will have more lasting impact than the political and social justice movement of the 1960s and 70s.  People are concerned about what they eat and the kind of lifestyle they have.  It’s happening all over the country, with community gardens sprouting, backlash against unhealthy school lunches increasing and demand for locally grown fresh produce growing.

“It is a social movement focusing on healthy lifestyles in ways that are natural to our mind and body,” Ruth says. “What you have occurring are diverse groups, some working independently, some beginning to work together,  for a common higher goal of living a healthy lifestyle.”

Kellyn fostered the formation of The Eat Real Group after a screening of “Cafeteria Man,” a documentary that focuses on changing the Baltimore City Public Schools’ cafeteria fare into healthy, appealing meals kids will actually eat.  (Editor’s Note: Writer Kathleen Shannon reported on “Cafeteria Man” as part of her article, “School Lunch Makeovers” in the March issue of Lehigh Valley Marketplace.)

The Eat Real Group –  farmers, school administrators, nutritionists, teachers, parents – wants to bring locally grown produce into Lehigh Valley schools, calling their activism a win for children’s health and a win for the health of the economy by supporting local growers.

Breena Holland
Associate Professor of Political Science
Lehigh University
9A – STEPS Bldg.
Bethlehem, PA   18015

Eric Ruth
Kellyn Foundation
2820 Emerick Blvd.
Bethlehem, PA  18020

Jaime Karpovich
Author, Save the Kales and Steel City USA
121 E. North Street
Bethlehem PA 18018

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