Food for Thought

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Amidst celebration, a push to improve habits

By Samuel Chamberlain

Now in its third year, the “New Taste of the Upper West Side” festival has grown, adding several events to its weekend-long celebration of the neighborhood’s burgeoning culinary scene.

Foodies can get started early Friday morning with a panel discussion about healthy eating, school lunch programs and buying local, hosted by the American Museum of Natural History. The panel is slated to include Ellie Krieger of the Network and Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post, as well as restaurateurs Bill Telepan and John Fraser and nutritional expert Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Proceeds will go toward Wellness in Schools, an organization that promotes healthy eating and fitness among students.

“We’ve sold 700 tickets, which we’re astounded by,” said Don Evans, event chairman for New Taste of the Upper West Side, which West Side Spirit sponsors.

Wellness in Schools was founded in 2005 by Nancy Easton. At the time, Easton was teaching at a school on the Lower East Side, where the effects of kids’ poor eating habits shocked her.

Bill Telepan

“There was lack of physical activity, inability to focus, behavioral issues,” Easton said. “Then I’d watch them after school, and they’d go to the convenience store to get a bottle of Coke and a bag of Doritos.”

The cornerstone of Wellness in Schools’ program is its Cook for Kids program, which is designed to introduce healthier school lunch foods. The program is currently in eight schools, and the organization is planning to expand it into another 12 schools this fall.

Telepan, who now directs the Cook for Kids program—in addition to his duties as master chef at his eponymous restaurant—began working with Wellness in the Schools in 2008. He has made school lunch improvement a priority since he first began volunteering at P.S. 87, where his daughter, Leah, attends elementary school.

“It’s great to be able to use my skills for good,” Telepan said. “It’s great to help kids whose school meal is the most important meal of the day.”

The program is concentrated in high-poverty areas, including the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn and East Harlem.

“Those are places where, unfortunately, poverty and obesity are inextricably linked,” Easton said.

However, the program is also coming to schools in Washington Heights and the Lower East Side, and Easton hopes the panel at the New Taste festival will help spread these ideas.

“We’re trying to appeal to parents,” Easton said. “We have a very nice group of chefs and people who work in these areas and know a lot about healthy eating, so we’re really trying to appeal to parents.”

Telepan also hopes to get the word out to new groups.

“Hopefully we can help each other out and exchange ideas, rather than just raising issues,” he said.

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“A Conversation With…,” May 21, American Museum of Natural History, LeFrak Theater, West 77th Street entrance (betw. Central Park West and Columbus avenue), www.newtasteuws.com; 9:30 p.m., $25 to $35.

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