2018-09-13 / Front Page

Challenge Features Local Foods

By Rona Mann


Register for the Aquidneck Food Challenge. Individual registration is $20, registration for a family/household is $45 and includes a gift bag and admission to a kickoff celebration on Sept. 19 at the Brick Alley Pub. Register for the Aquidneck Food Challenge. Individual registration is $20, registration for a family/household is $45 and includes a gift bag and admission to a kickoff celebration on Sept. 19 at the Brick Alley Pub. It’s one of the most hated four-letter words in the English language, yet you’ll never find it scrawled on a bathroom wall or hear teenagers taunting each other with it. Still, it’s a word that makes most people shudder.

Diet.

No doubt you’ve heard about miracle diets for health and well-being, such as celebrity diets, fad diets, juice fasts, spa weekends, and other ways to boost health, fitness and energy. Generally, what they all have in common is deprivation and extremes, many coming at a cost to psyche and pocketbook and none fostering the communities that surround us.

Consider then a sensible eating plan that’s not a diet at all, but a challenge, one that supports your community while you partake of the freshest local food and reap the health benefits. It’s the Aquidneck Food Challenge, from Sept. 22-29, now in its third year and celebrating eight days of fine local eating and food sources. All participants can determine what they wish to eat, based on the availability of local foods.

“We’re challenging community members to eat only food grown or raised locally, either on Aquidneck Island or caught in Narragansett Bay, or in Rhode Island and its waters as a whole,” says Nikki Vazquez, coordinator of this year’s event.

The food challenge is sponsored by the Aquidneck Community Table (ACT), and includes local partners the MET School, Chartwells, Salve Regina University/ Sodexo, Eating Within the Ecosystem, Roger Williams University and local restaurants.

“The value of sourcing foods locally cannot be sufficiently stressed,” said Bevan Linsley, executive director of ACT, “in order to deliver long-term benefits to the regional economy and the environmental health of the North East's agricultural sector.”

Laura O’Toole, Salve Regina professor of sociology and senior faculty fellow for community engagement, speaks of what she says is a genuine commitment by the University to support Aquidneck Community Table.

“Sodexo, our dining services provider, has been using more local food in our dining hall, composting waste, and making an extra effort to prepare and label local food during the food challenge.”

Mark Rodriguez, general manager of dining services at Sodexo, stressed the importance of Salve’s commitment in a letter to students’ families. “We strive to source our produce, cheese, milk, and breads from within Rhode Island, cooking and eating every day toward a better tomorrow,” he wrote.

Many island restaurants will offer locally-sourced dishes during Challenge week to demonstrate the abundance of local ingredients. Challenge week programs will include cooking demos by Eating with the Ecosystem at ACT's farmers markets; Sunday Funday, a wine-tasting event at Stoneacre Brasserie; Local Brews & Bites at Newport Craft Distillery.

Other local restaurants such as Megs’ Aussie Milk Bar, the Castle Hill Inn, 22 Bowens, The Mooring, BRIX and Stoneacre Tapas have signed on to join the challenge, participating in healthy eating and local sourcing during the weeklong activities.

There will be an open house at all ACT community gardens on Sunday, September 30.

The registration fee supports the Aquidneck Community Table, which works year-round in the community, operating farmers markets in Newport and Middletown, and has three active community farms, a food scrap and composting program, and a Food Summit in partnership with Salve Regina.

“Our faculty recently approved a Food Studies minor, and several faculty have partnered with Aquidneck Community Table to engage students in research in support of their programs,” O’Toole said.

“In fact, I will challenge my own students in my Food Matters class this semester to understand the importance of local food systems and to be mindful of their own food choices, especially during the food challenge.”

“It’s great to have a garden here in Newport,” said Chef Tim Emery from the MET School.

“So far the kids are enjoying the fresh vegetables.”

Anyone may participate by registering online at aquidneckcommunitytable.org or by calling 401-256-7077. Tickets are $20 per person or $45 for a family, which allows food savvy folks to take advantage of the eight days of activities, including the opening night party at the Brick Alley Pub and a wine tasting at Stoneacre Brasserie on Sept. 23. Details of events and how to participate in the Challenge week can also be found at the website.

“The challenge itself is an amazing way for us all to learn how much we can actually source locally, what changes we need to make for equitable and affordable food for our whole community, and for encouraging food entrepreneurs to fill the gaps,” O’Toole said.

Linsley agrees, adding that supporting the environment is critical.

"ACT aims to grow the conversation about where our food comes from, tackling questions about the resilience we must have in our food system to meet climate change, the courage we must find to make our food system equitable, and the imagination we must inspire in food preparation to satisfy our hunger locally."

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