School Lunch and Sausage

Some things to look forward to, we hope

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Now is the time to dream of the future, a time when we might go on journeys just to try regional cuisine. Maybe, as described below, to Rhode Island to try maybe the most misleadingly-named food in the country.

We might also make sure all children are fed! Wild stuff, I know, but there’s a model for it. Sweden: it has a lot figured out. Read on to learn more.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for some quick and lighthearted audio, try this mini-series about soda pop:

Part I

Part II

While you’re at it: tell us what your favorite soda pop is, pretty please.

Photo: The Yarvin Kitchen/Alamy Stock Photo

Soupy Isn’t Soup: Rhode Island’s Signature Food Is Still A Total Secret

By Julie Tremaine

Odds are, if you live outside of New England, you probably don’t know much about Rhode Island food. But — and I say this with no small amount of hometown pride but also a solid dose of truth — the smallest state in the nation has some of the best food you’ll ever eat. There’s the seafood, to start. Point Judith is home to the largest fleet of squid boats on the East Coast and supplies more than half of its calamari supply, which is around 20 million pounds, depending on the year. 

Maine and Cape Cod get all the credit for New England seafood — especially clam cakes and chowder — but with 400 miles of coastline on a state that takes less than an hour to drive across diagonally, the Ocean State is responsible for a lot of what you’d recognize as a signature New England-style dish. We claim that the clam cake was invented over 100 years ago by Carrie Cooper of Aunt Carrie’s in Narragansett, back when she was selling them from the family’s lemonade stand. 

We have some other culinary quirks, too, like coffee milk (imagine chocolate milk, but that tastes like coffee ice cream), Del’s Lemonade (a particular style of frozen lemonade that’s the best you’ll ever have), and pizza strips. In fairness, no one really likes those cold, cheese-less strips of dough and red sauce, but we eat them, and in massive quantities.

There’s one more only-in-Rhode-Island food that’s completely unique to this state, but is so under the radar that a lot of locals don’t even know about it: a spicy dried sausage called soupy. A variation on Italian sopressata, soupy is a dry, hard, spicy cured sausage that works as well on an antipasto plate as it is does on a pizza. It’s unique to Westerly, the southernmost town in Rhode Island, and very Italian. Soupy evolved from recipes brought by immigrants from Calabria when they settled in the southern part of the state, starting around the turn of the last century. It’s so common in Westerly that homes were often built with a “soupy,” a small room in the basement dedicated to making the sausage, and hanging it to cure. 

Sometimes called “supri,” soupy is different from sopressata in that it’s harder and spicier than its progenitor. The sausage is made with pork butts, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and paprika. When winter comes around, the pork is ground, mixed with the spices, put in casing and left to cure for several months in the cold before it’s ready to eat in the spring. The families who still make it — and there are many, who closely guard their time-honored methods — have an ongoing (and usually friendly) debate about whose is best.

The ingredients are simple enough, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re going to get your hands on a recipe any time soon. While there are a handful of local companies that will happily sell you soupy, and would love more of the world to know about it, they will absolutely not tell you, either literally or metaphorically, how the sausage is made. At Dipper’s Packing Company, the Dipollinos make their soupy using 100-year-old family methods that came straight from Calabria. The same with Westerly Packing — the family patriarch came to Westerly from Calabria in 1892 and opened a grocery there, which became a meat market selling its own soupy. Both places accept online orders and will ship their products. At Ritacco’s Market, run by the same Italian family for the last 50 years, soupy is the top-selling product, and they make thousands of pounds each year. 

If you were to ask someone in Providence, though, it wouldn’t be a guarantee that person had ever heard of the food that has such a passionate following only 40 miles away. It would be like half of Kansas City never having heard of the burnt ends that the city’s iconic barbecue made famous. But why is soupy such a secret? Honestly, there’s no explaining it. You’ll just have to try it yourself and help spread the word.🐖 

Photo: Agencja Fotograficzna Caro/Alamy Stock Photo

Sweden’s Most Important Meal

By Pauline Münch

For over two decades, Sweden has provided all school children aged 7-16 with a free lunch. But this isn't your average sloppy joe, splattered on to your tray by someone indifferent. Instead, cafeterias across the nation serve an array of whole grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables.

Sweden has actually promoted free school meals since the start of the 20th century, when they were seen as solution to feed children in low-income families. But lunch programs became even more popular after the Second World War, when free meals became a way to improve both social and gender equality. Women were encouraged to work outside the home, assured their children were getting a square meal. 

Throughout the 1940s, free lunch programs became widespread across Sweden — officially becoming mandatory after the Education Act of 1997. After a forward-thinking policy revision in 2011, school meals were required by law to be “nutritious” as well. 

Now, not only do the lunches contain a third of the calories required by children, but legislation exists regarding the amount of fiber, vitamin C and saturated fat in the daily meals. Further rules require schools to offer at least five different varieties of fruit, vegetables or legumes every day, all while restricting the availability of salty and sweet snacks and even soft drinks.

Although the menus differ across school districts, alongside the hot meal there is always a salad buffet, bread, milk, and water. Some common staples are meatballs with potatoes or salmon with pasta, but meat-free alternatives have become more popular during recent years. 

The true value of 260 million lunches served every year has not escaped policy makers. Lunch is seen as a learning opportunity, and Sweden’s mandatory food and nutrition education — which focuses on promoting healthy habits and tackling health inequalities — has been incorporated into many school cafeterias. Plus, the Swedish Food Agency released a model for schools to develop lunch programs which are integrated, as well as nutritious, safe, tasty, pleasant and sustainable. 

That’s right — Sweden’s school meals are also being used to promote sustainable eating habits. More and more schools are sourcing seasonal, regional, and organic food, with the southern city of Malmö set to serve 100% organic by 2020. The Swedish National Food Strategy even emphasizes the need for children to connect with farmers to improve their understanding of food production.   

These progressive food politics hold many lessons for other nations. According to a recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), only about one in five schools offer free lunch to students in the US. While traction was made with Obama’s nutrition standards for school meals, the study also found that the cost of food was the biggest barrier to implementing healthier options. Back in Sweden though, school lunches are financed with local taxes and cost approximately one USD (10 Swedish Kroner) per meal. 

Still, inspiring examples across the US — like the Austin Independent School District (AISD) Garden to Café program where cafeterias serve produce from school gardens —are critical and hold huge potential. In 2018 researchers found that Sweden’s lunch program had positive long-term impacts on not only the health and education of children, but on their lifetime earnings. Something even a capitalist can get excited about.🇸🇪

Please forward to a food-loving friend!

This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

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