Pledge Allegiance: Let’s Move Pittsburgh and the 10,000 Tables Pledge

By | March 20, 2013
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Jamie Oliver and Richard Piacentini
Jamie Oliver, chef, campaigner, and founder of the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution spoke at the One Young World International Summit this past summer at Phipps Conservatory, and from there, inspired Food Revolution Pittsburgh. He is pictured here with Phipps Conservatory Executive Director Richard Piacentini. Photograph from Annie O’Neill Photography.

A true revolution needs popular support, so when whipping up the Food Revolution taking place right here in the city, Let’s Move Pittsburgh looked to foster a healthful following starting at our community’s heart — the family dinner table. As a response to Jamie Oliver’s speech at the One Young World Summit last year, Let’s Move Pittsburgh launched the 10,000 Tables pledge to encourage families to pull up a chair, power down the television screen, and dust off the dining room table for at least one home-cooked meal per week for an entire year.

Pittsburgh is the first city in the U.S. to propose such an approach to fostering good nutrition and smart eating habits, and the pledge is a perfect fit for Let’s Move Pittsburgh, the regional offshoot of First Lady Michelle Obama’s national health initiative. Home-cooked meals allow parents to have control over the ingredients and to teach children about where their food comes from. Once signed up, Let’s Move Pittsburgh acts as a cheerleader, providing resources for healthy eating on a budget, showcasing smart shopping choices, demonstrating how to grow healthy ingredients at home, and sharing recipes for fast and easy family meals.

10,000 Tables

To kick off the pledge, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the Barack Obama Academy will host Food Revolution Day on May 17. The day will begin with an interactive cooking demonstration by Executive Chef Stephanie Gelberd of Café Phipps. In “Stirring up Family Fun,” she’ll prepare healthful and delicious dishes with help from the kids. Also, with general admission at Phipps, participants will enjoy fruit tastings, edible pot-a-plant activities, and a fun walking challenge where kids will have the chance to win health-related prizes. Once school lets outs, join Bar Marco, the Environmental Charter School, and the Barack Obama Academy for an Iron Chef competition. Local chefs will be teaming up with high school students in Food Revolution clubs to create competing dishes. While chefs and students battle in the kitchen, check out the on-site community fair to sign up for CSAs, meet local farmers, and, of course, take the pledge.

In our efforts to promote the pledge beyond the dinner table, we spoke to three families that have already signed up and are enjoying the benefits of family dinners and a home-cooked meal. We got to know why the pledge is important to them, what they’ve been cooking, and what methods make it all happen. Each family had wonderful advice for how the busiest among us can still power down, bypass the drive-thru, and pull up a chair next to their loved ones this year. Read their stories below!



The Deming Family

Joanna Deming and her husband are raising two young boys while working full-time, so to sit down for daily family dinners requires cooperation and a little compromise. “It’s all too tempting to eat fast food, eat at different times from our other family members, or multi-task (surf the web or text) while eating,” she says. “But the health of our families, not to mention our physical and mental health, depends on a different model.” Joanna and her husband take turns cooking and baking for the family, and they maintain a backyard garden and participate in a CSA. “We try to enjoy the kitchen together as much as we can. Sometimes that means letting your one-year-old splash in the sink, or making cookies together after dinner can be a great incentive for the kids to finish their meals. It would be so much easier to turn on the TV while we cook for an hour, but we don’t want to do that.”

What are you cooking?

“When I think about what to make for dinner, my mind is sometimes so flustered with thoughts of work and the kids that I often rely on the meals I had as a child. Soup, stir fry dishes, pasta, and tacos were some items we had weekly. I also make Dahl with red lentils or quesadillas.” 

What advice do you have for other parents making the pledge?

“The key to an enjoyable meal with kids is to cut out the snacks and juice between meals. Now, my sons come to dinner and eat what’s on their plates without the fight, and they even eat pretty creatively. One of my sons eats the trunks of broccoli, and the other son eats the florets.”

Why Pittsburgh?

“Pittsburgh is just a neat city, and I always like to see it becoming more progressive. This is such an interesting, progressive thing — kind of backwards progression to a simpler, slower way. Being healthier is a good thing for Pittsburgh to lead the way on.”

The Davison Family

Jeni Davison was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was a teenager, and, since then, she’s been determined to cut out processed foods and to eat locally. The 10,000 Tables Pledge is now a way of teaching her kids those important lessons, too. The Davison family sits down together for both breakfast and dinner each day. “We have an almost 10-year tradition of saying our favorite parts [of the day] during family dinner. For almost a full year, our 7-year-old daughter has had the same favorite part: ‘eating dinner with my family!’” says Jeni. Making family decisions on meals helps make the pledge work. As a family, they create a chalkboard menu that hangs in their kitchen to list meals everyone can look forward to each week. They also garden together and raise a few chickens.

What are you cooking?

“Saturday mornings, we shop at East End Food Co-op and Kennedy Meat Stand. Then we’ll cook up a few chickens and eat that for one meal. We’ll use those chickens again to make soup together as a family. Other weeks, we’ll make a pasta dish and turn that into lasagna for another meal. We make things that we can eat again in a new way.”

Why Pittsburgh?

“We moved to Pittsburgh about three years ago, and I’ve never lived in a place where you can walk to so many local markets to buy local meats and produce. I feel like Pittsburgh is on the cusp of where the rest of the nation is heading. People have growing concern about their health and about the health of their families.”

The Kapoor Family

Caitlin Kapoor grew up learning the importance of family dinners from her parents. Both worked full-time jobs while balancing kid’s ballet lessons and school projects, and still made dinner with family a top priority. Caitlin and her husband, Amesh, now have a 10-month-old son of their own, and they’ve adopted that tradition for their own new family. Caitlin says, “It’s important for us to have a moment during the day to be with our loved ones — instead of being everywhere else except with them.” Caitlin is a health counselor, so she cooks every meal for her family from scratch and even holds monthly “Healthy Eaters” meetings at Marty’s Market, where she also shops for fresh ingredients.

What are you cooking?

“Lots of soups and salads, but I look for new, interesting recipes to keep meals from getting boring. We also eat a lot of fish, and we tend towards organic, free-range chicken. I use the slow cooker to cook chicken thighs with different spices and serve that with quinoa or rice, or when I use Mexican seasonings, I serve the slow-cooked chicken over tacos with lime juice, avocado, and cilantro.”

Why Pittsburgh?

“I moved here from New York City a year ago, and I am inspired and proud of being in this city every day. In the nation’s eyes, Pittsburgh has been a coal city, a steel city, an engineering city, but I’m really proud of what the city is actually doing — artistically and food-wise. Pittsburgh is taking the lead here and gaining a reputation as a city that knows that what is going on.”

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