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When taste is not enough

Camp Tamakwa’s Margot Perlmutter publishes new book in her quest to make camp food healthier while still pleasing the palate

BY ROBERT SARNER, Detroit Jewish News, July 19, 2017

Given the culinary mission Margot Perlmutter has chosen, one might mistake her for a glutton for punishment. Tampering with tradition and time-honored food offerings at summer camp doesn’t always make for happy campers. Indeed, they can be quite vocalabout it, especially when it involves less sugar. Even some parents, albeit well-meaning, question such an initiative, saying camp is a place where kids should eat whatever they want. As a result, many camp directors take the path of least resistance when it comes to food.

Not Perlmutter. In recent years, as Co-Director of Camp Tamakwa in Ontario’s majestic Algonquin Park — that Michiganders have been attending for decades — she’s making her camp’s food healthier and more nutritious, even at the risk to her popularity.

As part of her commitment to children’s well-being, Perlmutter just published Camp Food Matters, in which she makes a convincing case for re-thinking the usual eating experience at camp. Since becoming a mother in 2007, and having her second child in 2010, she became more attentive to food labels and the impact of eating on people’s health. As her children approached camper age, Perlmutter began re-examining what Tamakwa was serving three times a day, seven days a week, all summer long.

“Of course, I want children to enjoy their time at camp, and go home loving our food,” says Perlmutter, whose husband, Craig, is a Tamakwa co-director. “But I don’t feel it’s necessary to load that food with artificial ingredients or excessive amounts of sugar known to be unhealthy.”

The 80-page book is written and presented in a friendly, easy-to-read format with each short chapter offering practical tips Perlmutter has instituted at Tamakwa and at home. Beautiful color photos capturing the blissful world of summer camp.

Perlmutter cites the benefits of decreasing fried food, being more mindful of ingredients,cutting back on sugar, having a regular salad bar, reducing sugar-laden candy at Tuck, offering healthier treats, encouraging good eating habits and using locally produced food when possible.

“The book’s main goal is to help people realize camp food is important,” says Perlmutter. “I hope it mentors, even in a small way, a new generation of campers to be more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies, helps families make small changes in their own home and hopefully start a movement where all camps become more conscious of what they serve and recognize that camp food matters.”

So far, reaction to the book has been extremely positive. “What’s been especially satisfying is the enthusiastic response from people with no connection to our camp,” says Perlmutter, 42, who’s spending her 22nd summer at Tamakwa where she’s also made environmental changes. “Seeing how popular camps are in North America, and the current push to make school cafeterias healthier, I’m thrilled the book has resonated with other parents seeking change.”

Born in Montreal, Perlmutter first attended Tamakwa in 1986, spending 10 summers there as a camper and staff member. After working in advertising for nine years, she returned to Tamakwa in 2006 as a co-owner/director. When not at camp, she lives in Toronto with her husband and their two children, Nate, now a 3rd-year camper, and Molly, almost a camper.

Tamakwa was founded in 1936 by Detroit naturalist Lou Handler and Canadian outdoorsman Omer Stringer. Since then, it has always attracted a large contingent of campers and staff from Michigan’s Jewish community.

– Robert Sarner is the Editor of the South Tea Echo, Tamakwa’s annual newspaper since 2002.

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