Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One Pot Wonder

Today, I bring to you...really terrible pictures and a recipe. This week's classes are all about soup. It's affordable, filling and quick (depending on how you make it). Plus, it only has one pot (plus maybe a cutting board and a knife). As my classes know, I despise those cooking shows where they say you can make a meal in ___ minutes (20, 30, whatever) and then they generate tons of dishes. I don't know about you, but there aren't magical elves in my kitchen cleaning up after me as I go. When I say a fast dinner, I mean the whole shebang.

This particular gem takes about 20 minutes total to make (including clean up). My classes asked for seconds and seemed to really like it. We also had a good discussion about other possibilities for quick and easy soups.

The cost per serving of this one pot wonder (using the broth, spinach and whole wheat pasta) is about $2.25/person. Substituting frozen spinach or a different vegetable or using water in place of broth will decrease the cost.

One Pot Meal: Bean Soup
Serves about 4
Olive or Vegetable Oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 qt chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1 bunch leafy greens, chopped (or frozen, but decrease liquid in soup to compensate)
1 15 oz. can of beans, drained (I use white beans, but kidney could work, too)
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes (or stewed) - try to find "no salt added"
1 cup pasta, dried (preferably whole wheat)
shredded cheese for topping, optional
  1. Heat about 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add stock/water, beans, tomatoes and seasoning (salt/pepper and other seasonings you desire).
  3. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and simmer about 8 minutes. Add greens just before removing to wilt.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese to serve.
Optional, for meat lovers: In step one, add some crumbled sausage or ground beef (about 1/2 lb to 1 lb) and cook until brown before adding onion.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Brevity Has Never Been My Strong Suit

Friday was a lovely day in the San Francisco Bay. Crystal clear skies that were heartbreakingly blue, temperatures hovering around 60 (this is good when you are huffing and puffing up and down the hills of the city) and that fuzzy Friday feeling of people about to enjoy a lovely weekend. I had the morning free, so I seized it to do touristy things I never really got the chance to when I lived here. I walked through Chinatown (live chickens squawking from open doorways, color everywhere) to North Beach (full of Italian flags and the wafting scent of garlic and fresh bread) to Coit Tower where I swallowed hard (slightly claustrophobic and mildly afraid of heights) and rode the elevator to the top for some spectacular views. A walk along the Embarcadero and a quick lunch at the Ferry Building ended my morning of sightseeing.

A quick BART ride under the Bay (just don't think about it) to Oakland, and I was ready to begin my conference schedule. Yesterday's workshop was conducted by Ingrid Daffner Krasnow from Berkeley Media Studies Group and was entitled, "Introduction to Media Advocacy: Shaping the Public Debate". I might re-title it, "Learning to Keep Your Mouth Shut and Get Your Organization's Message Out". Condensing, articulating and specifically addressing your audience were the big takeaways.

The session started with a video presentation by Parent Earth, a group that makes videos about food issues to engage and involve families in the dialogue. After viewing a smattering of their work. the speaker encourage us to thinking about using more video to really capture our audience. Films, she said, get people talking and "spice up" what can sometimes be dry topics. She mentioned that if we were intimidated by making our own videos to try reaching out to other media companies that had already produced them. (In addition to Parent Earth, she named and media rights as entities to find video and then contact the filmmaker about using.)

Ingrid's interactive presentation (we often stopped to discuss or try out various strategies/activities) began after a short break. The next 3 hours were a serious lesson in formulating a message succinctly, precisely and engagingly for your organization. Here are some of my key take-aways:

  • Media advocacy is a bit different than social marketing in that social marketing doesn't attempt policy change (in fact, it might focus more on individual change). Media advocacy is a strategic endeavor to push a particular policy agenda.
  • Organizations MUST define their issue, problem, solution and audience before they begin addressing the media (this included giving interviews, writing letters to the editor, pitching stories).
  • As humans, our default is to place responsibility for change on the individual. Media campaigns  must work to encompass the whole story and change people's perceptions to be successful.
  • Placement (as in a particular newspaper section) and outlet (as in a particular news source) need to reflect who is your target audience for policy change.
  • Here is a BIG and IMPORTANT take-away (yes, I am shouting at you): You cannot be both strategic *and* comprehensive. As advocates, we are passion about about causes and want everyone to know as much as we do. However, this is not effective in a media campaign. (Message needs to be short and sweet.) Instead, think about where you want your audience to end up. Then, move them there. They don't have to follow the same route as you to get there.
  • Break down your media goals piece-by-piece. Think about changing the conversation, not trying to change an individual/system/policy immediately.
All of this really hit home for me since I am incredibly verbose 99% of the time (the other 1%, I'm sick). In fact, I'm pretty sure I talked way too much during the session, and I was actually *restraining* myself from asking half the questions in my mind. To address an agenda, I have to learn to be more succinct.

After the session, we had the opportunity to mill about and talk to the other participants. Really, there were so many interesting people there, I wish I could have met them all. The few I did have time to speak with I might have lingered with a bit too long. After all, I'm still learning to keep my mouth shut.

Today's workshop: Planning Successful Community-Based Food Initiatives. I'm already doodling "talk less, message more" in my journal.

Use your words wisely, people. Happy weekend.

One last tidbit. Someone in the workshop recommended a nifty little blog with lots of helpful advice for non-profits. Check it out:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Back to the Bay

From the CFSC website

Last night, I arrived in San Francisco for the Community Food Security Coalition conference, taking place in Oakland. The CFSC is an organization whose mission is defined as "to catalyze food systems that are healthy, sustainable, just, and democratic by building community voice and capacity for change". (, 11/3/11) The coalition works across North America by providing networking opportunities and training, and advocating for policy change. Besides the annual conference, CFSC maintains a listserv to link members and those interested in their mission, assists with grant writing and implementation, offers support for establishing food policy councils, helps run both the National Farm to School program and a network of Healthy Corner Stores, and publishes many papers, newsletters and research reports on topics related to their goals.

I'm here for the entire conference, including a few pre-workshops today and tomorrow. Today's workshop is on "Introduction to Media Advocacy: Shaping the Public Debate" and tomorrow's is "Planning Successful Community-Based Food Initiatives". Sunday-Tuesday's conference schedule involves workshops, forum/networking sessions and a couple of public addresses. I'm both excited to take part (these things always inspire me) and nervous (since many of the people who attend are established food activists in their communities).

However, right now, the only thing I'm thinking about is getting outside for a run (still on East Coast time and just waiting for the sun to come up!). I briefly thought I might not make it here yesterday, because, as I've mentioned, my dog is crazy. Although she's done great for the past few FF trips, she really freaked out about my leaving yesterday. And, if you've read my Zomppa posts (link 1) on it (follow-up story), she can be very, *very* destructive. Luckily, my dog sitter is A-mazing, and I was able to hop on my flight. I was lucky enough to score a middle seat with a guy on one side who itched his whole body while playing Sudoku the entire flight, a guy on the other side who snored tremendously while scratching and grabbing his crotch (how is this even possible??) and a guy in front of me who practically reclined into my lap the whole flight, farting. And the movie they showed was Rise of the Planet of the Apes which just made me feel bad about the dog and cry. (I mean, I didn't openly *weep* on the plane, but I wish they'd shown more episodes of 30Rock instead). It was a loooong day.

Today is bound to be much, much better!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Felonies, Bikes and City Living

After approximately 4 weeks of practicing justification for procrastination, I was forced to commit to a trip to DCPS headquarters today for another round of fingerprinting and completion of  my paperwork to become an "official" school volunteer. In my continuing quest to extend my environmental awareness beyond just food (really, I love things like A/C and paper towels and clothing-that-might -possibly-be-made-by-children-in-factories, so I'm honestly trying to expand my horizons and enlighten myself), I decide to Capital Bikeshare over there. Capital Bikeshare is totally awesome and easy to use. I even borrowed a helmet so my brains don't end up on the pavement (coordination is not my strong suit). Now that the weather is cooler and I won't arrive at destinations with a sweat stain on my butt and a stinky shirt, I'm determined to use it more often. This trip was perfect as it's a straight shot across the Capitol to arrive at the DCPS building. Very little traffic, almost no turns (I can never get those biking hand signals right). Suffice it to say, I arrived alive. Whew.

Back to DCPS. Although I used to teach in the system, I am not gifted with some sort of free pass on criminal investigation. Since I am going to be the guest "chef" at a local elementary school, DCPS needed to once again confirm I am TB and felony free. I visited my school back in September, and it has taken me this long to find a doctor, secure the test and then deliver the appropriate documents to the right people. I'm not proud of this, but this is what happens when you freelance at a dozen different agencies while traveling around the country on a research/writing assignment.

Meanwhile, my school patiently waits for me to begin. I was hooked up with them through Michelle Obama's "Chefs Move to School", a branch of the larger "Let's Move" campaign. This hookup took over a year.

I registered my information with "Chefs Move to School" over a year ago online (they have this nifty little map with little markers all over it proclaiming the happy marriages of chefs and schools all over the U.S.). I was really excited to work at a school since I figured my experience teaching, coupled with my culinary degree, would be a great fit. Unfortunately, beyond taking your information and making it available on their website, not much action happens (generic emails, maybe once a month). I briefly tried being proactive and contacting a couple of DC schools who were supposedly looking to be paired with a chef, but the information on the site was outdated. So, I basically moved on with other things and waited. This September, I received a very lovely letter from a preschool teacher at a school in Northwest DC asking if I would consider working with them.  She was so sweet and excited, I had to say yes. (I didn't mention she was my only suitor.)

So, what is the "Chefs Move to School"(CMTS) program exactly? Well, that's a very good question. It seems to mostly be an idea. An encouragement, if you will. It promotes adopting a school and working with school personnel to envision ways to spread the message of better nutrition through education. There's a CMTS handbook with facts on childhood obesity and school lunches. It includes a template for starting a school program. Could you do all these things on your own without CMTS? Sure. But, as I stated, I think the program basically is to exist as a linking module. And, hey!, now I have a school, so I guess it works in that respect.

It seems there are a lot of organizations trying to use chefs as a tool in schools right now. Besides the CMTS umbrella, there's also the nationwide Farm to School program, and various other entities (such as the American Institute of Food&Wine's "Days of Taste" event) trying to recruit chefs to teach kids about food, for most on a one or two time basis...for a few, more regularly and long term. What do you think of this approach? Is it just a stop gap measure? Does it make actual inroads in helping kids and families eat better? Would these organizations' resources (both time and money) be better spent finding long term programs and participants to commit to schools? Or possibly helping schools to create jobs to bring on nutrition teachers and specialists more permanently? Or training existing teachers to implement food curriculums (see previous blog)? Maybe the chefs are just a jumping off point- to excite kids and inspire schools to start a more comprehensive program once they see the children's interest?

I start at my school this month. I'll be going on a monthly basis to teach lessons for 3 and 4-year olds exploring food (particularly fruits and vegetables) using the 5 senses. We'll be squeezing, smelling, slurping, seeing and squishing all sorts of local products. I can only hope that it creates some excitement in the kids and gets them comfortable with the foods I hope they'll eat for a lifetime.

In other news, I am gushing over Philabundance again over at Zomppa. Check out my semi-stalker status and article here