Inspiration for the “Faces of Hunger” Contest.

The latest video from the New York based group Improv Everywhere was released today and is called “Grocery Store Musical.” Enjoy.

In addition, for those budding filmmakers out there, consider making your own short film about hunger for a cash prize.

While it may be too close to the deadline for some of you, the “Faces of Hunger” video contest asks people 25 years old or younger to document hunger in his or her community through a short film (5-12 minutes) for the chance to win a prize of up to $5,000. Please share the opportunity with those you know, and if we can make a suggestion: if you win, give some of the money back to the community organization most effective in delivering food to those who need it. The deadline for the contest has been extended to October 30, so with a little over a week, there’s still time to shoot, edit, and submit. You can do so by visiting the Faces of Hunger Web site here.

– Christopher


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Act on Health Care Reform!


As the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on health reform, we need your help to urge members of Congress to preserve the prevention provisions! While the current provisions show a strong commitment to preventing chronic diseases, which account for 75 percent of our health care costs, policy makers could slash these provisions as they try to decrease the overall cost of the bill.

Currently in the health reform bills, the prevention funds would increase over time to about $10 billion a year. Congress is discussing slashing that by more than 75 percent.

It’s time to let Congress know that prevention is not negotiable! For too long, health care has focused on treating people after they have become sick, instead of keeping them well in the first place. The public health investment fund and national prevention strategywould lower disease rates, improve quality of life, and help reduce health care costs for families, businesses, and government.

The current prevention measures also include a national menu labeling policy. This policy would result in nutrition information on the menus and menu boards at chain restaurants across the country, bringing this popular policy, which has already passed in 16 local and state legislatures, to all Americans.

Please contact your Senators and Representative today and urge them to protect the prevention measures currently included in health reform!

To make it REALLY easy, click here.

– Christopher

(This is a repost of an email sent to us from the Center for Science in the Public Interest)


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Award for Best World Food Day message goes to Silverman.

Yesterday was World Food Day, a day to mark the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations. This organization was established on October 16, 1945 and its purpose is to make sure that the world gets adequately fed, but their latest report reeks of failures. While we would have loved to have been in Rome to hear the 6th Annual George McGovern World Food Day lecture by Marion Nestle, we were busy teaching high schoolers. And while we weren’t there, we feel good knowing that her comments about the solutions to hunger lie squarely in the social sphere, not the tech-world.

While Bill Gates, who also spoke this week (at the World Food Prize forum), firmly believes that developments in technology (mainly transgenic plants and fertilizers) will play a major role in solving hunger issues, he misdirects his frustrations by blaming environmentalists. He’s correct in asserting that technology has a role to play, but the inability of poor farmers to grow crops is only a small part of the problem facing those starving in the third world. If you want to point fingers, environmentalists are minor and largely irrelevant target. I recommend starting with someone bigger, maybe the World Bank?

For all the hype about the development of new tech-crops, like those of the Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution in the 70s, which produced high-yield rice and wheat (and won him a Nobel prize), we already know what solves hunger: Breastfeeding, clean water and safe food, empowerment of women, education, community food security, sustainable agriculture, and political stability. The technology Gates is talking about has yet to solve such problems, and probably never will (although, I’m open to it!). However, amidst all the passionate calls to end hunger, there was one voice that definitely stood out, and it wasn’t that of Pope Benedict the XVI.

While the Pope called for “determined and effective” action from Rome on World Hunger Day, and said that, “Access to food is more than a basic need, it is a fundamental right of individuals and peoples,” his own organization has the money to meet many of these needs and could do more. Even Jesus told his followers to sell what they had and give it to the poor. While the Catholic Church and its thousands of charities across the globe are known for their dedication to the poor, it’s hard for folks like Sarah Silverman to take the Pope seriously when he has a palace to sleep in. Maybe this is why Silverman decided to call him out. Even though selling the Vatican wouldn’t be enough, it would be helpful.

While the Web site has recently ranked their “Top 10 Most Awesome Food Mascots,” (the Jolly Green Giant should have been #1), we are giving our own award, and it goes to Sarah Silverman for “Best World Food Day” message of 2009. While many will find her message crude, she has a point: If we say we care, we need to ante up. Which is why I have decided to take Peter Singer’s challenge from his latest book “The Life You Can Save” and give a percentage of my income each month to groups working on these issues. It’s not the only thing I plan to do, but it is one that is vital. To the pope: Do it, sell the Vatican, and feed the 1 billion people who need it. It’s just a building.

– Christopher

p.s. In other news:

Government researchers want to peek in grocery carts

Oregon launches anti-junk food TV ads campaign

Matt Damon Helps With Hunger


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Stephanie Smith, Differences in Aid, and Paul Farmer.

The conversation about food has been both lively and varied this week. Last weekend the New York Times released a feature about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance teacher whose life has been ruined as a result of eating a hamburger tainted with E. Coli 0157. This moving and educational account of the horror that results from willy-nilly food safety protocols, is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in order to protect our food supply and our citizens. When asked to comment about meat companies like Cargill, where the meat was traced back to, Smith recounts in the video feature that accompanies the article, “I don’t know how these people sleep at night.”

While Kerri and I are vegan, and don’t eat meat, both of us were moved to sorrow and anger over what happened to this young woman. At the same time, we also, as always, understand the pain and suffering endured by the animal that was served to her. This situation was a double loss, both for the cow, and for Smith as well. As a result of reading this story, it was hard to feel sympathy for the “pain” of those who see the possibility of McDonald’s moving into the Louvre. At the same time, I totally understand their fury about the fact that fast food chain could move into the home of the Mona Lisa.

Yet, towards the end of the week, there was reason to rejoice as the House of Representatives approved an agriculture bill that increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) by $4.3 billion dollars, as well adding $400 million dollars to the Women, Infant, Children feeding program (WIC), and to school aid and child care nutrition programs, who saw an increase of $1.9 billion dollars. We talk about the importance of programs like SNAP in our forthcoming book, and the challenges facing those in poverty within our country. There are those who exploit these federal assistance programs, like an extraordinary example this week where booze, porn, and viagra were being purchased, but the actual fraud rate is minimal (between 2 and 4 percent).

However, while there are 36 million people in the United States who are in need of assistance (12 percent of the population), there are billions of people around the world who have it much worse. Wealthy countries like the U.S., who give the most food aid to poorer nations, have slashed the amount they’re giving to the World Food Programme, leaving the United Nations feeding program about $2 billion dollars short. This means that 40 million people will be directly affected in the coming weeks. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP at the UN told The Observer, that this could be the “loss of a generation” of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. “We are facing a silent tsunami,” Sheeran said. One that she says we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

While this reality is hard to comprehend, Kerri and I were reminded on Thursday that there is hope. We had the chance to hear humanitarian and physician Paul Farmer speak on Thursday, and his level of commitment to those living in poverty across the world over the last 27 years was nothing short of inspiring. For those who have the chance to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, it is a fascinating and engaging reminder that the most important question that we can ask ourselves is this: How can I use my life to improve the world around me?

– Christopher


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New York Times Lesson Plan that includes us!

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While it’s taken us a while to find out about this, it’s still relevant. So, for all of the teachers out there, here’s the lesson plan that The New York Times Learning Network designed concerning eating and economics, and of course, it includes our blog/project.

As teachers, we were flattered to find out about this, and look forward to including more lessons for teachers when the book comes out! If you are a teacher, and already have lessons about eating and economics, or the food system, please get in touch if you’re interested in sharing.

– Christopher

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Glamour Magazine Loves Us.


We were pretty surprised to find that Glamour Magazine’s Health & Fitness section links to our project, but after peeking through some of their articles, we were happy to have their support. Big thanks to Glamour Magazine for sharing our blog with their readers!

– Christopher

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“S” is for Sugar.

One of the ads placed in New York Times in an effort to educate people about how soda can affect weight gain.

One of the ads placed in New York Times in an effort to educate people about how soda can affect weight gain.

Christopher and I both suffer from a love of chocolate. While we generally try to eat healthfully, this morning we enjoyed a breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes. There are many occasions when after dinner, one of use will comment that we could go for some of the dark sweet stuff. However, we know this about ourselves, and for the most part limit the amount of sweets in our home.

It seems that limiting our sugar intake, while some evenings can be a bummer, is a good choice, not just for us, but for families with children as well. A long-term study out of the U.K., that included 17,000 people, suggests that people who eat candy daily as children, may have an increased chance of committing acts of violence as adults. I hope someone lets Britany Spears know.

I don’t know if she gives her kids candy daily, but she was reported by some gossip sites to have spent $3,000 on candy in a single afternoon (much of that said to be for lollipops for her backup dancers) at the Sugar Factory in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, candy and sugar consumption in children has become such a concern, that some school districts are having to change policies to combat poor eating habits.

In an effort to help teach and reinforce healthy eating habits, New York City Schools have placed a ban on bake sales. This is in addition to limiting what can be sold through vending machines. Many states have similar legislation. A few years ago, California banned sodas in schools, and has limited items that can be sold to students based in part on the fat and sugar contents of the items. While some of the students are upset about the ban on bake sales due to the loss of revenue for club and athletic activities (bake sales are limited to once a month and only after the lunch period), the effort hopes to address the obesity issues many children face, and additionally researchers have found a correlation between health and  performance on tests.

However, not everyone supports changes such as these. The Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization funded by 100 companies, believes that efforts to educate people about their food choices and healthy eating is the work of “food police” trying to limit our freedom. They have gone as far as to make television ads that tout the benefits of corn syrup as “just like sugar,” and run ads in the New York Times that claim that people are trying to control our individual food choices by asking “Are you too stupid to make your own food choices?” Of course, they have no complaints about companies who are telling us to eat their food products.

The bottom-line is that people are allowed to eat what they choose. Efforts such as the bake sale ban, and the PSAs about the risks of high sugar diets are working to ensure that people understand the outcomes of such diets. Encouraging better eating habits is necessary to increase the health of our nation’s people, and apparently, we need such messages.

This week an NPR article discussed a report released by the CDC which shows that only one-third of American adults are eating the recommended servings of fruits (and they specify not fruit juice), and only 27 percent are eating the daily recommended servings of (not-fried) vegetables. The percentages decrease for teens. Perhaps the fact that they found that only one in five middle and high schools had fruits (not juice) and non-fried vegetables available to students is a signal that we’re not doing the best job modeling healthy eating habits.

Maybe we can learn from First Lady Michelle Obama’s scheduled appearance on Sesame Street, a follow up to her previous visit, for the November 10th kick off (of the show’s 40th anniversary) when she will teach about the importance (and tastiness) of vegetables while talking about gardening.

Cheers to eating more veggies,


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Thinking Outside the Pod.

This Asian-infused lima bean appetizer prepared by the Scripps Memorial Hospital Executive Chef was one many innovative entries in this weekend's cook-off challenge at the Lima Bean Faire in Encinitas, Califorina. Photo by Christopher.

This Asian-infused lima bean appetizer prepared by the Scripps Memorial Hospital Executive Chef was one many innovative entries in this weekend's cook-off challenge at the Lima Bean Faire in Encinitas, Califorina. Photo by Christopher.

There’s nothing like lima beans to bring the community together in celebration of local heritage. Pulling into the dirt parking lot just north of the San Diego Botanical Gardens, we could see the large red and white striped tent, and a huge homemade sign listing the happenings of this weekend’s 2009 Lima Bean Faire. Seated at about two dozen round tables, local residents tasted a variety of lima bean based dishes, deciding which one would get their vote in each category of the weekend cook-off challenge.

“You want people to eat healthy, but you can’t force it down their throats,” said Scripps Hospital Executive Chef E. Dennis van Rummond. His entry into the “ethnic” category of the cook-off was an Asain infused lima bean appetizer. He marinated his beans in a blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and crystallized ginger, and sat them next to a bite-sized salad of red bell pepper, green onion and water chesnuts, all elegantly laid across the top of a baked wonton wrapper.

While his eye-catching presentation stood out from the “savory soup” and “classic” entries, competition from local restauranteurs and community members was fierce.

On one side of Rummond was a representative of When In Rome, a well known Italian restaurant with 23 years of experience satisfying patrons. When In Rome, an affiliate of Slow Food San Diego, and winner of a local Reader’s Choice award, served their Italian marinated beans as a bruschetta imbued with a pecorino cheese.

However, the most palate satisfying, and practical lima bean innovation, was a simple and delicious hummus created at the last minute by local resident Christopher Quicker at the request of Inn of Moonlight Beach owner Ann Dunman.

“I used red, orange and yellow bell peppers and roasted them over an open flame and added them for the color,” Quicker said. The bell peppers however only made up 10 percent of the ingredients. While he used roasted garlic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper, 80 percent of his creation were pure lima beans provided by the California Lima Beans Growers Council, a legume that used to grow abundantly is this coastal area as they require no irrigation, and are a great source of protein.

Each contestant was given a 10 pound bag of dried lima beans in mid-September, allowing them ten days to perfect their entry. While the hundred-dollar grand prize, and the People’s Choice Lima Bean Trophy were enticing, participation in the event for local businesses meant free advertising and connection to the community in a family-friendly setting. A few folks played lima bean bingo, and lima bean poker while awaiting the announcement of the cook-off winner, and the children’s fashion show.

Hildegarde, a volunteer with the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, selling dried lima beans to attendees of the faire. Photo by Christopher.

Hildegarde, a volunteer with the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, selling dried lima beans to attendees of the faire. Photo by Christopher.

Outside of the tasting tent there were several vendors of local crafts, a caricaturist, and displays of local artifacts, and old photos of Encinitas from the late 1800s and early 1900s provided by the San Dieguito Heritage Museum. Today’s festivities however were just part of the weekend long event that included a talent show the night before, and a “follies” program on Sunday including magicians, singers, jugglers and Mr. Balloon Man.

On our way out of the Lima Bean Faire, we stopped by a small booth and spoke with a woman named Hildegarde, who convinced us to buy a bag of dried lima beans for a dollar. Her enthusiasm for the event, attended mostly by people closer to her age than ours, left us feeling thankful for our community, and inspired us to try creating a lima bean dish of our own.

– Christopher


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A small sample of our zucchini harvest.

A small sample of our zucchini harvest.

With the school year in full swing. I have little time to spend in my yard. Before I take off in the mornings I run outside to quickly water and see how many zucchinis have doubled in size overnight. We have had such an abundance that last we were able to have a much lower  grocery bill by eating zucchini in every meal. I am, however, excited to start learning about what will thrive in the fall and winter (as much of a winter as we have in San Diego) for my next round of planting. A trip to the garden store yesterday prompted an employee to come over to tell me about a class on cool weather plants that she will be teaching next Saturday morning. I am looking forward to it.

While I play in my garden,  people continue to  struggle with real food issues. On September 12th Norman Borlaug passed away. He was a scientist who created high-yield wheat that was to save the world from famine. However, the New York Times reports that despite his discovery,  and due several factors, the number of people living with hunger is larger than ever.

Meanwhile, the UN states that investing in agriculture alone is not going to solve hunger issues. There still remains for many people around the world a lack of access to food or the resources to grow their own.

It seems odd that in a world where there appears to be so much to eat, people can be hungry. During the dollar diet project we did not accept food that was not available to everyone and due to that we had to turn down several free meals that were available to us through our jobs or social events.

I was at a baby shower for a good friend yesterday and at the end, her mother, who had hosted the party, sent me home with a grocery bag full of quiche, pasta salad, fresh veggies, and chocolate cake. It was nice to not have to cook, but at the same time, I was confronted by the fact that I am not in need and  because of that, I have access to an abundance of freebies that others are shut out from.



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Food Safety, Healthcare, and TeaBagger Experiment?

 talk of "big government" is cliche. The government has to be "big" in order to serve 300 million people. Both sides are guilty of big spending. Image courtesy of McClatchy News Services.

All this talk of "big government" is cliche. The government has to be "big" in order to serve 300 million people. Both sides are guilty of big spending. It's our country, we have to pay for it somehow, even when the economy is in the toilet. Image courtesy of McClatchy News Services.

Last week when Kerri went to collect our produce from our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick-up point, it simply wasn’t there. Our name was on the list, but our box was missing. I put a call into Be Wise Ranch (our farm) and left a pleasant, but uncertain message wondering where our food had gone. It’s been a week and we still haven’t heard back from them, and our vegetable drawer remains empty. However, with school starting, and plenty to witness in the public arena, we’ve been more relaxed about (or at least distracted from) the disappearance of our lettuce.

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website for the public to learn more about food safety issues, and while we’d like to see some type of new agency dedicated specifically to these issues, for now an online resource was the least they could do. We’re not complaining, in fact, we’re very pleased by this new site, but it doesn’t suffice in the face of our fractured food safety system. Yet, while food safety is one of the most important concerns of our day, the launch of this site was easily overshadowed by the on-going healthcare debate, the centerpiece of President Obama’s domestic agenda.

While the “teabaggers” (or mostly right-wing anti-Obamaphytes posing as “real” Americans) marched on Washington today with a grab bag of conservative talking points (I saw signs proclaiming “Jesus Saves”, “Say No to Socialism”, and even a few confederate flags), the most important thing that Americans can do to take a stand on issues of healthcare is to start eating well, and to get involved in the struggle for food justice.

Regardless of where you stand politically, what you eat plays a larger role in your overall health than who provides your healthcare, or how much it costs. Healthcare is important. That being said, Michael Pollan also had an interesting piece in the New York Times a few days ago further strengthening the link between these two issues.

This march on Washington, while cathartic for the folks involved, will do little to shape the national debate on healthcare. Obama’s speech in Minneapolis had a more focused and memorable ring to it with his “Fire it Up!” and “Ready to Go!” What I’m waiting for is for one of these “teabaggers” to ante up and stop paying taxes altogether. I secretly hope that they document it in a blog, and write a book, as that seems like a great way for others to connect with what the issues are for those involved.

I wonder if this hypothetical experiment would include not using any government services paid for by taxes (that would only seem fair), which would mean: no mail, no driving (your license, and your streets are managed by the government!), no flying (darn that FAA!), no t.v. or radio (down with the FCC!), no sending the kids to get a free public education (no more liberal indoctrination!), no federal student aid, no medicare or medicaid, no eating food that comes from a place that is safety checked by the government (hunger strike!), no calling the police or fire department in an emergency, no use of national parks or monuments, no food for the needy (let them starve!) and of course, no supporting the troops. DOWN WITH BIG GOVERNMENT! I think a blog and book of this nature would be far better than ours. At the very least, it would be more interesting than hearing about our missing produce…

Any takers?

– Christopher


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