Sharing our Strength Spirit

The Future of Food and Hunger

the future of food - the food poet

In a room full of food writers, editors, movers and shakers, I found myself all alone. As applause struck a fevered pitch in the audience, my heart rate began to race.  I tried to edge out from my emotions and siphon them into the seat next to me. I tried to make my fingers with their triggered itch behave, but instead I let the pull sweep me into the locus of its energy. I began sinking deeper into a reality I’ve known would be my truth for too long and took up the helm of a voice in the wilderness crying out.

Monday marked several important intersections as IACP invoked trying to answer the question of “The Future of Food” and it also happened to be the day of The Giving Table‘s grassroots effort of bringing together over 200 food bloggers against hunger. How strange to see the overlap on two topics that affect one another. The future of food and hunger wrapped me in a curious cocoon from which I soaked in the five speakers’ comments. One voice in particular rankled me exceedingly.

According to one speaker from a large chemical company that’s gotten into the business of selling seeds, the future of food will be found in genetic engineering. He spoke with the ease of power and the smoothness of molasses letting phrases like “open-pollenating corn” slip out nonchalantly even as his agenda continued to propel his words forth. Their interest in “feeding the world” and “diversifying crops” didn’t speak to the terminator seeds they have engineered that have built planned

obsolescence into something that naturally would grow when nourished. My fingers hit the keypad with fervor trying to capture the comments and put them into the ether of the internet that others not in the room, not applauding could chime in. As luck or shrewd planning would have it, no time was available for Q&A, so any questions to put the propaganda in check could not be asked aloud. I refrained from saying something I might regret to the “former farmer” on best business practices.

A session later and like all the other attendees, I walked with the throng into the lunch line snagging salad greens with tongs and settling into an open seat. Between bitefuls and earfuls from my foodie friend, I caught snippets of story across the table. A chef I respect was speaking to two colleagues and I found a horror growing in my chest as their conversation continued down a treacherous path, citing how brave it was for the chemical company representative to show up and what good work they are

doing. My foodie friend piped up, head nodding that yes, their efforts would be the future of food. I was flabbergasted. Silently, I sat in a strange sense of observation. My thoughts turned back to the future of food session that morning and the comments of another panelist who claimed that the amount of food we are now eating means we have to account for an extra billion people that will need to be fed. Accounting for an extra billion people – GE seeds as the great white hope, together

they sapped any sort of hope I had held onto when I walked into the expansive ballroom that morning. On a day dedicated to fighting hunger now through raising awareness with readers and prompting calls to action, I found my thoughts in a dystopic future of our own making. Bedraggled, I crawled into bed that evening with eyes wide open. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” would now read, “We are the poor, the tired, the ninety-nine percent masses…” with a questionable food future.

Sometimes, if I let myself think about the problems in the world around us, they can easily bog down any sort of small progress with their enormity. This stymies the process from starting.  It keeps us mired down in quick solutions instead of considering long-term consequences. On Tuesday morning, the topic of “How California Has Changed Food and Continues To” brought me to a new understanding that what we, as food writers, editors, movers and shakers attempt to do is deeply

entrenched in the future of food. We write, photograph, develop recipes not merely for today but with tomorrow in mind. The grim reality of lack of real food access beyond boxed food and tampering with nature thinking we can outsmart it affects us even if we don’t realize it. When the food writer posits aloud in a room of their colleagues, “How can we be adequately compensated for our hard work?” this is the question asked by our readers. So, in thinking about the future of food collectively, we can make

a difference in how that system gets shaped by asking important questions and calling for greater accountability and provoking our readers to do the same. As Kat Flinn reminded a room full of food writers, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is more than just an adage. “Communitarian food” and the drive back toward local may not save our food systems or eradicate hunger, but applying the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself could ensure they don’t go hungry and that they have access to food that doesn’t play at being real. If this is the future of food, it is one I can easily espouse.

Sharing our Strength Spirit

Hunger Challenge: Preparation & Day 1





The San Francisco and Marin Food Banks issued a hunger challenge for September 11 – 17, 2011. The challenge is simple: each person signs up to live off a food stamp budget for one week at $4.72 per person per day.  On the SF Food Bank site, they share that 1 in 5 children, seniors and adults in the Bay Area struggle with hunger everyday. The issue of hunger is one close to my heart and I signed up pretty much immediately, thanks to Amy for tweeting about the challenge and Mel for joining me! Without any cajoling, dear sweet Beck agreed he wanted to participate. And to up the ante for health reasons, we are going into this challenge gluten free and loaded with as many of our regular creature comforts (goat’s milk yogurt / natural chicken) as the budget permits.


We began plotting the menu out a full week in advance. Then we tweaked the menu and then we tweaked it again. Note to self- write your menus in pencil or dry erase marker… While the “official” hunger challenge started on 9/11, I happened to be traveling and in no condition to start the challenge at an airport or en route. I found an earlier flight arriving in the afternoon to spend extra time with Beck and do more shopping and mapping of the week. This week will be a stretch to the usual rote happenings in my kitchen and I am not so brash to start something until my head is in it 100 percent. So much of life is played in the mind, isn’t it? In preparation for this week, Beck and I are starting Monday, the beginning of the work week.  For this challenge, we wanted to make the food prepared tasty and nutritious as well as sticking to the monetary daily goal, but found several other “rules” cropped up that needed to be reckoned with:

What to do if invited to a friend’s house for dinner or a party? Would someone living on a food stamp budget be in a similar position?

  • The SF Food Bank suggested in their FAQs to bring your own food. Two parties with people I want to hang out with came onto the radar. In one, I declined the invitation letting them know about the hunger challenge, (since we all went to a high school with a focus on volunteerism, I figured they would get it). The second party is still TBD. Rather than play the part of the legalist, I’m considering going and circulating among party-goers with a subtle water glass in hand. If I go, I’m going for the people and not the nibbles.

Working at a food company where there are ample options for breakfast and snacks, to nosh or not to nosh? What about coffee and tea?

  • Ah, this question is one my boss and I talked about round and round last week. He was intrigued by my latest challenge (and refused to buy me organic chicken at Costco because the membership fee would have to factor in. You’ve got to love accountability like that.) Given that the likelihood of free breakfast or free snacks abounding at the workplace of a person on food stamps is not very high, I decided to forgo all of the usual eats and drinks. I see this as an opportunity to drink water.

What do we do with food from the previous week that will go bad if not eaten this week? Is it better to let it go bad, throw it away or engraft it into this week’s menu? What about spices in the pantry?

  • Beck and I hate to throw away food. And as he pointed out tonight, it doesn’t make sense to let perfectly good food go bad if we are trying to understand hunger. This too is a bit of legalism on my part. So those two bananas mottled and mushy- they’re getting substituted in for two new bananas that will be just fine next week. And so on. There’s a tub of organic blueberries and Black mission figs that have jam written all over them. Heirloom tomatoes ready to be roasted and canned. They will make it into our pantry without “falling off the wagon.” All those great spice bottles that meander into my cooking usually are staying off the counter this week, with the exception of salt and pepper.

Would someone with food stamps be able to shop here? Would there be access to the produce and foods for them?

  • This is one I struggled with internally because I know that what is accessible for me might not or is not accessible for someone living on food stamps. At the same time, the idea of doing all our grocery shopping for the week in a convenience store also did not work for me, as I’m trying to see and show that this can be done healthfully. So, in earnest, I completely recognize that access is an issue, but it’s one I grappled with and decided needed to work with what was readily accessible for us.

And so there you have it.

We begin today thinking of preparation and the idea of being set apart for a purpose. We begin today thinking of our neighbor and wanting to pull up a chair at the table for them and another two for Beck and me. We like a good conversation and hearing other people’s stories, being storytellers.

Have you ever lived on a restricted food budget? How did it work for you? How did you prepare yourself physically, mentally and spiritually to carry it out?




Sharing our Strength Spirit

If these doors could speak- a photo essay & a challenge

When the devastation of Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury upon the city of New Orleans, I watched on like most of you did, to the TV reports and the flood of articles inundating the web. The same convention center I had visited for a coffee and tea show mere months before became home and unruly hearth to oh-so many displaced New Orleansians.

This past weekend found me in New Orleans on the sixth anniversary of hurricane Katrina at a food conference.  One morning, I spent an hour walking the French Quarter, marveling at the architecture and the details in the structures that remind me of our charming gingerbread Victorians in San Francisco. The bulk of the weekend was spent in seminars and meeting incredible people with a passion for food and stories like myself. But I had to wonder, apart from this section of the city reveling, how much of the city still lies in ruin? How much of it still grieves the vacancy of its former spirit and verve? Chef John Besh talked to our group about staying in New Orleans and about rebuilding. As he talked about his community, his city trying to find its footing again, it led me to think aboout what commitment to your neighbor and neighborhood looks like truly.

Late into the first evening of the conference, I conferred with Brona, a gutsy woman also in the food industry if it would be feasible to eat fresh produce without GMOs on a welfare budget.  At lunch one day, I chatted with a food blogger named Tanya who lives in the 9th ward. She told me that residents in the 9th ward shop for groceries in a convenience store where two aisles are earmarked for food. You can imagine with me that the bulk of the food available is highly processed and missing the nutrients originally in the food. She told me about traveling 30 minutes on the train to go to an uptown market for fresh vegetables. I sat rapt and horrified. There is something so disconcerting and wrong about access to fresh food versus targeted marketing of fast food restaurants when thinking of lower income neighborhoods and families.

I think of Mama and her family, Mexican immigrants eking out a place for themselves in a hostile South Texas town during a time when ethnic diversity was not cool or eagerly accepted. I think about her stories of making do with what they had, about Tita, my grandmother making feasts out of next to nothing. As a wise person said at the conference this weekend, “deprivation breeds creativity.”

I signed up to participate in a hunger challenge September 11-17 and would invite you to join me. Did you know 1 in 5 children, adults and senior citizens in San Francisco and Marin struggle with hunger everyday? For seven days, Beck and I will be living off a food stamp budget of $4.72 a day per person. I consider this venture with a mite of trepidation. Will I be hungry in the evening? Will I be able to balance the meals with all the good knowledge gleaned about proteins and nutrients from vegetables and grains? I consider this challenge with knowing if I feel hunger pangs in my overindulged body that week they will be prayers of solidarity for my neighbor.

I want to believe there is a way my neighbor can live healthfully on little.

I’m going to post the week’s menu after it’s over and check back in with a report, but seriously give it a thought. There are far too many hungry people in the world and though I can only feed some, I want to learn what it is to love my neighbor as myself. And perhaps let that involve an organic apple.

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors