Last month was Julia Childs' 100th birthday. There were lots of terrific articles, broadcasts and stories about the impact this amazing woman had on the way America cooks, eats and considers food. The New York Times noted that "It was Child -- not single-handedly, but close -- who started the public conversation about cooking in America that has shaped our cuisine and culture ever since." Julia Child was at the beginning of the food explosion that has turned this country into a nation of local-sourcing, fresh-ingredient-focused, nutrition-oriented foodies.
But not everyone.
As most of us know, food is life!
And, to their immense credit, those very same people -- the farmers, purveyors and chefs -- who exult in today's food culture give back through their words, deeds and charitable donations to organizations making a difference in this urgent problem.
Did you know September is Hunger Action Month? I am sure many of you, like me, might ask the question, "How can there be hunger in America when most of what we hear on the news are details about the obesity epidemic in this country?" Currently it is estimated that more than 68 percent of Americans are considered overweight or obese. So where is there hunger and how can I help?
First, you can join the people who work in food to make a difference. By eating well, sourcing locally, respecting the environment through your food and cooking choices and by volunteering and supporting those who don't have, or can't get, the food they need. Here are a few options for you to consider when you think about becoming involved in helping insure food gets to those who need it most and that it is the most nutritional and healthy food available.
One of my favorite nonprofit organizations is Feeding America. It is the country's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Their mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of more than 200 member food banks located throughout the country, each with an assigned geographic area. They engage people, organizations and communities across the country in the fight to feed people and end hunger. Feeding America feeds 37 million people (one in eight Americans) and distributes three billion pounds of food each year. It is also able to leverage each dollar ($1) donated to purchase more than $4 worth of food due to its relationships with many food companies.
Share Our Strength is working to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. Their "No Kid Hungry" strategy works by creating public-private partnerships at the city and state levels, building public awareness of the problems and the solutions, giving grants to organizations that improve access to nutritious food, and educating children and families about nutritious and affordable eating.
Sustainable Table is an organization founded in 2003 to help people understand the problems with our country's food supply and offer solutions and alternatives. They celebrate local sustainable food, educate consumers on food-related issues and work to build community through food. And, wonderfully, their commitment is to celebrate the joy of food and eating instead of being overwhelmed by the problems.
The James Beard Foundation was founded by the noted cookbook author and teacher who was a major figure in championing American cuisine and a mentor and educator to chefs and others in the growing food community. Their programs include educational initiatives, food industry awards, an annual national food conference and a great deal more.
More recently, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let's Move!, a program dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation. This comprehensive initiative recognizes that solving this problem includes addressing the need to provide healthy food in schools and improve access to healthy, affordable foods for children at all times.
The Chez Panisse Foundation was founded by Alice Waters, a national icon and groundbreaker in using sustainably-sourced, organically and locally grown and seasonal ingredients for the purposes of nutrition and to take care of the land for future generations. "The Foundation supports an educational program that uses food to nurture, educate and empower youth."
There are dozens of additional examples of organizations working to solve the problems of nutrition and food access or to educate and inform. And there are just as many people, prominent in the food community, who give back themselves -- like renowned chef and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, who has spent many years raising money for hunger relief and today supports organizations like Lauren Bush's FEED Foundation, which works around the globe to fight hunger and eliminate malnutrition. And there's acclaimed New York chef April Bloomfield, who buys the pigs she uses from the Thanksgiving Farm at The Center for Discovery, which works with people with disabilities.
So what can you do to help? Here are five tips for ways that you can help solve these issues for yourself and your family, and ways you can be Making A Difference (M.A.D.) for others in need:
1. Buy and prepare locally sourced food -- food that is fresh and in season and both nutritionally and environmentally sound; if possible, shop your local farmer's market often
2. Learn about sustainable products; the Sustainable Table's Eat Well Guide is an online directory that helps you search for local, sustainable and organic food in your state, city or zip code!
3. Find out about your local food bank -- either as a source for those you know in need or as a place to give support; Feeding America has a Food Bank locator that makes this simple
4. Organize a food drive at your school, community center or at home
5. Make a financial donation to an organization that is helping solve these problems -- consider one of those mentioned above or search the Internet for a food or education program in your community
Bonus Tip: Take time to learn about and discuss nutrition. What are you eating and how does it supplement your body's needs? Share your knowledge with others so we can be a knowledgeable society about the food we consume.
Food plays a unique role in our lives. We need ir... and we also love it. It's also a source of warmth, family, friendship, gathering, sharing and joy. For those who don't have it or use it well, it can be a source of anguish and disease. You can play a substantial role by your actions every day and your support in a larger way. Your activities can make a tremendous difference for you and your family. What are you doing to be M.A.D.?