February 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Are you a lover of photography, black-and-white and color? Are you a lover of movies? Really, really a lover … as in you know who Gabourey Sidibe is, are aware that ex-spouses Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron are vying for the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for their films, The Hurt Locker and Avatar, respectively, and that this year there are ten nominees for Best Film rather than the usual five?
If you’ve answered “yes” to most of the above, then you’ll want to check out “7th Annual Great Performers in Film” in The New York Times Magazine. Vera Farmiga and George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Woody Harrelson, Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, and more in, black-and-white. Five young actresses who gave breakthrough performances in living color. Backstage images from the “Golden Globe Awards.” And life on the road with Jeff Bridges of Crazy Heart, one of my favorites from last year.
When you’re finished, you’ll be ready to pop the popcorn, pour the wine, and settle in to see them all live next Sunday.
I’m heading out now to stock up … just in case there’s another snow storm. Stranger things have happened.
February 27, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The past few weeks I’ve found myself overindulging when it comes to food. Not literally, but figuratively … when it comes to posting to The Epicurean.
It seems that I’ve become a bit obsessed with it: what we eat and how we eat, where our food comes from, and how this affects our communities and the environment.
So, rather than have it consume (pun intended) this space, I launched a new blog, “Food, Seriously,” for the love of food. I’ve copied over a couple of my recent food-oriented posts, “Slow: Food in a Tuscan Town” and “Is It Time to Revive Home Economics Classes?” and I’ve added a couple of new posts, “Banish the Word ‘Diet’ from Our Lexicon” and “Meatless Monday – What a Difference a Day Makes.” More will follow shortly.
Try it, you might like it.
February 23, 2010 § 1 Comment
In response to my post “More on Microfinance in the United States,” Scott of slowmoneyaustin.com and rockroom.com mentioned “Slow Money … where Slow Food meets Venture Capital,” and I was intrigued. I’d heard of the Slow Food Movement, but what did that have to do with venture capital? And when Scott suggested that, “Microfinance could be the seed capital to get thousands of food microenterprises going, but what is missing is patient risk capital to take some of those businesses to scale, ” I wondered what the prospects were for such an enterprising concept.
First, Slow Food. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Slow Food USA says, “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”
Okay, but how does this translate to money? Enter Woody Tasch, venture capitalist, social entrepreneur, and author of the book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. (Read an excerpt on NPR.org.) Mr. Tasch believes that the speed with which money is invested and transacted has increased to an unsustainable rate, as exhibited by the recent worldwide financial meltdown. We don’t know where our money is going, how it is being invested, and what we can reliably expect for a return.
His central thesis is that there is another way to invest, not all of our money, but some portion of it, in local food systems. And he’s trying to get a lot of people to do it: “A million Americans investing 1% of their assets in local food systems.” He calls it “nurture capital.” The result is The Slow Money Alliance, a non-profit seed fund which he founded on a set of six Principles, “[i]n order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration.” On the web site, Mr. Tasch explains that:
Slow Money’s mission is to build local and national networks, and develop new financial products and services, dedicated to:
- investing in small food enterprises and local food systems;
- connecting investors to their local communities, and;
- building the nurture capital industry.
In her Wall Street Journal article, “Forget Conventional 401(k)s; Think Goat Cheese and Fennel,” Stephanie Simon describes Slow Money this way:
The crux of the movement is persuading investors to put some of their assets into businesses they can see, smell and even taste — to measure growth not by the flashing numbers on a stock ticker, but by the slow ripening of a tomato. … If all goes well, investors will see a modest 3% profit, maybe 6% over many years. But Mr. Tasch has a broader balance sheet in mind. The real dividend, he says, is diversity: In an era of industrial agriculture, where millions of acres are planted with the same variety of corn and millions of pigs are bred to be genetically similar, small local farms are the ultimate hedge fund. They preserve heirloom seeds and quirky breeds; strengthen the soil with organic nutrients; create local markets that connect producer directly to consumer.
So, in addition to a financial return, the model provides social and environmental returns. Money stays circulating in the local economy, soil is not eroded through the use of chemicals, and the investor actually sees the result of his or her investment. The movement has its roots in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), where customers buy shares of local farms in exchange for food products throughout the year, and as John Tozzi pointed out in BusinessWeek, “The emerging model involves several trends we’ve been tracking for a while: crowdfunding, community development capital, buy local movements, and for-profit social enterprise.” Not to mention our health. As David Gutnick wrote for CBC News, “Tasch was hungry for a more focused approach that connected health, food and capital,” forming connections where today there are none. If you’ve not already read them, take a look at two recent Epicurean posts: “Is It Time to Revive Home Economics Classes?” and “Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town.” There is no doubt that our disconnect from what it is that we’re eating is hurting us and it’s hurting the planet.
As with microfinance initiatives in the United States, it would seem that the support of local, sustainable food businesses means a variety of approaches, from small CSA-like initiatives to more capital-intensive projects requiring Slow Money nurture capital. From Dante Hesse who sells the milk he produces on his “a small organic dairy farm in Ghent, NY” at New York City farmers markets for $5 a quart, and who “could sell even more milk — plus butter and cheese — if he could just build a processing plant right in his barn. For that, he needs to raise about $700,000. … Hesse is offering 6 percent interest for an unsecured loan of $1,000.” NPR.org To Tom Manley who runs his family’s chemical-free animal feed business, Homestead Organics, and has more customers than he has feed to sell. In order to grow his business he needs new silos and feed cleaners. “Sure, he found people willing to lend him a few thousand dollars at a time, but he needs about $2 million to meet his goal of doubling the business again in 10 years.” CBC News.com
What if people took seriously Mr. Tasch’s worthy goal of a million people investing 1% of their assets in local food businesses or the suggestion that Mr. Gutnick put forth in his article: “There are more than 50,000 philanthropic foundations in the United States. Their assets total $400 billion US, most of it invested in the stock market. Needless to say, that money would be a game changer if it — or even a fraction of it — was reinvested in local agriculture.” Sustainable, low environmental impact businesses producing healthy, organic food. Long-term, sustainable investments made by individuals expecting a modest financial return while knowing they’re doing good. A change in mindset. A change in expectations. A change in what and how we eat.
February 21, 2010 § Leave a Comment
A shift in focus from the opportunities for microfinance in the United States to the very real impact of the initiative in Haiti. A good friend of mine told me about a great piece on Friday’s NPR Morning Edition: “Poor Haitian Business Woman Masters High Finance.” You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript. I was absolutely amazed and impressed and thought you might be too.
Enterprising just begins to describe the Haitian woman in the story, Yvrose Jean Baptiste. She has a business: she borrows funds from a microcredit bank; gets on the bus to the Dominican Republic; buys product not available in Haiti; gets back on the bus; and delivers the product to shopkeepers in Port-Au-Prince. But here’s the really ingenious thing, she does not collect money at the time she delivers the goods. She extends credit to her customers; she leaves the chicken necks, corn, and oatmeal, and fifteen days later she returns to collect her money plus interest. So she’s a “middle-woman,” a wholesaler. And by being an intermediary, she enables other businesspeople to stock their stores and profit from their businesses. This is woman with a fifth-grade education.
Unfortunately, she had just made a trip to the Dominican Republic and delivered her goods right before the earthquake struck. All ten of her customers’ stores were leveled, many died, but the bank from which she borrowed the money was still standing. When NPR published the story, Yvrose owed roughly US$100. NPR has included a post on the PLANET money page of their site to track Yvrose’s repayment and to give you a chance to help. She’s set up an account at Fonkoze, the largest microfinance institution in Haiti. Any money donated to Fonkoze in her name will be deposited directly in her account.
NPR originally set out to interview the Haitian finance minister and ended up with Yvrose instead. Apparently, even the finance minister was impressed. As the rebuilding of the devastated city progresses, there is going to be a need for ongoing, forward-looking business opportunities for Haitians like Yvrose.
One word comes to mind: “ennablement.”
February 18, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Tina Brown, founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, has just announced a three-day summit, “Women in the World: Stories and Solutions.”
The event will focus “in depth on powerful human stories about women. We will showcase leaders on the frontlines working on innovative solutions to challenges ranging from sex slavery to girls’ education in the developing world to women caught in the violence of war zones.”
The list of attendees reads like a who’s-who of government, business, philanthropy, the media, and Hollywood: Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, Madeleine Albright, Christiane Amanpour, Thomas Friedman, Katie Couric, Meryl Streep, Jacqueline Novogratz, and Cherie Blair (to truly name only a few).
Scheduled for March 12 – 14, 2010 at the Hudson Theater in New York, The Daily Beast will cover the event “with live reporting and video highlights from the summit. And through interactive tools here on the site.” Participant profiles will be posted soon.
Flexibility + Initiative + Power = Change … Brilliant.
** A “Women in the World” Summit Update: The Daily Beast has just announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “will introduce an ensemble reading of SEVEN, a documentary play that honors courageous women activists from seven countries. The play was created by a collaboration of seven women playwrights, and will feature Meryl Streep, Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Shohreh Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog), Tony-nominated Julyana Soelistyo (Golden Child), Lauren Vélez (Dexter), and Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife).” Read more about Mrs. Clinton’s support for women’s issues and the summit.
February 15, 2010 § Leave a Comment
In a previous post, “Two Web Sites Sharing Big, Bold, Innovative Ideas,” I discussed TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. As I type this, the TED2010 Conference is taking place in California where it has been announced that chef Jamie Oliver is this year’s TEDPrize Winner. As the winner, he receives $100,000 and gets to make “One Wish to Change the World,” which the TED community then works together to support and help make come true. Jamie Oliver’s wish: “I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” TED has already posted the video of Jamie Oliver’s compelling talk in which he “makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food.” Watch it.
This is serious business. The TEDPrize is awarded to an “exceptional individual” who stands out among hundreds of other exceptional individuals and who has a wish that’s “big enough to change the world.” That this year’s prize has gone to an individual who is passionately fighting to bring our attention to what we’re eating and what we’re feeding our children, and who is taking concrete action to change our habits, well it says something. It says we’ve got a problem, and if we don’t do something about it, soon, it will only get much worse. We have an obesity rate and incidence of diabetes at historical highs, both of which have far-reaching consequences. As Jamie Oliver explains in his TED talk: today’s children are destined to have a shorter life span than their parents; the majority of the people in this country will die of diet-related diseases; and the costs of these diseases amount to 10% of America’s annual health care bill ($150 billion), a number which is set to double in ten years. And it’s not just America. Jamie Oliver’s food crusade began in England and he acknowledges that many other countries are not far behind. Cleverly, he suggests that if America takes the lead to address the problem, these other countries will follow.
Let me start by saying that I am most certainly not the world’s greatest cook. My brother is a better cook than me (of which I am both proud and mildly embarrassed). I cook a few things well. And I cook slowly, much to the chagrin of one ex-boyfriend. But when I do cook, I enjoy it (you can’t eat out or take in every night). I love food. I love good food. I’ve gotta cook.
I grew up in a house where cooking was a daily activity, with the exception of Friday, which was “pizza night,” and Monday, which was “stew night.” I still do not consider stew “cooking” or edible, but that’s my issue. Sunday’s roast, however, well that was another story … I loved that.
It never dawned on me that people, a large number of people, simply do not know how to do it. Do not know how to scramble an egg or cook some pasta and top it with some tomato sauce (even out of a jar) or broil a pork chop and steam some carrots. This is in no way meant as a criticism. I find it confounding because to me cooking is a basic life skill that every adult would naturally possess, like knowing how to swim. How could you not?
And that is the question … how can one survive and not know how to cook? Of course the answer is that it’s all too easy in a world full of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s should be the exception not the rule) and prepared food (if you don’t recognize the ingredients, as Michael Pollan says, it’s probably not food).
What I’ve not known how to cook, I know my mother does, or my friend Mary. So I pick up the telephone in some emergency state or another (my sauce isn’t thickening or my pie crust is crumbling, what do I do?) and get an answer. Today, the Internet is almost as good – do you know how many recipes are out there, for free? What I find hard to grasp is not knowing to even ask the question. For all of the information that’s available, the message doesn’t seem to have gotten through.
Almost as important as the food we eat is manner in which we eat it. I believe something is lacking in our culture in which food has become cheap, fast, disposable. The sensual nature of food, the rituals created around the preparation and eating of food, are disappearing. I find that to be a sad thing.
So here’s something radical. Maybe it’s time to bring back the old high school course, Home Economics, and not just for teenage girls … guys need to eat too. When I attended high school, it was deemed an easy course – one to take to balance the rigors of Algebra and History – but that was because so many of us already knew how to boil and mash the potatoes, cook the broccoli, and bake chocolate chip cookies “from scratch,” not to mention sew a straight seam on a sewing machine and crochet a hat or two. You could get through the class “with your eyes closed.” And not only bring it back, but change the perception of it to something of real value. Teach the basics of nutrition (the fruit and vegetable aisle is a good thing, you’ll like it) and how to read food labels (any bad stuff in the top four, put it back on the shelf). Teach the pleasure of cooking and eating real food. Make it mandatory. That would do it. It wouldn’t solve all of our problems when it comes to food and weight, but it would be a start. As Jamie Oliver said towards the end of his talk:
Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single American child leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their lives … life skills.
February 13, 2010 § 4 Comments
At the end of January I wrote a post describing Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and now full-time philanthropist, as a Renaissance Man. No doubt his wife, Melinda, has had a little something to do with that.
Recently, Melinda Gates traveled to the African countries of Benin and Malawi with French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Their purpose? To see the results of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “efforts to prevent mother-child HIV transmission, increase the safety of childbirth, and ensure access to contraceptives,” which Ms. Gates describes in her photo essay, “The Fight for African Women’s Lives,” published on The Daily Beast. And the results look promising: a decrease in child deaths in Malawi “by ensuring that women got to health-care facilities to deliver their babies;” an increase in newborn survival rates there by teaching women about “kangaroo care” which keeps babies warm and helps them gain weight; and more HIV-positive Benini women on antiretroviral drugs to save the lives of the women and prevent transmission of the disease to their babies.
These solutions are simple and complex at the same time: not “rocket-science” in their conception, but infinitely challenging in their execution. It is encouraging to see substantive changes being made and lives being saved, and this positive message needs to get out. Given the Foundation’s commitment to publish the outcome of each initiative, be it a success or failure, I believe what I’m reading. And, when Melinda Gates says, “As a mom, I am deeply committed to helping save the lives of woman and children,” I believe that too.
At times, the problems facing developing countries seem so daunting that it’s tempting to throw in the towel. What I admire about Melinda Gates, and her husband, is that they simply refuse to see this as an option.
February 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
There is a saying in Italian, “Meglio spendere soldi dal macellaio che dal farmacista,” which means that it’s better to spend money at the butcher than the pharmacist. In other words, eat well.
The Italian saying is found on front flap of Douglas Gayeton’s fabulous book, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, published late last year. Which also happens to be when I came across it, browsing the bookstore as I have a tendency to do much too often. It’s large, and it stuck out from the shelf, or at least it stuck out to me. If you’ve read other posts on this blog you’ll know that’s probably not all that surprising given my love of food, and Italian food in particular (although I do have a French bistro fetish, but that is another post altogether).
Douglas Gayeton is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and now organic farmer in Petaluma, California, who was sent to Italy by PBS to make a documentary. The film never did get made, but the photos he took were arresting, and PBS posted them on its web site. Gayeton’s genius was the concept of a “flat film” image created by combining multiple photographs captured over a period of time into one photo which portrays a meaningful representation of the event, and then layering each with “handwritten notes, anecdotes, recipes, quotes, and historical facts and that cleverly bring context and color to the subject of each sepia-toned image and draw us deeper into this romantic, rewarding, and progressively rare way of life.” He describes the process, which he discovered one afternoon during a long family lunch, in a short video.
As you page through the book, a narrative unfolds, slowly. Just as it should. Each photo tells a story. You’ll have to turn the book around to read many of the quotes and sayings. You’ll want to meet Marino who makes marble funeral stones with his two sons, Fiziano and Luca, and Guiseppina, the egg lady who knows her chickens (Conosco i miei polli – I know my chickens). You’ll want to learn a few new Italian words, like una scampagnata (an outing) and i funghi (mushrooms) and la moglie (the wife). You’ll want to eat, well. This gem of a book is an homage to a way of life that, even in Italy, is disappearing.
There’s a reason so many of us flock to Italy. Almost anyone I know, after returning from a trip, says it’s the food, it’s the quality of life. It’s about the pleasure of carefully choosing, preparing, and eating real food, and taking the time to appreciate it and those with whom we’re eating. In America, this is known as “Slow Food.”
If we choose, we can incorporate elements of “Slow” into our lives here. We can make an effort to know where our food comes from, and, whenever possible, opt for produce grown close to home or meat from animals raised in humane environments on small, local farms (more on this in an upcoming post). We can cook and teach our children to cook. We can sit down at the table, together, and enjoy a meal (A tavola!). Douglas Gayeton reminds us of this, and that sometimes:
“Il troppo stroppia”
More than enough is too much.
February 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
[op-tuh-miz-uhm] – noun
|A disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.|
Where to find it? Ode Magazine.
As with most interesting sites on the web, I stumbled across this one while researching something else, and it made me stop: The online community for Intelligent Optimists. I had no idea such a thing existed. Upon further investigation, I learned that “Ode is a print and online publication about positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.” Fascinating.
The magazine was founded in the Netherlands in 1995 by husband and wife team Jurriaan Kamp and Helene de Puy. In 2004, the couple moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to launch the English-language version of the magazine which, along with the Dutch version, is published ten times per year. The web site was created to bring readers together and enhance the conversation. “Odemagazine.com’s mix of print and online journalism with user-generated content and social networking makes it unique on the Web.”
Take a look at the posts regarding the benefits derived from eating blueberries, one of my personal favorite fruits, and playing the Japanese game Go, and learn how clean energy can create jobs or why “[t]he Pentagon sees global warming as a destabilizing force, adding fuel to conflict and putting US troops at risk around the world,” and what can be done about it.
You can always subscribe to the magazine. The January/February issue is on newsstands now featuring “25 Intelligent Optimists who are creating a better tomorrow today.”
With all of the bad news we’re buffeted by on a daily basis, isn’t it encouraging to know that there is at least one news source out there that’s focused on the good?
Sign up for your daily dose.
February 8, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Salah Boukadoum sent a comment regarding my post “More on Microfinance in the United States” bringing my attention his company Soap Hope. After taking a look at the web site, as well as reading his blog, I had to let you know about it too. I like how this guy does math, but more on that in a minute.
Founded in 2008 with partner Craig Tiritilli, Soap Hope represents a radically new way of doing business while doing good. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the issue of sustainability is a critical one, and one that likely will have creative solutions when addressed by enterprising Americans. Soap Hope is one of these solutions.
The company is based on Mr. Boukadoum’s and Mr. Tiritilli’s “Good Returns Model,” whereby small businesses lend their profits, interest-free, for one year to microfinance funds that specifically focus on women in poverty. “A broad capital pool will enable US MFIs to truly scale and reduce the ratio of operating cost to loan capital.” It is a brilliant concept. As Kristin Schutz notes in her article on OdeMagazine.com, “This paradigm engenders a system of mutual support between the for-profit and non-profit arenas. Through this model, Salah and Craig encourage companies to invest resources into systems that continually empower others, rather than giving a one-time donation. Reciprocally the businesses benefit through returns on investments, increased community visibility and enhanced reputation.”
Having just completed their first year in business, which included developing partnerships with three non-profit microfinance institutions, like The PLAN Fund in Dallas, the partners have set their sights on educating other small businesses on how best to implement Good Returns in their own companies, and also coaching non-profits on how best to utilize Good Returns-style investments to achieve sustainability.
Now, back to the math … Mr. Boukadom’s latest blog post explains how it’s possible to raise $1 billion to help end global poverty by teaching “1,000 small businesses the Good Returns Model and thereby rais[ing] one billion dollars for anti-poverty microloan initiatives.” He lays it out. He breaks it down. He makes it seem doable. You’ve got to start somewhere.
I love that.