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#IFBC2016 Here I Come! (Also, a few tips from me to you…)

This post is one of (at least) three posts I’ll share about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog.

I last attended IFBC (The International Food Bloggers Conference) two years ago, in Seattle. It was my first time going to any food blogger conference, and I was nervous as f*ckdge. I’d barely started writing, and was totally intimidated by all those other bloggers.

This year, the conference is in Sacramento. I’m still nervous, mostly because the last year of blogging hasn’t gone at all like I meant for it to, and because I am, once again, in a place where I’m looking for help in getting serious about doing this for real. Like, eventually, I’d like to pay the bills with it, for real.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the scope of what I talk about here on “I’m Gonna Cook That!” is evolving.  I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I really want this blog to be about… and the voice I want to have in The World– the world of food blogs, the food world, and the world at large. I believe this blog can be fun, and full of recipes, and reviews, and goofy conversation… but as often as possible, still tie in the overarching themes of how we connect to our food; our local, state, and national food systems; the future of food; and food justice issues.  I don’t want to get preachy, but I do want to take a stand. Out loud. On purpose.

So, as you can see, a Farm to Table themed IFBC couldn’t be more relevant.  This year, IFBC will address everything from sustainability, to reducing food waste, to alternative food sources. (Prepare yourselves. There will be more mentions of bugs on this blog.)

And now… a little advice to those bloggers who are in the place I was two years ago– pretty new to food blogging, definitely new to blogger conferences, and a little worried and overwhelmed about how to get the most out of my experience.

You’ll get lots of advice from other bloggers, all good and valuable, about bringing business cards, maybe a media sheet if you feel like you’re ready for that, dressing comfortably, getting your “pitch” ready, and all that jazz. You should read their advice, too. It’s worthy. But, I’m also going to share what I did to help just feel a little more in control, and a little more mentally and emotionally prepared.

  1. It’s ok to be nervous about all those new people. I have pretty major social anxiety, and it definitely takes effort to put myself out there and talk to strangers. At my first IFBC, everyone seemed to already know someone and I’ll admit to feeling a little out of place. So, start small. Just say hi to the person standing next to you. Every single blogger, vendor, chef, and speaker I worked up the courage to speak to was friendly, warm, gracious, and genuine. I promise you’ll get more out of your IFBC experience if you make a connection or two, if for no other reason than it gives you a friendly face to find in the crowd in those moments when you start feeling a little shaky. On the flip side, don’t feel bad about stepping away from the crowd… Get a drink of water, take a few deep breaths, do some positive self talk, and remind yourself that you are here to learn and grow, just like everyone else. You deserve to be here.
  2. That making connections thing? There’s another reason to do that. You will, invariably, find yourself feeling like you’re making Sophie’s Choice at some point in the conference, trying to decide between two sessions you REALLY want to attend. If you make “notes buddies” with someone who is attending one of them, you can agree to swap notes afterwards so neither of you feels like you missed out on some great information.
  3. On that note, try to have a plan about which sessions you’d like to attend and what you’d like to write about when you get home, but prepare to change your mind. In Seattle, at least twice I felt 100% committed to a particular session, only to come out of the one before it feeling led toward something totally different. Again, you can always ask someone to send you their notes later. If you feel called to a certain session, listen to that call. I don’t regret switching it up either time.
  4. Even if you don’t feel ready to dive head first into the world of big time marketing and vendor sponsorships, still take time to introduce yourself to the vendors whose products interest you. You never know what they’re looking for, and maybe your voice will turn out to be one they find valuable. I recommend doing your research about any vendors that stand out to you ahead of time to learn a little more about them. That way, you can decide exactly how you want to connect before you ever walk up to their booth or table. Plus, having specific questions to ask or observations to share always makes me feel a little less awkward.
  5. Finally, and maybe I’m being Captain Obvious here, but remember to have fun! The organizers of IFBC do a great job of not only putting together an informative, varied program, with lots of great speakers and teachers, but they also manage to make it a really good time. Learn everything you can without wearing yourself out, but don’t forget to exhale. Relax. Enjoy the food, and the drinks, and the opportunity to hang out with people who are just as obsessed with food as you are.

 

 

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You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

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Disclosure: This blog post is sponsored by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.

When we talk about food, and hunger, it’s almost impossible to avoid the topic of sustainability. I know, we hear that word a lot. As consumers, we now live in a world where, with every trip to the grocery store or every night out for sushi, there seems to be a Jiminy Cricket present to remind us about certain seafood that’s been overfished, or packaging that isn’t biodegradable. We’re conscientious shoppers, so it’s something we think about. But, sustainability isn’t just about the product itself. It’s connected to how it’s made, where it comes from, and what it takes to get it to market. Is that process one that is sustainable? Can it be continued as part of our food system well into the future without depleting valuable resources? How would we even know?

One of the most demonized raw materials today is palm oil. If you’ve heard about it at all, you’ve probably learned that production of palm oil destroys ecosystems, decimates virgin rain forests, contributes to air pollution, and creates real risk of extinction for several species of plants and animals. What you might not know is the production of palm oil can create a direct and immediate danger to humans. A July 2015 Wall Street Journal article shed light on severe human rights violations occurring in the global palm oil industry, including human trafficking, unfair wages, and poor working conditions (AL-MAHMOOD, 2015).  Palm oil crops produce at least quadruple, and in some cases up to 10 times more oil per unit of land than any possible replacements, such as sunflower or soybean oil, so the alternatives aren’t really so great, either.

What makes things tricky for those of us who really want to do the right thing is that palm oil is an ingredient in so many everyday items we all probably have in our pantries, refrigerators, and medicine cabinets that it seems almost impossible to avoid. It’s in everything from ice cream to chocolate…lipstick to deodorant.

The reality is that we probably won’t be able to keep every product that contains palm oil from crossing our threshold. But, now that we know how dangerous palm oil can be to people and the planet, what do we do?

We look for good palm oil, that’s what. I know, I just told you about how horrible it is, but after doing some research I discovered that it doesn’t have to be. If palm oil is grown using sustainable farming practices, it not only protects the ecosystems where it’s grown, but also the people who are growing and harvesting it. How will we know if a product contains responsibly produced palm oil? Just look for this symbol:
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That symbol represents an effort by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to change the way palm oil is grown, harvested, and produced, and to “make sustainable palm oil the norm.” 13 countries have already adopted sustainable practices, earning designation as RSPO certified producers. Many companies are displaying the RSPO trademark on their packaging, making it easy to spot the ones who are doing it right. In order for more companies to start using sustainably produced palm oil in their products, they have to know it’s important to us. That’s where you come in.

You all know that I don’t post a lot of “Call to Action” type stuff on this blog. I’ve carefully avoided corporate sponsored posts, or high pressure pitches to use a certain product or company. However, this is different. This is about playing a role in creating a more sustainable food system—one that can feed the planet for our kids and their kids and their kids without doing harm to people or planet. We’re going to talk about local food systems in this series, of course, but we also have to recognize that the choices we make locally have global impact. If we can help make sustainable palm oil production standard practice, we’re making a difference.  Don’t just take my word for it, though. I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself. A few good places to start are:

http://goodbadpalmoil.org

http://www.rspo.org

– http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/series/palm-oil-debate

– https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJq1r0E0atJpa0U-YQF4bWQ

Whatever your opinion is, please join the conversation using the social media hashtag #goodbadpalmoil.

Citation:
AL-MAHMOOD, S. (2015, July 26). Palm-Oil Migrant Workers Tell of Abuses on Malaysian Plantations. Retrieved May 19, 2016, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/palm-oil-migrant-workers-tell-of-abuses-on-malaysian-plantations-1437933321

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Hungry at Home: What is Food Justice?

It’s 8am on a Saturday morning, and organizers of the Forward Food Summit in Denver are setting up tables, audio equipment, and projectors at the Mercury Cafe for a day of conversation focused on issues of food and economic justice.

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It’s snowing outside, fulfillment of a promised spring snowstorm for the Denver metro, but attendees all received an email the day before letting us know that even Mother Nature wouldn’t keep the summit from happening. Last minute arrangements were made for those who couldn’t make it in on snowy roads to participate remotely, and that was about as much acknowledgement as the weather would receive. As people start to trickle in, the energy and excitement build and soon what’s happening outside becomes inconsequential.

Hunger, food insecurity, and food justice are complex issues. While I understood this on an intellectual, “Oh, I read an article about that,” level, it wasn’t until I found myself in this room full of people on the front lines of the fight that I began to really feel the full depth and breadth of what’s at stake. Even my own experience didn’t prepare me for just how enormous a topic we were about to tackle. The day, designed through cooperative effort of the Denver and Boulder Food Rescues, would leave us all wondering how we could learn more, say more, be more, do more, to bring light and resolution to these often overwhelming issues.

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Our discussions that day started with an introduction to the Community Language Cooperative, whose volunteer translators helped make sure both English and Spanish speaking participants could be included in the conversation. That was lesson one—the recognition that people from every background, socioeconomic status, and country of origin have a role to play, and that means a multilingual approach is absolutely vital. Not every hungry person speaks English, and in order to help them, to have the best perspective on their experience, we have to make sure that we can understand them, and they can understand us.

This discussion flowed naturally into the topic of privilege. What advantages do you have that make your access to even the most basic necessities less challenging? Access to food—nutritious food to fuel your mind and body to learn and grow… to education—quality education that will prepare you for a future that gives you options, and even greater access to jobs that pay well enough to support you and your family in a way that helps foster a cycle of greater access to the next generation. The advantages or disadvantages of each generation is what sets up the next one for success or struggle. By recognizing what privilege is, and how it becomes a living, breathing character in the story of a life, we start to see how the deck can be stacked against entire groups of people—your neighbors, your friends, your kid’s classmates, your colleagues.

Throughout the rest of the day, we would talk about and dispel many of the myths surrounding living wage legislation. “It’s will raise the price of everything!” some say. But what if, instead, it gave more people the wage needed to not just subsist, but to thrive? Economists will tell you that more people buying more new things—new TVs, computers, cars, and homes, is what allows for economic growth, job creation, and better investment in education and infrastructure. What if, by raising the minimum wage, we were giving another entire population of people the ability to contribute to their local, regional, and national economies?  Living wage panelist Maggie Gomez from 9 to 5 Colorado summed it up best when she said, “If you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to feed yourself.” A living wage provides dignity to every job, simple as that.

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We would talk about food deserts—entire neighborhoods without access to a grocery store, farm stand, farmer’s market, or community farm. For those without cars, this means a long, physically demanding trip to and from the nearest food source, which could be as much as an hour away by bus. Or, it might mean it’s just easier to go to the fast food restaurant up the street, where, thanks to cheap, low quality ingredients, dinner for a family of four can be had for about 20 bucks. All of us can understand the snowball effect rolling from that scenario—health problems due to poor diet that aren’t addressed due to lack of access to proper healthcare and nutrition education, no time off from work to go to the doctor anyway, and children who are going to school under-nourished, making it harder for them to pay attention in class and retain what they’ve learned. This is how a cycle is perpetuated.

We would talk about the successes, too. An entire Denver neighborhood full of families who helped teach each other how to grow their own food.  They’re now in the process of opening a local food cooperative called Re:Vision Co-op. Or, a group of women from the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in Denver who are working together to start several food related micro-businesses. They’ve spent weeks and months taking advantage of every bit of training and education they could get their hands on to learn about topics from nutrition, to sanitation, to how to start a business. One woman dreams of owning a fleet of food trucks, serving healthy Latin cuisine. Another wants to open her own bakery, utilizing fresh fruits to help make traditional Latin American pastries lighter and more nutritious. Looking around during this panel discussion, there didn’t seem to be a single one of us in the audience who wasn’t inspired and moved by these women, who, despite a pile of disadvantages, understood the value of what they could do for their neighborhood with just a little help.

“We need help to make these businesses successful. What we offer in return is our hard work, and job creation…To dream is a beautiful thing, and together, I know we will achieve our dreams.”

Over the next week or so, we’ll narrow our focus on those who are working for food justice on a daily basis. We’ll share their personal stories, and find out what drives them to continue advocating for those who currently have no voice in the process, and fighting for a better, more inclusive food system. In the meantime, please join in the discussion here, on Facebook, or Twitter. What’s happening in your town to help fight hunger, and create food justice?

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Hungry at Home: Recognizing Privilege

When did you first realize you had more than someone else? Less than someone else? That’s the question we’re posing in today’s installment of #HungryatHome, to open up a discussion about privilege, and how to recognize your own as well as that of larger groups. Boulder food activist and volunteer Celina Ngoti Sekawu stepped up to start the conversation, by sharing her own experience. Please feel free to post your own response in the comments.

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Hungry at Home: The Bills are Paid, but the Cupboard is Empty

Hunger isn’t just a news segment. It isn’t something that happens in other countries, other cities, or other neighborhoods. Hunger isn’t only in the bellies of the homeless.

There are hungry people everywhere. They are your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends and acquaintances. While hunger is most commonly seen on TV and at your local homeless shelter, the fact of the matter is that it exists right in your backyard. It may even exist in your very own kitchen.

According to Hunger Free Colorado, a non-profit that aims to help all Coloradans gain access to healthy food and nutrition, 1 in 7 Coloradans suffers from hunger, 1 in 4 working families cannot afford enough food to meet their basic needs, and 1 in 7 people do not know where their next meal will come from.

Hungry at Home – Rachael’s Story

In November of 2014, I was walking to the cafeteria at work with a friend. As we headed downstairs, we were talking about paying bills and buying groceries. Half-jokingly, I made the comment of “Yeah, food is a luxury for me right now. So grocery shopping has to wait until next paycheck.” While I laughed on the outside with my cold pizza in my lunch bag, my stomach wasn’t laughing.

Unbeknownst to me, another co-worker had heard my comment. The next day, as I walked to my desk to start my day I noticed a small envelope. Inside was a $100 gift card to Safeway with a note that read, “Food is not a luxury. Hope this helps.” That random co-worker had no idea how much their gesture of kindness meant to me. That night, my fiancé and I went grocery shopping and stocked our fridge and pantry.

That was two years ago. In my nearly 30 years of life on this planet, I’ve had a job for about 12 of them. I’ve been living on my own for the most part since I was 21. I pay my bills and make sure the electricity stays on. I may not be the first person you’d think of when you think of food insecurity but, isn’t that the point? The bills are paid, but…

The Emotional Side of Food Insecurity

…the cupboards are empty. That’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve got a job and a roof over your head. The emotions that come with food insecurity can range from shame to sadness, anger to anxiety, and like you’ve totally failed in the eyes of your peers. And they range in severity depending on the circumstances.

The Food Bank of the Rockies serves roughly 411,000 people annually. 25% are educated beyond high school, while 7% have four-year degrees. Hunger affects everyone regardless of educational background or social class.

The effects of hunger don’t just cause physical pain – they can have a lifetime impact on your mental state, causing bouts of depression, anxiety, and fear. We as a society joke about being “hangry”, but the fact is that increased aggression is common when there’s little to no food around, or when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from. Those who experience food insecurity may not always tell their core group that they’re hungry. Whether it be embarrassment or that whole shame thing I mentioned earlier, many people keep quiet about their struggles. Asking for help can seem like an admission of failure, and this ultimately leads to suffering in silence.

But there is hope…

Filling the Cupboard

More and more people are taking to the streets to help those who are hungry. The majority of media coverage focuses on groups feeding the homeless, but there are others who are willing to feed anyone who is experiencing hunger.

Donation-Based Restaurants

Donation and volunteer-based restaurants are opening all over the country. Here in Denver, we have at least two – S.A.M.E. Café in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and Café 180 in Englewood. At these restaurants, patrons donate what they think the food is worth, and if they can’t pay with cash they can volunteer their time as payment. For single moms, families, the elderly living on fixed income, and anyone else in the midst of food insecurity, this is a great option to get something to eat.

Independent Outreach Groups

These organizations vary from city to city, but many people in the community enjoy getting together and helping their fellow man. A local group called May You Have Enough is the perfect example of that. Every other Saturday, the group gets together to make sack lunches and pass them out to those who need them.

Local Food Banks

There are more food banks in the city of Denver than you might expect. Many churches and religious organizations run their own food banks, however, community organizations such as Denver Metro CareRing and Food Bank of the Rockies also provide food to Denver’s hungry. If you need to fill your cupboards and can’t afford to hit the market, these organizations can help.

At the End of the Day, Help Your Neighbor

Whether you’re experiencing food insecurity yourself, know someone who is, or just want to help someone who might be, the opportunity to get help and to make a difference is there. If you can, donate to your local food bank, volunteer at your local shelter, or start an independent outreach of your own. There is always going to be someone who needs you.

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Our next big discussion will dive deeper into the work of local agencies and groups working to not only feed those dealing with food insecurity, but also empower them toward self sufficiency and achievement of food justice. We’ll also discuss the thousands of kids currently receiving a majority of their meals from school breakfast and lunch programs who will struggle to find enough to eat in the summer months.