Monday, May 22, 2017

The Ride of a Lifetime: Chefs Cycle 2017


 


            Chefs Cycle 2017 was bigger in every way than before: more riders (230), more money (close to $2 million), more hills (13,000 feet of climbing), more personal fulfillment, more high performance from our colleagues at Share Our Strength.

            When we arrived in Santa Rosa, the Flamingo Hotel had been transformed into Chefs Cycle headquarters with riders as anxious about meeting up with their shipped bikes as you might be waiting to meet your date on Match.com.  300 miles lay ahead and hills so long and steep that many accomplished local cyclists never ride them.

            We rode out the first morning with flashing red and blue lights of local motorcycle police and California High Patrol leapfrogging each other to control intersections and ensure a safe rollout. Riders quickly self-sorted by skill and speed into groups that would last the next three days: Experienced riders in sleek peloton lines of 8-10 or more. The rest of us struggled and straggled in squads of two, three, or four, often riding alone and silently for long stretches.
 

            Strong riders finished by noon and were showered, changed and finished with lunch as others rolled in between 1:00 and 3:00 or later. Duff Goldman was on his bike for 11 hours one day. Boston chef Andy Husband’s for nearly 10 hours the next.  At the finish Andy’s wife asked if she could take his bike for him and he said “yeah, throw it in the pool.” 

            On Day Three the last hill was just four miles from the end of the ride but the hardest climb of all.  Tom Nelson got to the top ahead of me. When I arrived he was off his bike and sitting on the curb, staring straight ahead.  I laid my bike down and sat next to him.  Several minutes went by in silence. We glanced at each other and shook our heads as if to say please don’t say a word or expect any. We got up and rode on.
 

            Each night chef Travis Flood, after riding 100 miles, cooked dinner for everyone. Driving up I-5 the night before the ride, a gust of wind tipped over the trailer carrying his equipment.  He lost everything.   Jason Roberts, Mary Sue Milliken, and others said “ let’s share our strength” and called vendors, suppliers and others to replace what Travis lost. Standing next to his makeshift cinderblock grill in the hotel parking lot, Travis told me “I came from a divorced family and so memories of Christmas, Thanksgiving and other traditions just represent stress to me. I still don’t look forward to them. What I look forward to all year are these three days – being with this family.”
 

            Alecia Moore Hart, who we know as the singer P!NK, rode the third day along with her husband Carey Hart. She told me during a podcast session that she was struck by something else Travis had told her: “Riding is painful, but we get to get off the bike. Hungry kids don’t get to quit being hungry.” 

            Of many lessons learned, my top three take-aways:
1.      In a nation so politically divided, the desire for community, to share one’s strengths in ways that make you part of something larger than yourself, is greater than ever. Chefs Cycle not only raises money and feeds kids, it builds that community.  Many riders, no matter how successful in their careers, miss that and spoke about it.
2.      Small advances, relentlessly pursued, yield big results.  Last year a rider taught me to conquer steep climbs by thinking, “if I can just pedal to the next tree, then pedal to the next telephone pole, then the next crack in the side walk … eventually …”  The same is true for our No Kid Hungry campaign. If we can get breakfast participation to 60%, and then 64%, and then … we eventually reach goal.  A corollary: little gestures can have large impact. Many riders told of struggling up a hill, about to quit, and then feeling a hand on the small of their back, from another stronger rider who pulled alongside, more encouragement than push, but enough to do the trick.
3.      Mental toughness and determination prevail over the most formidable obstacles. Riders whose bikes, training and physical condition should have left them with little chance of getting up hills passed riders in better shape who got off their bikes and walked.

For 48 hours after the ride, everyone was still comparing notes about hills, triumphs or meltdown stories, making suggestions about what could be done differently next year.  As we were getting ready to leave the hotel the next day, Travis Flood was returning from Home Depot in his pickup truck with asphalt and a blow torch. Nate and I went over to see what was up and help. The cinderblock grill used to prepare dinners for so many of us, had sunk into the asphalt and left a pothole in the parking lot. Though Travis had done so much already, he felt accountable for fixing that too. A sense of community will do that to you.

 
 
    It's never too late to support Chefs Cycle or one of the riders. See @ http://chefscycle.org/  Thanks!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why The American Health Care Act Would Be Devastating for Children


The American Health Care Act passed by the House last week would be devastating for children in this nation.

At its core, this legislation would make it harder and more expensive for low-income families to get the care they need. Our No Kid Hungry work focuses on ensuring that children get the food they need to grow up strong; the projected impact of the House action profoundly undermines this work. Feedings kids improves their health and educational potential, but cutting their access to treatment for ailments like asthma, ear infections, obesity, dental needs or diabetes is like putting gas in a car but denying access to the mechanics and garages necessary to keep it running.

We also know that millions of parents in this nation are struggling financially, forced to make unthinkable tradeoffs each month between medicine or rent, paying the electricity bill or buying enough groceries. Making it harder for these families to afford health care, either preventative or in case of serious illnesses, will put more families in jeopardy, making them sicker, hungrier, and less secure.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We will fight against policies that hurt children and support policies that give them a more level playing field, making sure they get the basic food, care and skills they desperately need. These are our values, and Congress must reject this legislation.

Worth reading: two opinion pieces with analysis of the impact of last week’s effort to end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.  The first by our longtime friend and ally Dr. Irwin Redliner, CEO of the Children’s Health Fund focuses on the impact on children whose health care coverage is threatened by the House action.   https://tinyurl.com/kfp9nbo
The second by our board colleague Bob Greenstein asserts “I have been in Washington, D.C. for 45 years.  But I have never seen members of Congress vote to so deeply hurt so many of their own constituents.  If enacted, this bill will stand as the biggest assault on ordinary Americans — and the largest Robin-Hood-in-reverse transfer of income up the income scale, from low- and middle-income families to those at the top — in our country’s modern history. http://www.cbpp.org/press/statements/greenstein-house-votes-to-take-health-care-coverage-away-from-millions-and-make-it


 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What’s Different About This Picture?


               If a picture is worth a thousand words this one is yet another example of how Share Our Strength has and continues to transform the restaurant industry and larger culinary world in the service of our No Kid Hungry campaign.
             

  I took the photo Saturday night in the kitchen of one of our favorite restaurants called Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine.  Chef Justin Walker will be riding Chefs Cycle this year for the third time. He opened his restaurant Saturday, a few weeks before the season begins, for this special event to raise money for his ride.  It was completely sold out and earlier in the day we saw his wife Danielle in town driving a pick-up truck around town picking up extra chairs so they could squeeze in a few more guests.

            “I spend so much time on my bike because I know it is helping to feed more kids,” Justin told the guests. Maine’s long frigid winters mean a short training season for the May 16-18 ride in California. So Justin keeps two bikes and a trainer in the kitchen on which he can mount his bike while supervising his team and sometimes even prepping food himself. A Chef Cycle rider’s gotta do what a Chefs Cycle rider’s gotta do.

            Justin will be one of nearly 250 chefs riding this May in Santa Rosa.  Next year there will no doubt be closer to 400 riders.  Already Chefs Cycle has attracted thousands of new first-time donors.  Bringing a larger audience to our work is one of our key strategic imperatives. It’s the way movements grow, pictures change, and social progress advances.  Not always as quickly as we’d like, but as unmistakably as a kitchen that once contained pots, pans, sinks, trays and now houses a couple of world class road bikes.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Back In The Saddle Again


           I’m training for my third annual 300 mile Chefs Cycle bike ride of the last three years – joined by more than 250 other riders this time.
 
            This year’s ride, from May 16-18,  aims to raise $2 million for our No Kid Hungry campaign, compared to the $1 million raised last year.  Here’s why I hope you’ll consider supporting my ride:

It is a commitment that entails months of hard work and almost a year of anxiety. The first year I rode to show the flag and convince others that if I could do it, anyone could.  It was so much fun that I rode again last year.  But this year it is because the goal is such an important one for expanding our No Kid Hungry campaign. So it is all hands on deck, all legs peddling, even the old ones.  The $2 million raised will means millions more school breakfasts and summer meals, giving kids a better chance to succeed at school than they’ve had before. 

All of us are learning anew that we are capable or more than we imagined. It’s true for each rider, for our entire organization, and for you too.  The great thing is that the ride has taken on a life of its own with literally thousands of new first time donors and supporters committed to the success of our No Kid Hungry campaign. I’m more confident than ever that we will succeed.

Monday, March 13, 2017

From Fighting Against Hunger to Fighting For Social Justice


             The injustice of inequality has found its way into the culinary community. It’s probably been obvious to you for a while, but one thing that Add Passion and Stir enabled me to see more clearly is the dramatic evolution of the chef, restaurant and culinary community from helping to fight hunger to innovating in the fight for social justice. Many are going beyond charitable work to use their businesses to leverage systemic change on equity, justice, and sustainability matters. The range of issues they are involved in represents a dramatic shift with profound consequence both for the impact they can have, and for our need to keep up with their interests.

            Just look at the diverse examples:

n  Sarah Polon, Soupergirl, changing the world one bowl of soup at a time, through a locally sourced, plant-based business.

n  Mary Sue Milliken addressing “the broken food system”. 


n  Bill Telepan and Marc Murphy, advocating for healthier school means via Wellness in Schools,

n  Sam Polk, making healthy prepared foods affordable for all thru EveryTable

n  Jose Andres working with the UN Foundation to promote clean cookstoves to end the epidemic of disease killing women and children in Haiti 

            Today’s new generation of chefs  are about more than charity fundraising events. They are about advocacy, sustainability, policy and systemic change.. They are helping to feed America’s hungry kids, but are also going beyond that. They see food policy as a social justice issue. They are creating options for their customers to impact agriculture, supply chain, energy and the environment, and children’s health.
            For many, Share Our Strength and our No Kid Hungry campaign helped plant the seed. Shoots and leaves have sprouted in many different directions but all have blossomed toward the sun - and are still growing.

            All Add Passion and Stir episodes can be found at http://addpassionandstir.com/ and on iTunes @ https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/add-passion-and-stir/id1164624510?mt=2
 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Food Is The Glue Of The Society In Which We Live"


           We’ve just released the latest episode of Add Passion and Stir with Dr. Debbie Frank and chef Ming Tsai.  It’s rich in stories about how and where food has changed or saved a life.

 

One of my favorite passages, from Ming Tsai, evokes the wonder behind virtually everything we eat: “I love this book called Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh:  It’s about when you are eating an apple, don’t be texting, don’t be driving, don’t be watching TV, eat the apple, think about the apple, savor it. Where did it come from? How did it grow?  How did it get here? It got washed, it got put on a train, finally one farmer got you that apple. When you start thinking about the apple , when you start appreciating the actual apple, you eat more slowly, which is one of the biggest issues with obesity because you are full 20 minutes before your mind knows you’re full, and when you are full you stop eating, and you stop food waste.”

 

            Thich Nhat Hanh writes about many manifestations of mindfulness and I’m glad it’s made its way into our podcast – as greater mindfulness about food, hunger for it, and how food both satisfies and heals is an important element of achieving No Kid Hungry. The episode is @ http://addpassionandstir.com/preventing-disaster-babies-and-public-policies/

Billy

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Resisting Our Own Complacency and Complicity


With a new Executive Order forthcoming on immigration, I’m grateful to the American Academy of Pediatrics for speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable children among us. https://tinyurl.com/jzeburx  

The Academy said: “Federal authorities must exercise caution to ensure that the emotional and physical stress children experience as they seek refuge in the United States is not exacerbated by the additional trauma of being separated from their siblings, parents or other relatives and caregivers. Proposals to separate children from their families as a tool of law enforcement to deter immigration are harsh and counterproductive.  We urge policymakers to always be mindful that these are vulnerable, scared children.”

It’s easy to imagine pediatricians staying focused on more immediate issues like health care, Medicaid, or even childhood hunger and nutrition. But fortunately they also see the connection between their work and the reckless immigration policy changes now underway.  Even though they are not an immigration advocacy organization per se, the American Academy of Pediatrics is willing to stick out their necks when too few others have.

For every service and advocacy nonprofit whose mission is to serve the underserved and the most vulnerable and voiceless, whether or not their organization focuses specifically on immigration, this is a great example of how to speak up and speak out in ways most relevant to the times in which we find ourselves. It would be even better if such organizations committed to expanding programming toward those being persecuted, and especially in “sanctuary cities” that are at risk of losing government funding as the price for their political and moral courage.

Most important of all is a commitment to backing up words with actions.  Blog posts and Facebook messages are not enough. The forces behind this inexcusable cruelty expect our complaints, but also expect we will soon return to business as usual. The most important thing of all to resist is our own complacency and unintended complicity.