Sunday, February 15, 2015

When celebrity, creativity, and collaboration combine to create community wealth

            Celebrity and creativity are not the same thing. Sometimes they do not even overlap. Not all celebrities are creative and not all creative types are celebrities. But when the two come together the results can be astonishingly powerful. 

Witness the phenomenon of Jeff Bridges’ Sleeping Tapes, which he created for the website design company Squarespace, raising more than $100,000 for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign of which he is national spokesperson. It would be easy to assume they wanted him for his draw as a well-known celebrity. But Squarespace was smarter than that. They hadn’t just approached Jeff for use of his immediately recognizable voice and image, but to help create, design and shape the entire project.  

The first thing Jeff did was engage in creative collaboration with other artists such as Keefus Ciancia who composed the score for True Detective  and helped record the tapes’ ambient sound, and Lou Beach a writer and graphic designer who came up with the album cover.

            Known primarily as an actor, Bridges also has a successful band, is an avid photographer, draws, and writes.  On a cross country flight we shared not long ago, he came to the back of the plane to join an informal brainstorming session of Share Our Strength staff.  Jeff spent several hours fully engaged in proposing and vetting ideas for communicating the devastating impact of childhood hunger, mobilizing more young Americans on behalf of the cause, and capturing the attention of policymakers.  He’s always been accommodating when it comes to press conferences or signing autographs, but it was clear that his real strength to share consisted of his creative juices.

            The results speak for themselves. The Sleeping Tapes @ are a one of a kind blend of sound, humor, philosophy and art that are getting the attention a celebrity like Jeff Bridges can bring to it. The ad agency Wieden + Kennedy brought additional creativity to the communication and marketing of the project, including a much talked about Super Bowl ad. Such combinations of creativity and celebrity are designed to promote commerce and yield wealth, but in this case it was a very different kind of wealth called community wealth because it goes directly back into the community, with 100% of the proceeds used to help feed hungry kids by enrolling them in school breakfast and summer meals programs.

            Celebrity, creativity and collaboration – not a bad formula for changing the world, or at least making it a better place for our children.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

A War on Poverty May Require More Political Courage Than War on Terror

            Today’s NY Times editorializes that President Obama’s request to Congress for formal authorization to conduct war is “indefensibly late.”  They are referring of course to the support he is seeking for U.S. military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Until now the Administration has been operating under the dubious authority of authorizations Congress passed in 2001 and 2002. The Iraq War authorization sought by President George W. Bush based on inaccurate assessments of weapons of mass destruction has been particularly discredited.

            But there is another war the Administration has been reticent to formally embrace, for reasons that also have to do with a previous President’s attempts that were discredited.  That is the war on poverty here at home, whose shortcomings during and since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs made such ambitious efforts unpopular to promote.

            In his most recent State of the Union address President Obama didn’t speak of poverty at all except in the context of Ebola and extreme global poverty.

There is no question that terrorism and extremist violence is a serious threat.  But so too is the extreme poverty destroying the lives of too many American children. 45 million Americans live below the poverty line and 46 million remain on food stamps, half of them being children. A majority of our public school students are from low-income families. There are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children in the U.S. today. Among 35 industrialized countries, America ranks 34th in terms of child poverty – ahead only of Romania.

The President’s action in forcing Congress to confront the war on terrorism and act decisively one way or the other is better late than never.  One must hope he’ll soon do the same for the war on poverty. That battle is more necessary today than at any time since he took office. It ironic that fighting poverty here at home may require more political courage than fighting terrorism around the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Good news, bad news in latest childhood hunger scorecard

            There’s good news and bad news in the annual school breakfast scorecard issued by the Food Research and Action Committee. The good news is very good: the percentage of children eating a free or reduced price school breakfast has climbed to 53% of those eating school lunch. This is a dramatic increase from the 43% that was the case just a decade ago.

Such progress affirms the strategies employed by Share Our Strength and our many colleagues to move breakfast to the classroom, and other “after the bell” alternatives.  A well-intended federal program that was under-performing is beginning to work again, rescued from indifferent politicians by parents, teachers and advocates passionate about helping their own communities.

            The bad news is that states are still leaving another $900 million on the table in Washington that could be used to get school breakfast participation all the way to the goal of 70%.  It’s negligence on a scale so massive that it amounts to political malpractice on the part of state and local officials, many of whom continue to be unaware that such funds are even available for their most vulnerable children.

            School meals have always enjoyed bipartisan support as a sound investment in the next generation. Expanding participation is not only an anti-hunger strategy for our nation, but  a “full potential” strategy to ensure our human capital, schools, and economy are strong so that America can be strong.

Monday, February 9, 2015

What Do You Get When You Put a Physican Behind a Hot Stove?

What do you get when you put a physician behind a hot stove?  You get a recipe for turning up the heat on our society’s efforts to address hunger, poverty and inequality.

I was in Napa this weekend to keynote a conference of 400 doctors, nurses, dieticians, and nutritionists called Healthy Kitchens, Health Living @   They convene annually to focus on building teaching kitchens in hospitals and medical schools so that doctors will better understand the connection between cooking, nutrition and health.  Sponsors include Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America.

Topics range from knife skills to gluten management, but all revolve around the notion that instead of just telling people how to eat better you need to show and engage them directly in the process.  Growing interest in hunger and poverty led to Cooking Matters presentations this year (our own Dennis Taylor from Colorado), and asking me to keynote.

The invitation was easy to accept. Mostly because of the opportunity to  enlist the medical profession in our fight against childhood hunger.  They are a natural ally. As Dr. Debbie Frank, my colleague on the National Commission in Hunger often says, hunger is “one of the ways poverty etches itself onto the bodies of my patients.” 

I urged the assembled doctors to think of teaching kitchens as not only about cooking, nutrition and health, but also about social justice. Disparities in access to nutrition, cooking skills and healthy meals go to the very heart of the inequality dividing our nation, and perpetuate it.  Being fed and fit is a fundamental prerequisite to success in school, work and life. That’s why our Cooking Matters program is such a vital part of our No Kid Hungry strategy.

As with any social justice issue what is needed most is not just knowledge, expertise, or even money. What is needed is giving voice to the voiceless. Doctors and health care professionals can be a voice for those so economically and politically marginalized that they are excluded from the national conversation.

They can be the voice that says knowing how to feed your family in ways that are healthy and affordable is not a privilege but a right. 

They can be the voice that says fighting hunger not only requires access to food, but also the knowledge of how to buy and cook it.

They can be the voice that says a united effort of the medical profession, the culinary community, educators, the food industry, and the anti-hunger and-anti-poverty community can achieve more than any of them could on their own.

We may not have all of the financial resources we need to address hunger, but at a minimum we can share the intellectual capital that transforms health, lives and communities.  As is often the case, the challenge is not to come up with an idea like teaching kitchens or breakfast in the class room, the challenge is to take such good ideas to scale.

Napa’s success as a global culinary capital was built on the faith that small seeds nurtured well can blossom into vast golden harvests. The community of medical providers there this week planted seeds about the connection between nutrition, health and a just society. Together we  must help them bloom.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Missing Ingredient in Closing Education Gap, Achieving Economic Growth

When I read the New York Times headline yesterday: “Closing the Education Gap Will Lift Economy, a Study Finds”  ( @ )  I wondered if the newspaper would also be reporting “Watered plants grow taller and faster than those that aren’t.” or “Sunrise expected to be followed by sunset.”  It just seems so obvious.

But like many studies, the education report provided an important foundation of research and data to support what our common sense already tells us:  The better our kids do in school, the better off they will be and the stronger our economy, which in turn saves taxpayers money rather than costing them.

One purpose of the study by The Washington Center for Equitable Growth was to use a big attention-getting number to dramatize that not only would students benefit from closing the education gap, but all of us would prosper. The group found that bringing average American math and science scores up to the average for other industrialized nations would add 1.7% to America’s GDP over 35 years and could increase government revenue by $900 billion. 

The report includes recommendations on how to do improve academic achievement. But it neglected one of the most cost effective: ensuring that all students start their day with the school breakfast that is already bought and paid for with longstanding bipartisan federal support, but not easily accessed by millions of low income children.  A 2013 Deloitte report commissioned by Share Our Strength showed the powerful correlations between students starting their day with a nutritious school breakfast and math scores 17.5% higher than students who did not.

Our report coming out next month on Hunger in Our Schools should add even more valuable data bolstering the connection between feeding kids and academic achievement. Taking that one step farther as the Washington Center for Equitable Growth has done shows why every American should care about results whether they have children in school or not, are rich or poor; have experienced hunger or are fighting it.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Calling All Chefs! Calling All Chefs!

             How many chefs does it take to end childhood hunger? All of ‘em.  That’s why we at Share Our Strength are committed to creating every vehicle possible for those who want to make a difference in whatever way leverages their special strength.  Our latest example: Chefs on Bikes for No Kid Hungry, an annual series of 2-3 day bike rides covering hundreds of miles to raise money and awareness for our No Kid Hungry campaign.

            This June at least 25 chefs will be cycling from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and another 25 from New York to DC.  Extraordinary culinary talents Todd Grey, Nick Stefanelli and Will Artley are cycling, as are Seamus Mullen, Jeff Mahin, and Matt Bell.  There will be a team from the ever growing Shake Shack organization, and representatives of the Union Square Hospitality Group, among others.

            It is all still a work in progress (even the name could change between now and the ride) – and we expect the rides to grow dramatically over the years just as Taste of the Nation and the Dine Out have done -  but this is the time to get in on the ground floor of our most exciting new idea. For the past 30 years we’ve worked with the culinary and food service industry to raise and spend more than half a billion dollars.  That’s a lot of money and it has enabled us to enroll record numbers of kids in programs like school breakfast and summer meals to ensure they get the nutrition they need to grow and learn.

But our work is not done.  We need to raise millions more dollars over each of the next few years and Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry can be the way to do that. If you are a chef who wants to ride, a food lover who wants to support a favorite chef, or if you can volunteer to help organize, please let us know.  Share Our Strength co-founder Debbie Shore can be reached at 

Stay tuned for regular updates as more details become available.  See you out on the road. Thanks.