Tag Archives: hunger

What to Do When Nature Calls

Surprised businesswoman with CoffeeMy last blog was about finding purpose, “5 Essential Questions to Lead You to Your Calling.” In this blog I want to address another calling — nature’s calling. And there is only one answer to that calling: When nature calls, we must honor it.

I was recently at a meeting with a young girlfriend. She’s a passionate entrepreneur, and I was introducing her to some investors for her new venture. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, and it went very well. As we were leaving and going down the elevator to exit, my friend grabbed my arm, crossed her legs and in a panic said, “We have to find a bathroom right away because I am dying to pee.” I looked at her in amazement and asked her, “Why didn’t you go to the bathroom while we were in the meeting?” She responded, “Oh no, I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t want to interrupt the meeting.” We ran to find her a restroom at a restaurant next door and when she came out I said to her, “Here’s a piece of advice. Honor your bladder first, and if you do, you are going to be much more present in everything you do. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you are doing, how important the meeting is, who you are with. First and foremost you must honor nature’s calling.”

After speaking at an event recently, I had a similar experience. I was signing books and kept wanting to go to the bathroom, but there was a long line. So I kept going, and an hour later I turned to a girl who was helping me and said, “I MUST go to the bathroom,” and she said, “just go,” as if I needed permission for somebody to tell me it was okay to go. I ran to the bathroom, came back and everyone was of course still in line waiting for me. Since then I have spoken to many friends and they have all shared with me that they often too delay going to the bathroom not to interrupt whatever they are involved in. So it got me thinking: What is the issue?

If we do not listen to our basic needs, eat when we are hungry, sleep when we are tired, stretch when our body is tense, or drink water when we are thirsty, what other signals are we ignoring? What else in ourselves are we neglecting? Why do you think we do that? Could it be that we don’t want to appear normal, vulnerable, or human or that it may cause the wrong impression? Or do we think our meetings are more important than our physical well-being?

Our basic needs to go to the bathroom, to eat and to sleep are completely natural urges, and if we suppress them for the sake of what we consider social correctness, we are paying a price.

It is interesting that Michael Bloomberg, during his radio show this week, stated as one of the keys to success, “Take the fewest vacations and the least time away from the desk to go to the bathroom or have lunch.” I say the opposite. Take as many bathroom breaks as you need, recharge in every way you can and return to work renewed and full of energy instead of dragging yourself, and I promise you you are going to be way more productive and, yes, even more successful. Dear Mr. Mayor: When it comes to the question to pee or not to pee, there is no question. Make the time. Interrupt the meeting. Excuse yourself. Visit the closest bathroom.

Do women do this more often than men and why? You must all have a story or two. Would you share it with us?

For more by Agapi Stassinopoulos, click here.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Craving and Real Hunger

Day 17: Jes Cravin' (9.22.10)Ever wonder how to tell the difference between a craving and real hunger? It’s an important distinction to make for yourself if you are interested in health and especially if you are trying to lose weight. Cravings will often masquerade as hunger, but are really something entirely different.

Let us look at real hunger first so we can compare. Hunger is the body’s way of letting you know it needs fuel. The body is intent on survival and so hunger for food is built into our genes. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here anymore. Just like sex is a drive that is built in, so is hunger. Without food and sex, humans would be long gone.

So, once we establish that hunger is normal, natural, inevitable, and extremely important, it becomes our friend. We need it! We also need to learn to recognize it and work with it appropriately if we want to be healthy and live at a healthy weight.

Hunger is a feeling. There are differences in how we experience it, but if you are tuned in to your body, you will notice one of several signals. Your stomach might feel empty. You might even hear gurgling or get “hunger pangs” that come from your stomach letting you know it is empty. The Wiki explains it like this:

The physical sensation of hunger is related to contractions of the stomach muscles. These contractions — sometimes called hunger pangs once they become severe — are believed to be triggered by high concentrations of the hormone Ghrelin. The hormones Peptide YY and Leptin can have an opposite effect on the appetite, causing the sensation of being full. Ghrelin can be released if blood sugar levels get low — a condition that can result from long periods without eating. Stomach contractions from hunger can be especially severe and painful in children and young adults.

I have worked with people who are so out of tune with their bodies that they don’t experience stomach hunger. Instead they will feel light-headed or even get headaches. That is their cue to eat something.

So true hunger is the body’s way of letting you know you need food. When you feel that way, you will most likely want healthy food. Nutritious food. Not cookies, candy, cake, etc…

Cravings are generally for a particular food or drink. You might have a craving for, say chocolate, and not be physically hungry at all. Cravings can be brought on by emotions, associations, hormones, physical needs and memories. For example, if you always get the steak fries when you go hang out in Malibu, then when you go to Malibu, you might just crave the steak fries. That is an association/memory craving.

Cravings will pass if you resist them. It might take awhile, but they do subside. If you don’t get those fries this time, and get interested in other things when you are in Malibu, then the craving will pass. It might come back, but resisting cravings is possible. Hunger, on the other hand, might pass momentarily but will come roaring back if your body needs fuel.

To be healthy, and at a good weight, it is important to pay attention to your level of hunger. If “0” is completely empty and starving and “10” is Thanksgiving dinner stuffed, it is good to eat when you are at a 2, 3 or even 4. Getting too hungry is a set up for a binge. It is also good to stop eating when you are at a 7 or 8. Eat until you are not hungry anymore, not until you are full. The Japanese call this Hara Hachi Bu. “Eat until you are 80 percent full.”

Self awareness, and in particular, paying attention to what and why you eat, is key to conquering any weight or food addiction issues. There are more details on how to do that in my book, Foodaholic, The Seven Stages to Permanent Weight Loss.

That’s it for now. Good luck and let me know how you’re doing.

If you would like to reach me, you can find me here.

Unlikely Heroes: The California Teen Responsible for Feeding Thousands of Hungry Families

waste-no-food-sridhar-537x399At twelve years old, most of us were trudging through the awkwardness of adolescence, developing friend groups, and struggling to master pre-algebra. But at that age, Kiran Sridhar, a teenager from California’s Silicon Valley, had larger concerns on his mind.

According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, nearly 4 million people in California are “food insecure,” which means they cannot afford to buy enough food to sustain themselves. Southern California is disproportionately ailed by hunger in comparison with the rest of the state, but the Bay Area also contains some of the largest numbers of food insecurity. This may seem counter intuitive, especially considering the ever-growing prosperity of Silicon Valley, in particular, with its booming tech economy. But the reality that Sridhar learned as a middle schooler was that many in his own community were suffering, even in the midst of such prevalent wealth.

Shocked and inspired by this revelation, Sridhar got to work. He founded the non-profit organization, Waste No Food, to connect restaurants and farms to food banks that would distribute their excess and leftover food. According to the organization’s website, a whopping one third of California’s food goes to waste. With so many in the state hungry, such waste is simply unacceptable, and Waste No Food works to get that food to those who desperately need it.

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If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or cafe, then you know how much food gets thrown out at the end of each day. Oftentimes food service workers just feel limited by the effort to transport leftover food, or else the fear of liability. But through the program, all the work is done for them with the click of a button. Farms, restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores can sign up on the website to donate their excess food, and Waste No Food then connects them to aid organizations (already vetted for authenticity) who are responsible for all food transportation and handling. It’s a win-win all around!

Now a 10th grader in high school, Sridhar hopes to expand the program to other parts of the Bay Area, and we have no doubt the enterprising teenager will succeed in his aims. As he told CBS San Francisco:

When you’re hungry, that is your primary focus, figuring out what your next meal is going to be. But when you have your needs for food met, than you can actually be a positive contributor to the community and to the economy.

It’s inspiring to see not only what such a young person is capable of accomplishing, but also more generally the length a concerned citizen is willing to go to support his community. Over 50 million Americans live in households that quality as “food insecure,” the highest percentages occurring in Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. These are our communities, our neighbors, and our families. Let Kiran Sridhar and the Waste No Food program inspire you to make a difference.

Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!


Photo credit: Inhabitat.com

Graphic credit: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research

5 Amazing Stories from Go Inspire Go’s 50/50 Campaign

Many have written about the ability of social media to disperse information and create networks, but is it affecting any real social change? There are plenty of examples of social networking platforms playing essential roles in social movements, often in an organic, if scattered and chaotic, fashion. But the folks at Go Inspire Go (GIG) are taking a different approach. Their aim is to create organized, social media-driven campaigns to trigger overarching change on social issues.

Easier said than done. What makes people actually change their ways and beliefs? What final straw acts as the catalyst for reform? You might say “give people the facts,” or “use statistics to make an argument,” or “wait for a catastrophic event to get people moving.” For GIG, the power lies in sharing inspiring, relatable stories to show people that small steps can lead to real transformation.

That’s why GIG’s leader Toan Lam came up with the idea to document 50 inspiring stories, one from each of the 50 United States, to paint a portrait of local, everyday heroes in communities around the country. They are calling the initiative “50/50” and dispersing the stories via their YouTube channel – a great thing to check out if you’re ever in need of an inspiring pick-me-up. From an 8-year-old’s freedom-inspired lemonade stand to a woman who makes custom Superhero capes for sick children, these stories are guaranteed to strike a empathetic chord. In conjunction with the 50 stories, GIG also oversees a “Tea with Toan” video chat series, leadership training for millennials, and monthly blogs on various nonprofits working for social change.

We are inspired by the many ways people are rallying to use social media to make a difference in the world, and these video stories poignantly capture these efforts.

Here are five of our favorite stories from the 50/50 campaign:

1. After witnessing homelessness for the first time, 5-year-old Phoebe from San Francisco spearheaded a campaign to raise money to feed the hungry in her city. She has raised over $18,000 already for the SF Food Bank!

2. Psychiatrist Dr. Ron Holt decided to cut back on his private practice in order to travel around the country speaking about and educating people on LGBT issues and the science of sexuality. He discusses the devastating impacts of bullying and discrimination, with the goal of inspiring communities to adopt more inclusive values.

3. In response to recent riots in London, one couple decided to take alternative action. It started when they offered one particularly exhausted-looking sergeant a cup of tea, and spiraled into them walking the streets with cups and pitchers of hot tea to pass out to guards and bystanders.

4. Many people love dogs, but Emelinda Narvaez made it her life’s work to save as many dogs as she could through her nonprofit, Earth Angels. As of now, her organization has rescued over 10,000 canines. Even cancer couldn’t stop her, and she went on to use her own social security money to continue her dog-saving efforts.

5. In one inspiring story of corporate responsibility, the Spungen family from Illinois sold their multi-million dollar company and distributed $6.6 million to 230 employees as year-end bonuses. If only more businesses would follow their example!

Support Go-Inspire-Go’s IndieGoGo campaign HERE >>>

For more amazing stories from GIG’s 50/50 campaign and to help them raise $50,000 in the next month, visit their website, YouTube channel, and help them spread the word!

Honor the Hunger

I had the opportunity last weekend to attend a workshop with Nischala Joy Devi, a Yoga Master who studied for many years under Sri Swami Satchidananda.

One of the things she said that stood out for me was:

“It honors the hunger in the world when we’re grateful.”
She told us a story about a woman who was visiting a small rural village, and was given a tour by a local boy. He pointed out the important places, like the school and the clinic. They came to a house and the boy stopped. “And in that house,” he said with awe, eyes bright with wonder, “They eat every day.” She encouraged us, on our break, to eat with mindfulness and gratitude, and in doing so, to honor the hunger in the world.

For two years, I lived in that village – well, probably not the village in the story, but a village like it, where, as far as I knew, everyone ate every day, but certainly not always three meals. The village was in Niger, in Sub-Saharan West Africa, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Niger is one of the most food-insecure places in the world, and the Peace Corps mission there was Household Food Security – very simply, working to see that every home consistently had enough to eat, in terms of quantity and quality. It might sound simple, but in a region where farming is very precarious, the Sahara is ever-encroaching, and erratic rain (too much or too little) and locust plagues can destroy a crop and create a famine, it is anything but simple. Hungry Season, the other name for rainy season, is the time of year during planting and field work, the most labor-intensive and food-scarce time of year, when last year’s harvest is running low and this year’s harvest has yet to produce its fruits. It is during Hungry Season when meals are particularly scarce, and it’s not uncommon for people to spend all day in the field and eat, at best, one meal.

When you are accustomed to three square meals a day, plus snacks and whatever else you want, is very easy to forget that not everyone eats every day. It is very easy to forget that you are among the lucky few who have an abundance of food on their plate. Not only do we get to eat, but we have choices – at times, an overwhelming amount of choices. It is easy to take these choices for granted.

When returning to the US from Niger, I remember feeling acutely aware of the overwhelming amount of choices. There is a cliché story about Peace Corps Volunteers coming home and having nervous breakdowns in the supermarket. I, and pretty much every other returned volunteer I knew, had this experience. After living for two years in the midst of little choice and little waste, going into a Wal-Mart or a big box supermarket chain is completely incomprehensible. It is hard to imagine how so much plenty and so much want can exist on the same planet, and the juxtaposition is literally mindboggling.

In my first trip to a supermarket, I was with my mother, and after a few minutes of my head wanting to explode, I decided to focus and try to find the one thing I knew I needed – shampoo (not food, I know, but the food part was too much to handle). I stood in the shampoo aisle (because there is an aisle for shampoo), staring for what must have been a long time, at the myriad of choices before me. In Niger, I would have bought the shampoo. The choice was simple because there rarely was one. A woman stood next to me, probably noticing that my jaw was dropped and said, “Too many choices, aren’t there?” Oh, I thought, you have no idea…

The biggest (and only) supermarket in Niger was smaller than the vegetable section of your average supermarket chain. Food was purchased in weekly markets. What was in season was for sale; what wasn’t in season couldn’t be found. You could find select imports, like pasta and tomato paste. But by and large, it was millet, rice, beans, peanut products, okra. Not to mention, people grew most of the food that they consumed. Market was for trading, for selling what you planted to buy something that you didn’t.

Another shock upon return home was the food waste. In Niger, nothing is wasted – there is no such thing as food scraps, as everything has its place. Dinner leftovers become breakfast, rotten food (which rarely happens anyways) or parts that are inedible to humans go to the goats. With this fresh in my mind, I sat at the table and watched leftover pasta get thrown down the garbage disposal. “Nooooooooooo!” my mind screamed, and like a slow-motion scene in a movie I wanted to run to the sink and stop the pasta from ruin. But I knew that stopping the food from going down the drain wouldn’t solve hunger in Niger, or the problem of food inequality in general – of food waste here, of food lack there; obesity here, malnutrition there; of lack of awareness.

We can honor the hunger in the world by being grateful, but our honor and recognition of hunger need not stop at gratitude. At a personal level, we can be aware of food waste, and try to waste as little as possible. We can also honor hunger by being more aware of and involved in food justice and food security issues, both locally and globally. Unfortunately, no matter where we live, hunger is not far away. Find out about local food issues and see how you can help, such as by donating healthy food to a food bank or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Hopefully if enough of us can honor the hunger in these ways, and more, we might live to see a world where hunger is no longer an issue.

What are ways that you “honor the hunger in the world”?

Paying it Back: Unemployed Man Lifeline to 60 Neighbors

Every Tuesday afternoon you can hear the wheels of Herman Travis’ shopping cart clacking against the cracked, sloped sidewalks of San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood — an annoying sound for any passerby. But for many residents in this low-income community the sound is heavenly — their angel, 50-year-old Travis.

"It makes me feel good, seeing them smile when I knock on their door, it just makes me feel good," Travis said humbly.

Travis is the lifeline for many of those who depend on him to eat.

With a cheery disposition, he delivers food to 60 neighbors who eagerly wait for Travis’ visit. Many recipients are elderly and disabled. Getting out of the house to pick up food from the San Francisco Food Bank and pantries is nearly impossible.

So Travis brings the food to them.

"It means a lot to me, as a senior. I can’t get out. I’m sort of confined to my house. It’s just a blessing, a blessing, something you can depend on, Herman’s always there with a smile," recipient Millie Sheehy said.

Travis partnered up with the S.F. Food Bank to make this do-good deed possible. For the past three years, a truck drops off 1,300 pounds of food at the Holly Courts low-income housing complex where he lives. A handful of volunteers help Travis sort and pack brown paper grocery bags. He loads his cart and off he goes, on his three-hour mission to feed his neighbors.

"I don’t know how we would express it, except for saying that we would be completely lost without him," Bebe Castaine, 81, said.

But besides feeding their stomachs, he also feeds their spirits. Everyone who answers the door beams with excitement, the smiles overflow.

"He spoils me rotten by coming to my door. And he’s always positive, he’s always got something nice to say. So I enjoy him,” said 93-year-old Millie Sheehy, who smiles wide and giggles like a schoolgirl when her "No. 1" drops by.

Travis knows the stories behind every drop off. The rapport, trust and loyalty are unique as they are special.

Knock. Knock. Knock. No answer. "Her mother’s been gone for a while, her mother died," Travis explained with a deep, melancholy breath.

He takes a moment to catch his breath and shake the sadness, then heads up the steep sidewalk to the next visit.

On the way to the next delivery, Travis, shared that he also has a lot to be grateful for. "I’m glad I’m healthy enough to do this," he said in gratitude. This neighborhood angel has been unemployed for the past few months. His construction work dried up. Now he is applying for general assistance. He too depends on the food bank to get by.

It started when "I didn’t have no work," he said fervently. "I’m paying back because they helped me, so I’m paying back, that’s what any human being should do. Pay back what people give you."

Travis says he hopes others will do the same — give the gift of goodwill.

"It makes me feel good, seeing them smile when I knock on their door, it just makes me feel good," Travis admitted emphatically.

For now, Travis said, he’ll continue to stay positive and that he’ll jump at the chance of any job when it comes around. While the future is uncertain for this neighborhood angel, one thing is clear — his current job, which doesn’t grant him a paycheck, is a job that feeds his soul.

What can YOU do this new year to help a family member, friend or stranger? Here’s a good start — you can donate to your local food bank. You have more power than you may think.


Four Preschoolers Inspire 135,000 Meals

As you gather with family and friends for the holidays, I hope you’ll be inspired to share this story with a young person in your life – and encourage them to think of others, who may not be fortunate enough to enjoy a warm meal, have a place to live or people to celebrate with.

Meet Ethan, Emily and Sophia — three of the youngest humanitarians you may ever meet. Taking the lead from Phoebe, their preschool predecessor, they have raised money, rallied resources and heightened visibility (about hunger in their community) to enable the San Francisco Food Bank to serve more than 135,000 meals.

It all started a year ago, when Phoebe was in preschool (she graduated and is in first grade). Phoebe saw homeless and hungry people in her community and asked her mother, "Why do they look so sad and dirty?" Her mother explained homelessness and hunger to her.

Phoebe knew two things: that it made her sad and that she wanted to help. She enlisted the help of her teacher, Kathleen Albert and her classmates. Her goal was to raise $1,000 in two months. Phoebe was determined to collect aluminum cans and recycle them for cash because that’s what she and her older sister did for fun. The then five-year-old decided the money raised would be donated to the SF Food Bank. She handwrote letters and mailed them out to 150 family, friends and community members.

"Caaans? What are you talking about?" Albert said in disbelief. "I thought five cents a can, one thousand dollars. It was unrealistic. But Phoebe was adamant about it."

At first, a few cans trickled in, then thousands showed up at the preschool’s door step. Checks and envelopes stuffed with cash were also jammed into the mailbox. The community got excited. Businesses matched donations.

Phoebe raised $3,736.30 by her deadline, enough for the SF Food Bank to feed nearly 18,000 people. Albert held a party to celebrate the donation. Go Inspire Go (GIG) attended, created and posted a video. At the end of the video, GIG challenged the viewers with this statement: "If a 5-year-old could raise enough to feed nearly 18,000 people, what can YOU do? Please make a donation to the San Francisco Food bank, and tell them Phoebe sent you."

Other media outlets shared Phoebe’s philanthropic project. GIG’s video went viral, and amassed more than 30,000 hits. Six months later, the SF Food Bank wrote GIG, with an update: the money raised spiked to $20,202, or about 80,000 meals. Additionally GIG sent the video to Tyson Foods’ Hunger Relief Challenge, which led to the company’s donation of 15 tons of chicken. Now more than 120,000 meals could be served.

This inspirational story gets better! Before the end of the school year, Phoebe’s preschool protégés, Ethan, Emily and Sophia were moved by Phoebe’s philanthropic spirit. "I like helping other people" said Ethan. "I don’t like seeing hungry people," explained Sophia. "We asked other people to help," said Emily. Albert said the three worked together relentlessly to write letters, count the change and smash dozens of bags full of cans. They even came up with their own campaign slogan, inspired by President Barack Obama: "Yes We Can!" And yes, they did! The grand total so far: $5,479.05.

Thanks to Ethan, Emily, Sophia and Phoebe, their small altruistic act of goodness means more than 135,000 meals can be shared in their community.

If four five-year-olds could inspire 135,000 meals, what can YOU do this holiday season? As our little philanthropic friends will tell you – yes you can!

To make a donation to the San Francisco Food Bank, click here!

*Phoebe’s mother told me that First Lady, Michelle Obama wrote Phoebe a letter to thank her for her generosity. No telling if Mrs. Obama will reach out to Ethan, Emily and Sophia.

Inspiration in Action: You can find out more about Toan Lam & Go Inspire Go at www.goinspirego.com. Click on the YouTube link and check out the GIG stories. Contact Toan at: info@goinspirego.com

Follow Toan Lam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GoInspireGo

Willy Wonka as Marie Antoinette: Classism in Children’s Classics


From Stories are Good Medicine

"Let them eat cake… er… chocolate!"

I know that, at least per director Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette, the soon-to-be-beheaded French monarch never made that insensitive comment. Telling her hungry subjects to eat cake, I mean. What kind of a monster would do such a thing, after all? Telling hungry people to eat bon-bons when all they want is a good square meal, or better yet, the ability to earn the money to give their family good square meals every day from now on?

Teach a Frenchman to fish, and he learns a trade. Give a Frenchman a fish, and he makes salmon crudites. (or something like that)

But then, what about the beloved Mr. Willy Wonka of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Doesn’t he do the same thing as ole Queen Marie A.? Doesn’t he tell the poor and hungry to, well, eat chocolate?

I didn’t remember the depths of the Bucket family’s poverty until I began reading the story aloud to my 6 and 8 year olds recently. Chapter 10: The Family Begins to Starve was tonight’s fare, and although both I and my 8year old knew the outcome of the story (as did, really, my 6year old too who kept insisting "Charlie must get the fifth golden ticket. There’s only one left and why else would the story be called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?), all of us had tears in our eyes as I read about the family’s hunger. We shivered as the cold drafts swept through the ramshackle Bucket house, we felt that watery cabbage soup slip down our throats, we could see Charlie saving his energy – taking 10 extra minutes on the way to school, resting at recess while the other children played – lest he use up his meager physical resources on anything but dire necessity. When the frail old grandparents – all four piled up in a bed – retold the story of Charlie trying to slip his mother his breakfast, all of our hearts broke. As the adult in the room, I even took it further, imagining the frustration of an elderly grandparent consuming finite family resources while he watches his beloved grandson starve before his eyes. Death, I imagined, would be welcome for Grandpa Joe if it meant that Charlie got an extra 1/2 potato at lunchtime.

Then, a miracle happens. Charlie wins this storybook’s version of the lottery. His numbers strike in the form of the fifth golden ticket to Mr. Willy Wonka’s magical candy factory – place of dreams and unending chocolate waterfalls. Dahl’s writing, like that chocolate waterfall, is delicious and filling – it transports you from the vividness of starvation to that heavenliness of golden possibilities – possibilities that sweep Charlie out of poverty right before serious malnutrition and end-organ damage sets in.

But then my observant 6 year old opened my eyes wide to the classism of this narrative:

Daughter (outraged): "Wait a minute, Charlie’s family is starving, and all Mr. Wonka will give them is chocolate?"

Me: "Er, maybe he’ll give them food too."

Daughter (not buying it, the guy owns a chocolate factory after all, not a Whole Foods): "You know, they’ll get brown teeth if they eat all that chocolate."

Me: "Er, maybe they’ll brush alot."

Daughter: "I don’t know if they have the money to buy toothbrushes. They’re very poor, you know."

Me: "Er…"

Daughter: "Now, if Willy Wonka gives them toothbrushes too, that would be fair, because it wouldn’t mean to give them so much chocolate and no toothbrushes."

Indeed. It is pretty unfair to hand out chocolate like there is no tomorrow, and not hand out toothbrushes too.  Or that adult version of the toothbruth – dental insurance. Mr. Bucket just lost his job at the toothpaste factory, after all. Without any severance. Or labor protests. Or union safety nets. And definitely no unemployment insurance. Certainly no Medicaid for the old folks. No Child Health Plus for Charlie. No WIC for mommy.

And what about that one, singular lottery ticket anyway? What about all the other Charlies and Charlines who didn’t find tickets? And never will?

Dahl’s narrative, besides being a thinly disguised portrayal of African slavery in the form of the Oompa-Loompas, also manifests the noble poor narrative made famous by the ever-cheerful Tiny Tim of A Christmas Carol. The ‘deserving’ poor don’t complain, or organize toothpaste factory walk-outs, but soldier on cheerfully, trying to sneak their mums their own breaksfasts as their stomach linings turn in on themselves. And as a reward for such behavior, and such gastric gymnastics, they find golden tickets, and maybe even inherit untold wealth from kooky old uncles (think Dickens’ Great Expectations, and remember too that all the other golden tickets winners except Charlie represent greed, avarice, and excessive gum chewing and TV watching).

Be poor, kids, but don’t complain, and maybe – just maybe – you’ll inherit a chocolate factory staffed by your own unpaid, imprisoned, slave population! Noble (white) poor becomes king/employer/factory owner of kind-of-noble (Black) savages? Eek. Did Dahl really have to go there?

What other children’s stories portray poverty and how? All I can think about right now is Dickens, and that poor, dirty faced Oliver wanting more porridge.

"Please, sir, can I have some more?"

Well, what about showing how Oliver, or Charlie, or Pip, didn’t just make it as individuals, but organized their communities? (Does organizing a community of pickpockets make the Artful Dodger some kind of neo-Marxist?) What about teaching a boy to make a chocolate factory, rather than fish in one?


I think that’s a chocolate covered (gluten free) eclair over there calling my name. 

40 Percent of All Food Produced In America Is Being Thrown Out. How Can We Decrease Our Food Waste?

Just today, I had to throw out remnants of an old salad, one-third of an onion that was left for too long in the cooking pan, and a small Tupperware’s worth of an eggplant pasta sauce I never got to finish. Last week, among other things, was one whole avocado that became too overripe from negiligence. I am definitely not proud of this.

The amount of food that is wasted in the country is staggering and shameful. Over forty percent of food produced in America goes to waste. And just spotted today on the Los Angeles Times, 1.5 million TONS of food are dumped every year in California alone by Californian caterers, hotels, and restaurants. We are talking perfectly good food from banquet halls that simply go straight to the dumpster. The number does not even cover food that is wasted from school cafeterias, individual households, public institutions and other sectors in the state.

More than a matter of principle, wasting food is bad news for the planet. The energy that goes into producing excess food means more water is wasted, more carbon emissions are created, and more trash goes out into the world to farm, package, and ship food that is not being eaten.

Starting today, I want to make a personal commitment to throw away less food. Here are some general tips to cut back on food waste in your home: 

1. Do a weekly check on the contents of your fridge. When you forget what’s in the fridge, the leftovers from last night’s party or the fresh squash from last weekend’s farmers market trip get forgotten and as time passes, inedible. By keeping tabs on your fridge stuff, you can move things nearing the expiration date towards the front and make a mental note to use up certain ingredients for your next homecooked meal.

2. Know thyself’s eating and shopping habits. Do you keep buying bags of carrots that go stale and rubbery from neglect? Do you tell yourself you’ll whip up an amazing gourmet meal with those Farmer’s Market artichokes and asparagus but keep getting lazy? If you know what grocery shopping mistakes you keep repeating that results in food waste, you can empower yourself with the self-awareness to improve your habits.

3. Scour the internet for yummy leftover recipe ideas. What to do with that pot of old rice, stale bread, spaghetti leftovers? Thanks to the internet, you can look up many creative solutions to turn your lousy leftovers into a kick-ass homecooked meal instead of landfill fodder. (I love turning old bread into homemade croutons. Simple and economical.) 

4. Take advantage of your freezer. I still have leftover curry chilling in my freezer from a gathering I had a month ago. Knowing my own tendency to waste fresh vegetables, I also started buying many frozen veggies in bags so I don’t have to pressure myself to use up my vegetables before they go bad.

5. Know how much is too much when you are preparing food at home. This can be tricky especially if you are living alone. Can you finish a whole pot of spaghetti if you are living alone? Can you come up with enough creative recipe ideas to finish a whole pot of rice or a whole loaf of bread before they go bad? (It helps for me that I have a boyfriend who helps me eat the food in my apartment.) 

6. Plan meals in advance. When you know what you are cooking for the next few days, you are more likely to strategize mindfully on using up food that is about to expire or is already available in your kitchen instead of impulse-buying more grocery items that might go to waste. Even if you only plan up to one day in advance, a little planning goes a long way.

7. If you must throw away your food, compost! Rather than going to the landfill, your waste will at least help nourish your garden that will hopefully produce local fruits and vegetables in your own backyard or windowsill. To learn more about composting, check out this blog post.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / jbloom


Phoebe Russell: Six-Year-Old Inspires Movement, Feeds 120,000 People

 Take a close look at the photo of the young lady below — Her name is Phoebe Russell. Although I’ve had some amazing teachers in my more than three decades on this earth, I can truly say that Miss Russell is the best teacher I’ve ever had, when it comes to the true meaning of "service." No, nothing is wrong with your eyes and no, this is not a picture of her from way back when she was youthful. Phoebe is six-years-old. Since meeting her last year, she has taught me a lot about life and about fitting into this world as an "adult."

I met Phoebe when she was five through our friends at the San Francisco Food Bank. I created this video for my inspirational website GoInspireGo.com on her project to feed the hungry. 

Phoebe’s mother told me in a way that made me feel humble, "There are always little things that we can do in our daily life that make a huge difference for other people.The project started off as a small thing. Phoebe’s taught me, you got to just do it." That’s when I realized how deep Phoebe’s wisdom was, even at this tender age.

"Why do they look so sad?" She asked inquisitively. "And how do we help them?" Her parents explained that the food bank helps feed hungry people. She became determined to raise money for the food bank by collecting cans, recycling them and cashing them in for money.

Phoebe innocently told me, "It makes me sad because they have no food and shelter. Me, my dad and sister would go to Whole Foods … we would have this big bag of cans and we would turn them in to get money, so I wanted to collect cans."

With the help of her preschool teacher, Phoebe reached out to her network — during recess, she hand wrote, signed and sent letters to family and friends. Her goal was ambitious — you might say impossible — for a five-year-old, but then again, what do grown-ups know anyway?

To say the project gained momentum is an understatement.

Family, friends and the media shared her story, which led to a ripple effect of giving. Within two months, Phoebe raised $3,736.30. According to the SF Food Bank, that’s enough to feed nearly 18,000 people.

The news gets better.

I featured Phoebe’s video on GoInspireGo.com and it went viral immediately. More than 26,000 hits from all corners of the world, YouTube comments and e-mails poured in. Parents, churches and other community groups contacted our team to say they were sharing our blog and video with their children (as bedtime stories) and during sermons and meetings. I could see a shift happening — people were inspired by Phoebe’s actions to act.

Fast forward six months.

I received an email from Gayle Keck, a media manager at the SF Food Bank. The total from Phoebe’s project: $20,202. That’s enough to feed 90,000 people.

Get ready to keep on smiling. Yes, this story does get better.

Go Inspire Go submitted the video to Tyson Foods’ Hunger Relief Challenge. Phoebe became the "Tyson Hunger All-Star," a title that comes with a donation of 15 tons of chicken! That means the SF Food Bank is able to feed 120,000 people in the community.


This isn’t just a civics lesson to her peers; Phoebe taught us big kids a thing or two as well.

Tyson’s Ed Nicholson said that of his 15 years with the company, Phoebe is the one who left a life-long lasting impression on him. "This is to recognize unlikely people in unlikely places doing extraordinary things. I think maybe Phoebe is the one of the most unlikely we’ve run across and perhaps doing one of the most extraordinary things," Nicholson said, in a voice with so much excitement, I thought he had won the contest.

Paul Ash, Executive Director of the SF Food Bank, was blown away too. He told me, "We’ve never had someone this young do this much. We certainly have volunteers come in with parents, but no one so young who moved something along so independently and with such great results."

Little Phoebe taught me some big lessons in life as well.

First off, you don’t have to be rich, famous or even experienced (that’s my nice way of saying old) to give back. Small acts of kindness matter in a big way. It’s amazing to see Phoebe in her "zone" and working in the spirit of service, with only one goal: to help others.

I also learned to unlearn things that we’re told constantly as we "get older." Just over a year ago, I started my Go Inspire Go Project. My mission was to set up a global platform for people to see and share inspiring stories. My Vision is for viewers to be inspired to use their own resources and talents to help others.

Along the way, we’ve inspired and empowered people to help those featured through our call to action. (There are links at the end of every story on how they could be a part of the change.)

More than once I almost put the project on pause because I was constantly inundated with people asking me, "You’re doing what? Okaaay," and "How are you going to monetize this?" "You need to have a business plan, now."

I admit, there were times when I felt like giving up. But people sent story ideas my way … which touched the journalist in me. (My parents wanted me to nix the journalism thing and become a doctor — but what Asian old school parent doesn’t want their children to wear scrubs and make more moolah?) That’s when I just started doing what I knew best — connect, inspire and empower people through my stories, which led to the vision of my project.

Over a year later, I am still humbled, amazed and intrigued by the fact that children like Phoebe are uninhibited and just take risks. As you see in the first video link above, kids dance shamelessly, freely and unabashed. Kids believe they’re artists, singers and astronauts.

But what happens to us when we get older?

Aren’t we supposed to get wiser? More connected? How many times have people put up roadblocks on the path to your dreams? How many times have you been told, "You want to be an artist?" or "How are you going to pay your bills?" While these are valid questions that I had to ask myself every day as I took on this project, I learned to cut back, ask questions and Rubix cube my opportunities to work for me.

I don’t make a lot of money and still work part-time to work on this project, fueled with hope, passion and compassion.

As I sit here at Starbucks and blog, I wonder how many artists, singers and astronauts out there who "could’ve been," but were thwarted one way or another.

The world is a big place; we are very small. But the opportunities are vast, limitless — and within our reach.

So with no shame, I’m proud to say, I learned a lot from little Phoebe — even though it took some imagination, a shift in my thinking to see life through lens of a five-year-old. Or as Phoebe corrected me recently, "I’m six-and-a-half!"

Boy, I’ve got a lot to learn! 

Written by Toan Lam For Tonic.com!

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