Tag Archives: social networks

Souper Bowl of Caring

While visiting Austin in January, I was accosted in the local supermarket. The perpetrator? The HEB cashier, who after ringing me up, singsonged what’s become a common refrain heard in supermarket check-outs across the country: “would you like to make a donation today?”

I looked up and there was the unexpected: the donation itself. Usually, I’m presented with an electronic choice on the credit card machine, a simple yes or no accompanied by a bored-sounding cashier’s “ask.” Having created a personal philanthropy plan I usually stick to it, only saying yes when the donation is earmarked for one of my chosen causes.

But this cashier was holding up a brown grocery bag. Inside were cans of vegetables and meat, enough to feed four people who wouldn’t otherwise eat dinner that night. $5 per bag. I looked down at the snack pack of goldfish crackers and bottle of wine I’d thrown into my cart on a whim. How could I say no? And WHY would I say no?

I didn’t know at the time, but I’d just contributed to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas’ local Souper Bowl of Caring Campaign: mine was one of $1,000,000 meals that were donated. I also didn’t know that in January, 2012, 3,000+ groups participating in the Souper Bowl of Caring raised $5,323,124 in cash and food for charities fighting hunger in seven US cities.

Food donation drives are no novel thing. But the Souper Bowl is not a drive, it’s a “national youth-led movement of schools, congregations, community organizations and compassionate individuals joining together to fight hunger and poverty in their local communities, transforming the time around the Super Bowl into the nation’s largest celebration of giving and serving.”

One of my favorite Hebrew words is “Dayenu,” translated roughly as “it would have been enough” and used in this context: if I had only paid for the contents of that shopping bag and fed a family for one night, then “Dayenu.” But I contributed to building a transformative movement in the fight against hunger. For now, this too is “Dayenu.” But speaking as a kid who was involved early on, through Quaker schooling and family practice, in volunteerism and generous acts, I know that the children who’ve built the Souper Bowl of Caring in the last 20 years will continue their good works into adulthood and change their communities. So someday, perhaps we can say, “We fed the world. Dayenu.”

Since the Souper Bowl of Caring started in 1990, volunteers have collected more than $81 million in dollars and cans, with 100 percent of all donations going directly to community food banks, soup kitchens or other charities chosen by each group. For more information or to join the team, visit www.tacklehunger.org. For more informational about the Capital Area Food Bank, visit www.austinfoodbank.org.





ABC’s of Food: Starting with Our Kids

Today the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity released its recommendations for Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within One Generation.

No matter your politics or geography, it’s become impossible to ignore the truth about food and kids. The statistic that 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime is actually inconceivable, as big numbers like that usually are. We’re all reduced to numbers by statisticians but we think the scary number in the equation isn’t referring to us.

In the 3rd grade I had one diabetic friend. I was horrified when Xenia had to prick her finger and give herself shots. She said it was no big deal. The day she began to shake and turned white, then ate the apple she always carried was the first inkling I had of the ominous force controlling her life, more frightening than any of her rituals.

Xenia had Type 1 diabetes. My mother explained that children with this disease had horrible things happen to them as they aged. Blindness, kidney failure, early death. In the 80s, only older adults got Type 2 diabetes, when they began to wear out and their bodies couldn’t tolerate sugar.

Nicholas Christakis’ new TED talk on the Influence of Social Networks begins with an explanation of how obesity spreads across networks of friends and families. He calls it a “multi-centric epidemic” and notes it’s not just behaviors that spread across social networks, it’s actually social norms.

I can’t comprehend that Xenia’s experience has become the norm – and therefore must seem normal – to millions of children who are sick, or whose parents, friends, and siblings are diabetic.

The happy news is that Christakis says while networks spread bad stuff, there must be an evolutionary reason they developed and persist. He believes benefits outweigh the costs and “social networks are required for the spread of good and valuable things” like ideas. Now our social networks are rapidly expanding online, spreading good stuff that will hopefully outweigh the proliferation of keyboard cat videos or pics of Beyonce in unflattering swimwear.

A great example of good things spreading was given today in a live chat on Grist.org, by author of Diet for a Hot Planet, Anne Lappé. She talked about what she’s seeing happening at the government level:

“I think…solutions have to be multifaceted: from education to media literacy to policy change. It can feel overwhelming, but from my vantage point, I’ve seen such incredible action on the ground that I’m really encouraged…from the Manhattan Borough President (who just legalized beekeeping to promote urban agriculture) to the City of Santa Monica (which banned non recycled take out packages) to the City of San Francisco (which just released a local-emphasized food procurement policy) to the City of Seattle (which declared this year the Year or Urban Agriculture) to the City of Portland (which just rededicated its edible garden, that replaced its lawn, in front of city hall). It’s happening.”

Sorting through all the the good information out there is a different challenge and it’s hard to find a place to begin personally, let alone the right checklists for how to make change in our own lives and throughout our local social networks. I’ve added another box on the left with what I think are the best basic resources for getting started. Go forth and garden.

Photos: Blast from the past: a “normal” pantry of yesteryear, Sierra gets saucy in the garden.