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Ellen Chilemba is something of a powerhouse. Recently named by Forbes as one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs under the age of 30, this young Malawian’s vision is to help women escape poverty and break cycles of child marriage and squandered potential.

Chilemba founded Tiwale, a for-profit social enterprise, in Malawi when she was just 17. In the past three years, the organisation has supported 150 women with business and vocational training, and helped 40 women start businesses or find employment. Recently, Tiwale secured its first dedicated office space. It now has room for a classroom and workshop for a new fabric design initiative that generates income for the programme’s participants and helps sustain the organisation at the same time.

But Chilemba isn’t stopping there. Tiwale wants to truly empower its female participants. That means taking a deeper look at assumptions, listening closely to the women and evolving the organisation’s approach as it goes. Chilemba explains what she has learned so far, and how this will spur Tiwale’s next phase.

“Sometimes, what you think is the problem isn’t what the actual challenge is,” says Chilemba. “I’ve learned to play the role of listener more and more.”

Read the rest at Positive News.

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With the rise of high-end bourbons and whiskeys, craft beer and wine may have some new competition when it comes to being paired with food. Having all the flavor complexities of its lower ABV cousins, bourbon and whiskey are no longer sitting on the sidelines as digestifs. Whiskey bars with food concepts — like Radish and Rye in Santa Fe and Noorman’s Kil in Brooklyn — are inviting patrons to experience the spirits as an accompaniment to au courant dishes on innovative menus.

What’s the key to successfully pairing whiskey with food? Michael Sebree, bartender at Radish and Rye, views pairing as following the same vein as cocktail theory. “You look at how the spirit was made and what you can pull out,” Sebree says. “With bourbons and Scotches, you might get some chocolate notes. You get some high end mineral qualities with Scotches, and nutty flavors imparted by the wood. Just like you would consider these qualities when mixing a drink, you can pronounce those parts when you’re pairing with them with food.”

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A career bartender with more than 20 years of experience in Europe and New York, Sebree points to his upbringing on a farm in Kentucky as responsible for his “strong bourbon game” and an early foundation in fresh, farm-to-table flavors. Radish and Rye features a seasonal menu with ingredients sourced as locally and freshly as possible. When pairing dishes with selections from the expertly curated bourbon menu (which includes custom single barrels from Buffalo Trace Distillery), Sebree considers how flavor notes from a spirit might parallel or contrast what might be found in a particular food preparation.

For example, Sebree marries grilled lamb ribs with spicy Salbitxada sauce alongside Stagg Jr., an unfiltered Kentucky bourbon that clocks in at a toasty 132 proof. The strong rye and clove notes of the Stagg Jr. hold up against the spiciness of the sauce, and the high-proof burn also cuts pleasantly with the fatty, caramelized sweetness of the grilled meat. >>Read the rest at Tales of the Cocktail

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This blog was originally featured on HuffPost UK Style, as part of a month-long focus around sustainable fashion. 

Consumers across the globe care about whether their clothes are ethically produced, and they want to be able to make purchases that match their values. According to a recent Nielsen report, 55% of consumers surveyed across 60 countries want to buy brands that are committed to social and environmental responsibility, and the “sustainability mainstream” is increasing.

Yet, most likely, the clothes you’re wearing come from a sweatshop. While a few brands like Patagonia have truly committed to ethical sourcing, today’s apparel supply chains are largely no better than they were in the 90’s, when sweatshop exposés triggered a wave of outrage among consumers. In fact, modern supply chains are even more gnarled and opaque, and rife with human rights abuse. Most clothing products are still produced in horrendous and life-threatening conditions, and by exploited labourers who are often trafficked workers or children.

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Image: A still from the documentary, The True Cost; Credit: The True Cost

Fashion is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to pollution – textiles are thesecond greatest contributor to global water pollution, according to the World Bank. And the apparel industry is only second to oil when it comes to environmental impact as a whole, according a 2013 report by the Danish Fashion Institute. Synthetic fibres like polyester are derived from petrochemicals, and natural fibres like rayon and viscose are contributing to the destruction of ancient rainforests.

The problems are manifold and well-documented by the industry. Yet, brands – including companies committed to sustainability, like Patagonia – still struggle to have full control over every step of the garment manufacturing process. And, everyday people remain largely unaware of the trail of harm that led to the creation of their clothes.

“The label in a garment may tell us where it was produced, but it doesn’t tell us whether it was made from child-picked cotton in Uzbekistan, spun by bonded labourers in India, dyed using hazardous chemicals in China, or cut and sewn in an unregistered factory in Bangladesh,” according to an annual report by C&A Foundation.

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The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 11 percent of the world’s children are engaged in child labour, with many employed in garment manufacturing. Image: Child workers at a small garment factory in Jakarta, Indonesia; Credit: ILO in Asia and the Pacific

But could there be silver lining under fashion’s dirty garments? Absolutely. An array of solutions – including improved laws and enforcement, revamped traceability processes, and a true commitment to sustainability – are being unlocked by a handful of forward-thinking brands, initiatives like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and non-profits like Canopy and Verité. Campaigns like Fashion Revolution Day and a new documentary film, The True Cost, are engaging consumers and renewing the call for change.

Moreover, social entrepreneurs are driving fresh approaches that could help the apparel industry truly clean up its act and achieve both style and substance. From the toolbox of social entrepreneurs, here are three more reasons to be optimistic about the future of fashion:

1. More industries can get involved to end human trafficking in fashion
Fashion’s extraordinarily complex global supply chains might make change seem daunting, but perhaps that’s because the industry has largely looked to itself for solutions. What if more players – like finance, transportation, health, and agricultural R&D – got involved? Through activating a network of industries, solving sustainability issues in fashion could potentially be accomplished more effectively and with fewer resources.

For example, Truckers Against Trafficking trains everyone in the trucking industry – from trucking students to shipping partners – to become active opponents of trafficking and to learn how to spot and support victims. The organization works with law enforcement and uses existing infrastructure to combat modern slavery in sweatshops (in addition to other contexts). Another organization, Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade, matches lenders committed to environmental sustainability with agricultural producers that share the same values. Ethical producers, such as organic cotton farmers, can thus access financial services and become more economically viable.

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Image: Inside a garment factory in Bangladesh; Credit: jankie

2. Workers can be empowered to make supply chain traceability a reality
Modern supply chains involve multiple tiers of contractors, and brands that care about sustainability often only have full transparency with tier-one suppliers. When it comes to the fourth or fifth tiers, it can be next to impossible to track labour conditions. LaborVoices, however, is tackling this challenge by enabling workers to send real-time data on working conditions through their mobile phones. Available in 50 countries, the system also helps workers access information on their rights and how to resolve workplace grievances.

LaborVoices’ founder, Kohl Gill, sees the industry’s lack of on-the-ground information as a key hurdle to change on multiple fronts. According to Gill, “If you don’t know what the labour conditions are, then you can’t make proper trade policy decisions. You can’t navigate your way to a good job, as a worker. You can’t choose a great supplier, as a buyer. And even as a high road supplier, you can’t really differentiate yourself against your competition.”

LaborVoices plans to expand its services so that workers can self-report and access information on factory conditions and wages, and become empowered to make choices about their employment – “like a TripAdvisor for workers,” says Gill. LaborVoices is also moving toward a subscription model for brands, so that companies no longer need to commission a specific investigation, but can simply pay to access real time information about a spread of factories. This model is scaling up this year in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China.

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Image: A still from Canopy’s Fashion Loved by Forest campaign; Credit: Canopy/Grewal

3. Other pressure points, besides consumers, can disrupt business as usual
When it comes to buying ethical clothing, consumers have limited options. (Try doinga search for verifiably sustainable brands, and only a few widely recognizable names crop up.) And without the ability to access sustainability information and to make ethical point-of-sale decisions, consumers have a limited power (at the moment) to cast an economic vote for change.

But there’s more than one way to incentivize (and pressure) brands to be proactive about social and economic responsibility. The citizen advocacy organization, PODER, for example, builds relationships with prominent investors and helps communities make a business case to them for sustainability. Investors can then raise their voices to calls for better working conditions and monitoring programs. “Investors stand to lose a lot of the brand price falls,” says Ben Cokelet, founder of PODER and an Ashoka Fellow. “We get them to join us in encouraging brands to come to the table.”

Another organization, Canopy, targets highly influential brands and designers who can then “institutionalize sustainable purchasing decisions” across the industry. Founded by Ashoka Fellow Nicole Rycroft, the organization has signed up big namesin fashion like Stella McCartney, Eileen Fischer, Marks & Spencer, and Levi’s to commit to eliminating rainforest deforestation from their supply chains.

“The top ten viscose producers in the world control 80% of global production,” Rycroft explains. “It’s a very concentrated supply chain, and it gave us a very neat place to basically create a tipping point.” In the past year, by working with influential brands to develop forest-friendly policies, Canopy has been able to shift the top three viscose producers – representing 50 percent of the global supply of viscose – away from sourcing fibre from endangered forests.

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Osteria Stellina
Image: dutchbaby

 

Local Ingredients Shine at Osteria Stellina

– With its focus on local organic ingredients from famed West Marin farms like Niman Ranch and Marin Sun, Osteria Stellina would be worth a trip, even if it didn’t provide the fringe benefits of a beautiful drive and day at the beach in Point Reyes.

In a tribute to the best of Italy’s locavore tendencies, each course exploits Marin’s culinary strong points, starting with sweet and briny Hog Island oysters or a creamy wild mushroom soup; then moving on to a glass of ruby Pleiades wine from Bolinas, paired with a first course of handmade pasta—like the tender orecchiette with homemade Italian sausage. After a full beach day, you’ll have no problem moving on to the second course and the not-to-be-missed slow-cooked Niman Ranch pork osso bucco, topped off with the a deliciously frivolous Meyer lemon and gingersnap ice-cream sandwich.

 

 

 

 

Cheese (Need we say more?)

Image: Paul Goyette
Image: Paul Goyette

To visit Cowgirl Creamery is to begin a love affair with cheese—that is, if you’re not already smitten with triple creams and chevre. Located in an old converted barn in downtown Point Reyes, Cowgirl makes award-winning artisan cheeses with local appellations like the Mount Tam (a mellow, buttery triple cream) and the Pierce Point (washed in muscato wine and covered in Tomales Bay herbs). Sample some of these dairy delights while you take a peek into the cheesemaking rooms where the wheels are hand formed and left to age. Now for the hardest part—deciding which cheese to take home.

 

 

Mashing It Up at Bootie in San Francisco

Image: Morgan Sherwood
Image: Morgan Sherwood

No, you’re not dreaming—it really is a Prince vs. Michael Jackson dance party with DJs and a live band mashing up tracks on the spot. With ever-changing themed parties three times a month, Bootie is the place to get your sweaty dance on. Virtuosic DJs effortlessly blend nearly every musical genre, from Metallica to Madonna, to create new and irresistible tracks that will make you want to dance all night.Wear what you want (Lady Gaga impersonations encouraged), because there’s no dress code, and the raucous crowd is a mix of just about everyone. Two floors of bass-pumping music and a nightly drag and burlesque stage act make for an unforgettable dance party.

 

 

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Bettr BaristaPamela Chng co-founded a web consultancy firm, but mid-career, she decided to launch a social business to empower disadvantaged women. Bettr Barista Coffee Academy trains women to become coffee professionals, tapping into coffee culture and the growing specialty coffee industry to help its students gain job skills and overcome significant life challenges.

The organization’s 6-month programme offers more than just professional training, however. It also helps women develop emotional resilience, life skills, self-defense skills, and physical endurance. When the course ends, Bettr Barista assists students with finding employment. But perhaps more importantly, graduates emerge with a fundamental change in mindset and the confidence and skills to succeed.

Pamela sat down with Ashoka Changemakers to discuss how Bettr Barista helps its trainees become the best they can be. In this interview, she also shares advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs in Singapore and beyond.

Bettr Barista - Pamela Chng
The Bettr Barista team, with Pamela at center

 

What inspired you to create, not just a coffee academy, but a holistic solution to helping women? What was your “ah-ha” moment?

Coffee has always been a change vehicle for us. We wanted to adopt a holistic model for supporting people. At the core of it, we were constantly asking, “How can we help people maximize their potential?”

Even at my first startup, that was a question that I asked with regard to my staff. “How do we help people be the best that they can be?” Helping people in this way benefits everybody around them and the organization. Bettr Barista, as a social business, continues and expands on that question.

At the time that we launched Bettr Barista, coffee was the right medium, the right market, and the right industry to bring this idea to life. We wanted to help people reach their full potential by addressing all of their needs – rather than just a single skill. I don’t think there was an “a-ha moment” so to speak, but it was many tiny moments of questions and insights—asking “What about this? What if we tried that?”

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Why does Bettr Barista specifically address emotional skills?

Many marginalized people face a cycle of challenges, and breaking this cycle often requires more than just job training. Job skills are not the issue—staying in the job and thriving are. For anyone to remain employed and thrive, it takes emotional intelligence and the ability to be resilient. It takes confidence and the ability to deal with conflict. All of these intangible things need to be addressed.

Professionals often have access to team building workshops, leadership courses, or other non-skill-based learning opportunities. Unfortunately, these types of resources aren’t available to those who need it most—those who have huge life challenges to deal with and who don’t have the tools or strategies to cope and rise above those challenges.

To me, emotional strength is really what changes things. It tips the scales between failing and succeeding. So Bettr Barista gives its students a structured way to learn how to gain that strength and stay with a job.

What about physical training?

A healthy body supports a healthy mind. If you’re not eating well and you’re not fit, then your emotions are going to be affected. Physical health is a very fundamental thing for a happy life.

There’s also the fact that we’re in the food and beverage service industry, which is a very physically demanding industry to be in. You’re on your feet and running around all the time, so if you’re physically fit, you’ll be better able to cope with the demands of the job. That removes another barrier to success—which is feeling tired and giving up as a result.

Our goal is not to address the symptoms, but to understand the cause of the issues, and address them from that perspective.

BettrBarista-4

Do you have any advice for emerging social entrepreneurs who might want to start a social business, particularly in Singapore?

For anyone who wants to start a social business, it’s important to be very, very clear about what problem that you’re trying to address. Second, the business model needs to be very robust. Particularly in Singapore, the market is small and very economically driven. The whole idea of blending social and commercial goals is still fairly new as a viable concept. So if you want customers to support you and buy your product or service, you really have to be able to deliver and stand up to any other commercial business.

I would also say to aspiring social entrepreneurs that you don’t have to start a social business – you can join one. Social enterprises need talent. It’s important to go and understand what it’s like to work in the social sector first. Because it’s not easy – it’s twice as hard! Devote a couple of years to understanding what it’s like–for your own sanity. Also, apply your talent to a social business that you really believe in. That’s a win-win for everyone. We need as many people as possible with the same mindset, working towards the same goal, if we want to really affect change at any meaningful level.

What is Bettr Barista looking forward to in 2015?

We are expanding our course offerings to make them more accessible to the market. We’re also developing a coffee social franchise of sorts – I can’t share too many details right now, as we’re still finalizing lots of things. But it’s a supportive ecosystem that will help our graduates take on responsibility and partial ownership of a coffee franchise. We hope to be able to bring this outside of Singapore eventually—to other Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia, for example, where there are many women and young people we can help. We’re working hard to find the right model for each country, because you have to contextualize your approach even if your model is scalable. That’s what’s going to keep us busy in 2015. I’ll share more details when I can!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Virgin.com.

Image copyrights: Bettr Barista

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Getty Images
Getty Images

Food poverty in the UK has increased by more than 160 per cent in the past year, according to some estimates. Yet, 98 per cent of edible surplus food is thrown away by grocers and retailers.

“In the UK, an estimated 20 million tonnes of food is wasted each year across the supply chain (from plough to plate) with at least 400,000 tonnes of this thrown away at retail level,” according to FoodCycle, which served more than 31,000 meals last year to people in need.

With the help of volunteers working at community hubs, FoodCycle sources surplus food from retailers and prepares hot, nutritious meals for vulnerable community members. Different from a food bank, FoodCycle also tackles social isolation – its communal dining events help people build social connections, which has shown to be a key factor affecting community resilience and even individual life spans.

“We serve a three-course meal, cooked from scratch, which will often include up to five portions of fruit and vegetables,” said Steven Hawkes, Communications and Fundraising Manager at FoodCycle. “It is also incredibly important to us that we’re serving good food, not just any food. Even though they are ‘surplus’ ingredients, everything we use is perfectly edible.”

FoodCycle was recently named a winner of the Makers of More challenge, launched by Arthur Guinness Projects and Ashoka Changemakers. We sat down with Steven to discuss the challenges of putting surplus food to work and how sitting down to eat together can also strengthen communities.

1. Why is so much food wasted in the UK?

Food is wasted for all sorts of reasons – at a household level it’s often due to cooking too much, not using leftovers, and buying too much to start with. Meanwhile at a retail level, waste can occur due to mislabelling, product or packaging damage, shelf life date expiration, and over-ordering.

FoodCycle works with supermarkets, greengrocers and other retailers to source perfectly edible surplus food in a safe and responsible way. This food would otherwise be sent to landfill, anaerobic digestion, or composting. We take these ingredients (mainly fresh fruit and vegetables) to a local kitchen space, and our volunteers turn them into healthy three-course meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation in the community.

Islington Hub2. What are some of the challenges FoodCycle faces with sourcing or preparing surplus food?

All sorts really! To start, it was a challenge to convince retailers to donate their

surplus food and to start new partnerships with charities and community centres. We’ve learnt a lot over the last five years and built up that essential trust and credibility. We’re now in conversations with all major supermarkets and have a much more robust expansion model of social franchising.

A day-to-day challenge is not knowing what food we’ll get each day – but that can also be a hugely enjoyable part of volunteering! Our volunteers collect the ingredients just a few hours before serving a three-course meal for around 40 people so it’s always a challenge. We have to make the most of whatever surplus we get from retailers that week. There are some things we almost always get (bananas, salad leaves, bread) but most ingredients will be totally unpredictable: from a sack of potatoes and a glut of mushrooms one week to kilograms of aubergines and lemons the next!

Because of this, our volunteers need to be creative and resourceful in the kitchen – it’s a bit like Ready, Steady, Cook but on a much bigger scale! Of course we do encourage volunteers to buy some ingredients: often pasta, rice, lentils, or dairy products to make sure the meals we’re serving are as tasty, balanced, and nutritious as possible.

3. FoodCycle works with community partners in order to deliver hot, nutritious meals to those most in need. Can you tell us about one such community partner and how they have been crucial to making an impact?

We serve FoodCycle meals to people at risk from food poverty and social isolation, which in practice means that we build a partnership with a local community group working with vulnerable individuals.

For example, our Islington Hub works with the local MIND centre and serves to people affected by mental health issues, and our Leeds Hub works with refugees and asylum seekers at a local community centre.

We work with five vulnerable groups at our projects across the UK: homeless people, older people, people affected by mental health problems, low-income families, and asylum seekers/refugees.

As well as the immediate benefit of a healthy meal, many FoodCycle service users really value the social side of our meal. For people that live alone this might be the only time in the week that they get the opportunity to sit down and eat with others.

4. Sharing a meal tackles both food poverty and social isolation. How has sitting down and eating together affected the communities FoodCycle serves?

Eating with others has huge social benefits – it helps people to connect with each other, it relaxes people, it encourages mindful eating, and it’s fun. Ultimately it’s the best way to enjoy food – and we believe everyone deserves the right to this. Our FoodCycle Hubs bring people together at the dining table – many of whom live alone and will eat alone for the rest of the week – to enjoy a nutritious three-course meal in a friendly and welcoming environment.

Some examples of the benefits of sharing a meal include:
85% of our guests have made new friends since coming to FoodCycle
87% of our guests feel more part of the community since coming to FoodCycle
54% of guests are now interested in volunteering or being involved in other activities in their community

By providing a sit-down meal in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, we work to reduce social isolation – as people who often feel excluded get the chance to mix with others and feel valued as part of their community. This can have a huge community benefit: food brings people together in a way that nothing else really can.

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Food Honduras USUN

Anti-hunger organizations including the World Food Programme (WFP) are approaching food assistance with a health perspective—a strategy that is long overdue in the field of food aid, according to Martin Bloem, Chief of WFP’s nutrition and HIV unit.

“I’ve worked in this field for 30 years, but it’s only now that policy makers are finally recognizing that nutrition is important,” said Bloem, who is also a trained medical doctor. “Nutrition is related to so many issues—resistance to disease, equity, intellectual development, economic development. I believe that people have a right to nutrients, beyond just the right to food.”

(credit: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection)

Food aid can save lives during emergencies, but the majority of global food aid does not contain enough protein and micronutrients to prevent childhood stunting, a condition that causes irreversible damage to children’s minds and bodies.

“If you are a child who is stunted, you are deprived from equal opportunities for the rest of your life,” said Bloem. “You not only have an increased risk of mortality from all diseases, but you also have an increased risk of not having the job you want, of having a low IQ—you don’t have the same brain development or physical capacity.”

Stunting can be prevented if children are properly nourished between conception and 2 years of age, and with full-nourishment, they experience health and economic benefits for life. The International Food Policy Research Institute reported that children who were well-nourished before age 2 earned significantly higher wages as adults—a 46% increase on average. Studies have even shown that children who are given the right nutritional start are less likely to become obese or diabetic.

(credit: Flickr/Alex Proimos)

According to Bloem, a substantive percentage of all stunted children are already overweight because they are not eating the right food. This trend is part of a global health crisis of nutrient-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease that are projected to have devastating ramifications for societies and economies.

“Consider the countries in developmental transition like India or Indonesia, which have levels of stunting at 40%,” said Bloem. “You can imagine the health and productivity costs on society that will emerge in the next 20 years. This has enormous implications for poverty reduction.”

To combat childhood stunting, WFP has a multi-pronged approach that includes improving the quality and the diversity of its food products, providing the right mix of fortified food to nourish mothers, and supplementing home diets with micronutrient powders.

There has been tension among development programs about micronutrient supplementation. The FAO strongly advocates food-based approaches, arguing that supplementation, while necessary for high-risk groups, “simply cannot provide the overall long-term economic benefits of economy and sustainability that food-based approaches can deliver.”

For Bloem, the two approaches are not necessarily at odds: “Medium and long-term solutions are essential, and we should optimize the right to food by focusing on agricultural diversity. But with this issue, we should not be ideological. Micronutrient powders have been a cost-effective solution in the areas where we work.”

The WFP’s approach is both an emergency intervention and a long-term investment: “Investing in proper nutrition now, which costs about $200 per child for the first 2 years, will save lives and prevent many of the much more expensive costs later in life,” said Bloem.

(credit: Flickr/Gates Foundation)

An increasing number of non-government organizations share Bloem’s perspective and are campaigning to place nutrition on the global development agenda. A recent report released by UNICEF calls for a scaling up of global efforts to combat childhood stunting. “These programmes are working,” states the report. “But we must still reach millions of mothers and their children, especially those in the hardest to reach areas.”

The 1,000 Dayspartnership, supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is also spotlighting the multiple benefits of early childhood nutrition solutions. According to 1,000 Days, “Evidence shows that the right nutrition during the 1,000 day window can save more than one million lives each year…[and] increase a country’s GDP by at least 2-3 percent annually.”

Other organizations mobilizing action around this issue include Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs, which has launched Nutrients for All, a movement to encourage leading social entrepreneurs and innovators to design direct nutrient interventions at each stage of the agricultural and food value chains.

“I’m excited that Ashoka is using the word, ‘nutrients,’ to talk about health, hunger, and development,” said Bloem. “We need to deliver a strong message that nutrients are essential for people to lead healthy and productive lives. Nutrients are a human right.”

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com. Top image credit: USUN
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Ten Thousand Waves – Santa Fe, NM

Ten Thousand Waves | Santa Fe, New Mexico – If, for any reason, you’ve been sleeping on the sofa lately, think of Ten Thousand Waves as an olive branch. The spa is modeled on the Japanese onsen—hot-spring bathhouses famed for their soothing (and pacifying) waters. It’s a place where stress and heartache go to die; the scent of teak and cedar is accompanied by the sound of flowing water, and hummingbirds coast in and out of the canopy above. While she’s wrapped in a cocoon of herb-soaked linens, pat yourself on the back with a traditional Japanese footbath and watch the giant koi swim lethargic laps across the pond.

There are minimalist, elegant, and pricey guesthouses attached to the spa, but the place to stay is Silver Moon—a classic Airstream Bambi trailer. Inspired by Japanese capsule hotels, the high-design podlike compartment is an object lesson in intimate, exotic, and space-efficient living. You won’t be spending too much time inside, but Santa Fe’s high desert—with its acres of piñon and juniper trees and watercolor sunsets—is not meant to be seen through a window. Silver Moon is set off from the rest of the resort, so you can sit out under the vast desert sky, breakfasting on green tea and fresh fruit from the miniature refrigerator, in your yukata robe and slippers. There’s no couch for you to sleep on in the Airstream, but that doesn’t matter now.

Originally published in GQ Magazine

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Sorghum growing in the field.

While the world’s food systems have lost 75 percent of their biodiversity in the past 100 years, scientists are now starting to recognize the vast treasure trove of genetic diversity present in traditional and wild plant varieties. Biodiversity can lead to more nutritious diets, and is also a key asset for mitigating the risks presented by climate change, according to the FAO.

Here in the U.S., a recent report found that traditional plant foods eaten by Native American tribes of the Northern Plains are extraordinarily nutritious. The report suggested that wild superfoods like lambs-quarter’s and chokecherries could vastly improve nutrition and help prevent disease.

The revival of pre-colonial foods is part of a growing food sovereignty movement led by Native American groups likeTraditional Native American Farmers Association and Tewa Women United.  Similarly in Peru, indigenous tribes are also championing heritage foods, particularly a stunning variety of native potato strains.

In Indonesia, Maria Loretha, a social entrepreneur and Ashoka Fellow, is advocating for a return to growing and eating traditional crops like sorghum, millet, barley, and red and black rice. Loretha works primarily in Eastern Indonesia, where high rates of malnutrition have been called a “hunger paradox” by the UN, since food is readily available in the area. The problem, it turns out, stems from a lack of diversity in the local diet—which for poorer residents consists mostly of rice, a national staple.

Image credit: CGIAR Climate

According to Loretha, the eradication of diverse, more nutritious foods began in the 1970s, during the Suharto’s regime’s national rice program. “[S]ince the late 1970s, the government has been campaigning that people should eat rice,” Loretha said in an interview with Oxfam.

“It’s why people automatically don’t eat corn, sorghum, or millet. When the government campaigned about rice, they gave not only the seeds but also the fertilizer, pesticides. That’s why finally rice could be accepted by all people as the main staple. And that meant other foods were abandoned.”

Local foods like sorghum (called milo in the U.S.), however, are far more nutritious than rice, are better adapted to local land conditions, and exhibit strong resilience to fluctuations in climate. Loretha believes that reviving the diversity of local diets will help island communities rely less on outside inputs (like fertilizers and pesticides) and become resilient against inconsistent food supplies from outside regions.

Maria Loretha, center, discussing traditional seed varieties. 

In her search for heritage seeds, Loretha has traveled from island to island and to remote communities, gathering seeds and speaking with locals about their uses. “Elders in the village who are older than 40 know sorghum, but people below 40 don’t know sorghum exists,” she said. “It is not only ordinary people who don’t know about it: even people in agricultural production don’t know.”

To validate the benefits of growing traditional foods, Loretha created a demonstration site. She cut down the cash crops—cashew and coconut trees—on her land and faced much skepticism from local farmers. But in 2010, when unseasonably wet weather hit the region, all the cashews were lost, while Loretha’s crop yielded a season’s worth of food. Then she began distributing seeds for free and teaching small farmers how to cultivate them.

Loretha, left, planting local seeds alongside local farmers

Loretha is now working with over 1,000 farmers in her farmers’ group Cinta Alam Pertanian (Love for Nature’s Farming) to spread the seeds and knowledge that she has gathered. She is also working with the government to breathe new energy into Indonesia’s Go Local movement, which had petered out due to a lack of grassroots support. According to Loretha, changing national policies that are aligned with transgenic seed companies and chemical manufacturers remains a significant challenge.

With the work of social entrepreneurs like Loretha, there are reasons to be optimistic for the future of traditional foods and the communities they benefit. In the U.S., drought and heat from climate change is also reviving the exploration of heartier “ancient grains” like sorghum. And the urban foraging trend is spotlighting the benefits of wild varietals and introducing more diversity into community diets.

In the words of Maria Loretha, “Opportunities are always out there. You just have to get your hands dirty.”

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. Top Image: Sorghum growing in the field. Credit: Daniel Guerrero 

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