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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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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.

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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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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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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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Nashville, Tenn., boasts seven different farmers markets citywide, proving that urban residents have a strong appetite for locally sourced food.

But the mainstream food markets—like grocery stores, hospitals, schools, and restaurants—find it much easier to order from national distributors like Sysco, which trucks in produce from an average of 2,000 miles away.

Without access to larger food buyers, Nashville growers are struggling to succeed—a trend that has resulted in the decline of local food production. Today in Davidson County, only 0.36 percent of the farmland is being used to grow fruits and vegetables.

The good news is that one organization is working to change all that. Nashville Grown is a new food hub that enables large food purchasers to source produce from farms just outside the city—and even from backyard micro-farms within the city itself.
Farmers can become more profitable and focus more time on growing more food when they don’t have to worry about the legwork and infrastructure required to get their products to market.

Why have small farms been excluded from the supply chain?

The problem has to do with scale. Farms in and around urban areas tend to be small and usually can’t produce at the sustained volumes that institutions like schools or grocery chains require.

And without economies of scale, small farms aren’t able to shoulder the cost of delivery, storage, and marketing. On the market side, larger food purchasers require one-stop sourcing and don’t have the capacity to coordinate with multiple local farms.

“We have farms that are right next to the people they’d like to be serving,” says Sarah Johnson, founder and director of Nashville Grown. “But if there isn’t a food system set up to get the produce from small farms to the end consumer, it’s never going to work.”

Image: Denise Mattox
Image: Denise Mattox

Nashville Grown aggregates produce from many small farms, making it possible to fulfill the larger volume orders required by bigger food buyers like restaurants.

Aggregation also means that a small grower can still turn a profit if she specializes in producing a particular crop.

As a food hub, Nashville Grown provides storage, distribution, and marketing. Its online purchasing system posts what farmers have for sale, and buyers can go online and order produce for delivery the next day.

Ms. Johnson launched Nashville Grown last August and began “bootstrapping it,” with just an empty warehouse space and her personal vehicle, equipped with picnic coolers. The organization now helps 15 local farms and market gardens sell to restaurants and catering companies.

However, getting large grocery chains and institutions like schools to carry local produce is proving to be more challenging.

“Right now, our selling platform skews our buyers to higher-end restaurants that can create menu items and specials around what’s available from local farms during a given week,” Johnson says. “They’re flexible if something’s not available. But our current system isn’t as attractive to buyers like schools or other restaurants that may not have that flexibility in their menu planning. We’re trying to work on that.”

Another challenge involved in selling to chain grocery stores and institutions is that they tend to require Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, and adherence to other food safety protocols that are costly and potentially impossible for small, diversified farms to comply with. GAP processes are designed for large, commodity farms, and enabling investigators to track sources of food-borne illness—for example, E-coli bacteria in spinach that has arrived from many large farms and has been mingled at a central processing facility.

“GAP isn’t required by the government,” Johnson says, “but it’s what these larger institutions are used to working with. One solution would be to have an external
party establish specific safety standards for small, local farms, because they have an entirely different set of risks compared to large farms.”

Many large buyers had established processes that simply couldn’t accommodate local food, Johnson also discovered. For example, Nashville Grown approached the Kroger supermarket chain, which expressed an interest in carrying local food.

“But nothing could go directly to the store, because their rules require that everything has to be shipped to their warehouse in Kentucky first,” Johnson says. “But the farm was just a couple miles away! So much of the food system was created without the desire to source food as locally and as freshly as possible. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Nashville Grown also helps farmers with marketing and promotion by sharing photographs and stories about farmers and their land. The stories appear on the Nashville Grown website, as well as on food packages and labels.

“A lot of the farmland here has an amazing history,” Johnson says. “People really want to know where their food comes from, and any city could have a powerful local brand that inspires consumer loyalty. There’s a huge amount of value that hasn’t yet been realized by restaurants and grocery stores.”

Despite the barriers to reaching larger institutions, the demand from restaurants alone is greater than Nashville Grown is currently able to fill. “My hope is that creating the means for existing farms to become more profitable and competitive will also enable new farmers to start,” Johnson says. “There is so much potential for food to be grown in cities, and so many small vacant plots available for farming in and around urban areas.”

Nashville Grown can serve as a model for other food systems confronting the challenges of making local food accessible beyond the farmers market. This organization was recently selected as an early entry prize winner in the Nutrients for All, an Ashoka Changemakers competition that is seeking solutions that will ensure the availability of nutrients for healthy, natural ecosystems, farms, food, and people.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Christian Science Monitor

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