OFFICIAL LIVE BLOG - Session #2 (1 pm - 2:15 pm), Values Track: "How Food Blogs Can Save the World"
By Liz Henry on September 25, 2009
Food bloggers have spearheaded numerous effective activism projects, both online and off. In this practical session, learn how food bloggers--with their own style and creativity--support issues they care about around the world and close to home. We'll discuss how to create or participate in a blogging event; how to promote and support your project; how to use your blog without losing its focus on food; how to engage other bloggers to help you; how to find corporate and small business partners to lend support; and how to take that action offline as a volunteer or activist. Genie Gratto will moderate this panel featuring Lydia Walshin, founder of Drop In and Decorate®, Valerie Harrison, a co-founder of BloggerAid and Pim Techamuanvivit, who founded and oganizes the Menu for Hope.
The room is full, and everyone is well fed from the fantastic lunch! The panelists demand that I begin live blogging immediately so that their husbands in other cities can be up to date!
Lydia told me some good gossip about her Typepad Advanced/Basic templates and TypeLists and thanked me for tech support from over a year ago. 8-)
Genie talks about the San Francisco Food Bank's Hunger Challenge. The challenge is to eat on $4 a day. 7 bloggers did this last year, 22 this year and one mainstream media reporter. 200,000 pounds of food were delivered to SF Food Bank by Tyson Foods, who watched Amy Sherman's tweets last year. And, every $1 donated to a food bank = $9 in food.
Genie is also talking about shopping from within walking distance from her house and also shopping cheaply at farmer's markets. (Hint, do not buy $6.00 purple cauliflowers.)
Valerie - She's the newbie! 8-) She runs BloggerAid: Changing the Face of Famine and also More than Burnt Toast. She talks about another blog called Opportunity Kitchen. She wanted to help there be not just events that are one day - how to change the world 365 days a year? Invest in children - food at school. 137 members for BloggerAid. As bloggers, they share caring about experiences, love of food and friendship; when BloggerAid was born, they wanted to create new relationships between cultures and understand each other better. They raise awareness about hunger and special interest charities. Their bloggers are all around the world. Their mission is to all help each other and get the word out about famine; raising money and awareness, locally and globally. They have a very warm relationship with each other. Their cookbook raises money for Friends of the WFP and benefits their school meals program.
Art with a Twist, on Carewear, has also raised enough to feed 320 children (for a year?)
In many of the poorest countries the children are given food at school to take home, the families then are inspired to send their daughters to school; the daughters bring home a sack of grain or a can of cooking oil. The bloggers help make the issues more personal for readers. None of us knew much at first about editing, proofreading, or blogging but we have learned a lot since January. We are all bonding strongly and making strong friendship. 100% of the money is handed over to the school meals program. It goes on sale on Amazon in November.
Lydia from Drop In & Decorate asks if Martha Stewart is in the room, and credits her for a lot of inspiration. Lydia grew up in New York and was not brought up to cook or bake. She learned as an adult. We had street people, poor people, very diverse community, Lydia grew up in very in the trenches volunteer work, very hands on. In Boston later, Operation Frontline, a women's shelter, hands on nutrition training. Building connections between groups in the community. She gets her friends to all come to whatever shelter she's working or teaching at. Then 5 years ago... Well, at some point she realized she's never baked a cookie. Her friend said as they watched Martha, we can do that. Lydia didn't think they could do it! Their husbands made horrible grey icing. Her friends iced over another layer. 100 cookies with two layers of icing (now beautiful!) She called up a shelter for Latino families. We packed them up and brought them. Large, colorful, homemade cookies, people's jaws dropped! Lydia's friends demanded to do it again. She works with the Rhode Island network against domestic violence, and the food pantries, once a year decorating cookies. In 2006, now a blogger, Lydia read something on someone else's blog about Drop In and Decorate -- a blog called 37 days. Which Lydia highly recommends! And 37 Days *got it*. Serving people whose basic human needs were being met, but doing something more than serving basic human needs. Feeding their dignity. Making them smile. She got it! I said, hmm, okay, my friends and this one blogger get it. What can I do with that? I want to talk about tenaciousness. It was not a straight line process. I contacted King Arthur Flour and suggested a baking cookie kit. It was just me - I wasn't an organization. After a series of long conversations, they agreed to do something in their 2007 holiday catalogue! I wrote to 50 food bloggers. I asked them in the first week of November to write about it and drop in a link to King Arthur Flour and another site? 35 of those food bloggers said yes!
Now, 56 nonprofit agencies in 17 states. Incorporated as a nonprofit in 2008. We find a way to help everyone who wants to participate and host an event. We're about to decorate our 10,000th cookie to go to a food bank or shelter! Thank you everyone who has participated! Lydia shows AMAZING photos of the decorating sessions and of giant tables full of cookies!
Pim Techamuanvivit, Menu For Hope. She says most of us in the room have participated. over half the room raises their hand as having hosted a prize for Menu For Hope. Genie, Lydia, and Val all talked about the concept of community. That's what Menu For Hope is, we have a strong community of food bloggers; I started it but all the hosts and food bloggers really did it. No one can do it alone. I'm kind of an inadvertent fundraiser (reference to Inadvertent Gardener)! *room laughs*
Pim blogged about the tsunami in Thailand and felt like she needed to do something for fundraising. shed been blogging for a long time, never had advertising. She figured she'd just beg her readers for 10 bucks each - why not? They've been reading her blog for years and sending her recipes, emails, and so on. Chez Pim - an arbiter of taste (She shows a screen shot from December 6, 2007.) Now, working with the World Food Program and have raised a quarter of a million dollars in the last 3 years. As we did it, it became a lot more structured, changed from the first year where we just begged for money. The 2nd year we reached out to food bloggers, to companies. People bid money, Farm Girl Fair donated...
The barrier for participation is low, easy entry point. If you give up everything beautiful, all art and music to make sure everyone has something to eat and there's no war, that might not happen, right? but you can live your life and still try to do something good. We started with organic growth and community. Our community has a great rapport with the cause. Process transparency - First Giving for donations, code for raffle app. made public, no money touched my hands, very ethical. The process is fun & exciting. We have great prizes, valuable or just fun or sentimental. The naming of the first "Ew!" (???) Or handmade recipe cards, worth a lot of emotional currency. The immediacy was amazing - sent throwaway cams to kids to document their days to bring home. We make a more personal connection.
When we eventually heard back from the World Food Program, they didn't really connect with us at first, but within the first few days of Menu for Hope we made it up to $25,000 and we had a phone call from headquarters from WFP, saying Who are you people! and how are you sending us this money! That put us in more of a negotiating position. Some of our bloggers asked why are we giving money to this giant faceless UN NGO, where is the money really going, how is it being used? We did some rethinking and went back to them and said, we're web people. We work on connections, we have to know where this money is going, we need face connection to people who are getting the money for us, adopting a particular school meals program in Lesotho. If you're a food blogger and you go there, go visit some schools and say hello! It's easy to ask people to support kids.
School meals is really, really important! This is BlogHer, I can say this! There's a stat they showed me that shows how the money is spent if it's the mother earning money vs. the father, men spend the money a lot of ways, gamble and do a lot of things. If the mother makes the money, it's the kids who gets to eat, it sounds a little sexist but it's the reality of what's happening. The girls get to stay in school, instead of being kept home to work, because they get to eat free at school. The schools with free lunch program have much higher number of girls enrolling!
There's a lot of programs that buy the cheapest possible surplus food and dump it in Africa. Because they just want to feed the most possible people, so they have to. But, this program in Lesotho pays local farmers to grow the food and bring it to the school lunch programs! We love that and love partnering with them. (Pim shows photos.) The kids take these photos with the cameras we send.
Find a cause that fits your passion and your audience. Make it your own. Think "voice" just like your personal blog. Find a story. Foster a community to help it grow. Tenacity will take you far. I couldn't have done it on my own. Lydia, or Val, none of us could do it on our own, without so many other bloggers and other people. This December I hope everyone hosts a prize for Menu for Hope, tell 10 friends to bid on something. Ask. All they can say is no. I meet people and I randomly ask them for help!
Genie - each of you have chosen a different approach. Social network, event, blog, What was your decision making process to choose your format and platform?
Lydia - Drop in and Decorate becomes its own organization. Every parent has to give birth and let go. It's only a year old and a very young nonprofit. I wanted to put more and more information out there for public use. How to find a good recipient agency that's a good parnter for you? How to make that first connection with someone in your community who will take the cookies? We needed a permanent home on The Perfect Pantry, which is how most people know me. The advertisers want to reach particular people. They want to reach people who are there for food blogging, and so I make my food blog separate to honor the advertisers and who they want to reach. So, I realized I had to keep the Perfect Pantry separate, but connected, there's a link and a presence, but to keep the pact with advertisers - BlogHerAds - I keep them separate.
Pim - Menu for Hope started out very organically as part of Chez Pim. I see them as my kitchen and my living room. We thought of making it a separate part. For me activism is a part of our everyday life. I'm never going to be a full time fundraiser. It's just not me. It's part of what I do and so Menu For Hope is part of who I speak with. I have been blogging since 2001. I did start accepting ads on Chez Pim, but it's not a thing apart.
Lydia - Drop in and Decorate isn't a holiday theme anymore. It's year round which puts a different burden on the food blog, on Perfect Pantry.
Pim - 2 weeks before Christmas I blog about Menu for Hope every day and that's just part of what my blog is.
Valerie - We don't want to just raise money and that's jsut what we do. We want it to happen kind of through osmosis. View and Review program is supported through donations of various products. Random House, King Arthur Flour. We then review their products. I just did something for Craft Canada, and it's interesting, not just about raising funds. There is a reason for people to keep coming back. I do drive people to it from More than Burnt Toast. When our bloggers mention the products they need to also refer back to BloggerAid.
Genie: How are you all using social networking?
Pim: Facebook, maybe this year more tweeting. Last year we stood at 91K, even in the bad economy. Maybe this year we break 100K. The community is already there from over 200 food bloggers who participate every year.
Lydia - all of you who tweeted yesterday that my flight was cancelled from Boston would just tweet a couple times a year about Drop In and Decorate we'll be set. *everyone laughs* That is one of the organic ways our project can spread. I'm not a good tweeter… um…. twitterer… but for the sake of my organization I'm going to try, I try Facebook, I try Twitter. I try blog badges and buttons that link back to me. I'm eternally grateful. Ask your friends one by one personally just like you would face to face in this room is the way to do it. The real estate on every blog is precious! If you're going to use the space on your blog to help me and this project, I need to convince you it's worthy of your real estate, you could use that space to help anyone else. You need to make time and know where your readers are, and go there, and be your passionate self when you get there. Just ask, like Pim says. I'm overwhelmed at the amount of support that came. I was wiling to say over and over again, "Would you help me"
Genie - HOw has this project changed how you fel about being an activist?
Lydia - an active volunteer my entire life.
Val - (Okinaga Valley Gleaners) They ship food all over the world. 30,000 people out of 100,000 people in my local community used the food bank last year. Social networking made me more aware globally and locally too.
Pim - How has it changed my activism? I am now drunk with power! No, not really, I'm joking. In L.A. in grad school I did a little activism but it was never a big part of what I do, sadly. Now, to me it's how I channel this community we have, this attention we gather, what little food blogging world fame we have, and do something good with it! The publicity for Menu for HOpe itself was very little. My publicist and agent get so much attention so easily. WFP every December, everyone tried to get major news media to pick up this amazing grass roots campaign, but no bites! They don't care! MFH should have picked up more attention, but it doesn't.
Valerie - When we started working with WFP they asked us right away if we knew Menu for Hope.
Audience - Charity fatigue, burnout. Pim, is it difficult for you? I got overloaded and thought, I can't do it this year, it's just too much. For you, is that really difficult? What actions to you take to avoid it?
Pim - Yes, I have thought a lot about it. Sam was a host a few years back and did a lot, made a huge difference, and took a little break last year. That's fine! For me on Chez Pim it's two weeks a year in December. I try not to get too heavily involved personally, or make a big deal about other charities on my blog. It's like a pledge break on KQED.
Valerie - Delegation is important. We delegate well to other people and organizations.
Genie: Masa organic brown rice. Take a bag please!
Lydia - we are 4 people lacking in special skill (everyone on panel cheers) I don't have special training in activism, cooking, anything. we just are passionate about it. that's the only special skill we have. How many of you are using your food blogs now to promote the things you're passionate about!? Come talk to us and we'll help you figure out how to do that.