food diplomacy through the story of a meal

Bringing Leadership Together: A Roadmap to Move Forward

The Southern California Leadership Network’s Leadership L.A. program ended last November after nine months. I was fortunate to experience some of the best speakers and programming about the various different aspects of the City of Angels.

As a Leadership Los Angeles Fellow, we examined themes such as health care, technology, safety and security, arts & culture, environment, neighborhoods, economic development, etc.  Each month we heard from leading speakers, visited numerous sites for a behind the scenes tour, designed collaborative exercises, and networked through creative problem-solving.

Walking away from this experience brought some insights that overlap for the public diplomat:

  • Always employ listening to all communities, publics, groups, and collaborators.
  • Don’t expect that you can walk in everybody’s shoes.  Empathy and support can be found through many actions.
  • Find out what the problem is, what are the impediments, where there are resources, and what you can realistically do.
  • Know when to sit back and allow others to lead.
  • Do your homework and due diligence.
  • Find where there are openings to creative collaborations.
  • Be clear on your own personal vision, your own values, and find where they overlap with others and organizations.
  • Never take “no” for an answer, continue to creatively problem-solve solutions.

Diversity of products (fruit, vegetables, proteins, grains, etc.) give a story richness.  It gives color, texture, sweetness, salty, and sour.  Having a story to tell about who you are and what you stand for are some of the inarticulated ingredients in any meal.  When you eat something that is not speaking to you, it lacks a story.  We share parts of ourself with others through our food and recipes.

How you bring it together and the memories that each meal create are the parts we share with others and the world.  Cooking sustainable, healthy, joyful, and satisfying food for others is important as we leave a piece of ourselves with them.

A grand ending to any meal is the dessert.  Whether you like fancy desserts, or just the beauty of a home-made pie, the ending of a meal is the icing on the cake.

Los Angeles can give Paris a run for the money on creative and innovative desserts.  Some links to ending a great meal can be found below.

A Guide to the L.A.’s Best Pastry Shops from Eater L.A.

Sherry Yard’s Buttermilk Pie on Pie A Day Blog on Good Food’s site by Evan Kleinman

California native, Elizabeth Faulkner‘s new NYC adventure.  It is not pastry!

For those in Paris, who need to find a patisserie on the run, check out Paris By Mouth‘s bakery map.

Last December, I was in Paris and had amazing desserts, from the hay ice cream at Frenchie to the Italian rice pudding at Chez L’Ami Jean to the roasted pumpkin with salted caramel sauce.  It was truly superb  We left enveloped in love and created new memories to share with others.  Leaders in creating a story with food.

Rice Pudding from Chez L'Ami Jean

Rice Pudding from Chez L’Ami Jean


Leading the Health Care Revolution: Public Diplomacy with Adversaries

What happens when your arch-enemy has a solution to better your own country’s problem?  In a July 2012 NY Times Magazine article by Suzy Hansen, she highlights the amazing work of MacArthur Fellow Dr. Aaron Shirley in the Mississippi Delta.

I met Dr. Shirley during my time organizing MacArthur Fellows on meetings of mutual interest.   His deep and personal commitment to taking care of the people of Jackson Mississippi is awe-inspiring.  A quiet, but keenly politically astute man, took a dilapidated shopping mall in Jackson and created the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation. In a one-stop shop building, folks could get preventative treatments, education, imaging, and other medical services under one roof.

After years of banging his head against local politicians, Dr. Shirley has moved into the global fight of bringing an innovative health care model found in Iran to his community.  Rarely do you hear about the socially and politically disenfranchised of Jackson, Mississippi in the same sentence as an Iranian health care delivery, but this creative vision towards providing excellent care knows no political boundaries.

In a nutshell, Dr. Shirley was moved by the Iranian model of eliminating the disparities of healthcare between the urban and rural communities  By eliminating geographical disparities (i.e.: bring health care to communities) then we can level the field of sound and quality care for an entire population.  Dr. Shirley’s community is an epidemic of poverty–with diseases that can be prevented.  How can one harness the millions of dollars that Mississippi gets and actually provide quality health care to its people.  Band-aid approaches will not address generations of neglect, invisibility, and political grand-standing.

In public diplomacy terms, Dr. Shirley was exposed through an exchange experience in Germany, listening to a delegation of Iranian government officials, to find a collaborative way that a public-private organization can affect positive change.  Creating opportunities for rural health care (either in Iran or the Mississippi Delta) is one filled with creativity, listening, engagement, and collaboration. You can read the entire article here.

Seeing health care as a social justice issue is not new to Dr. Shirley or to the public diplomat, but implementing and evaluating its impact on foreign publics is a new area.  What is also unique is that these communities have not been seen as a natural fit given there is a lack of  historical trust between U.S.-Iranian governments.  But, with the creative and keen insights from Dr. Shirley, he as continued a life’s work caring for his public.

Dr. Shirley, and his team, are what is called citizen diplomats.  Finding creative solutions to a systemic problem between adversaries can teach leaders how to approach what are seen as intractable problems and within communities.

Diabetes, obesity, high-blood pressure, lack of available and fresh fruit and vegetables, over reliance on processed food, and other “first-world poverty” health issues are killing our families, as they are killing other families across the world.  Iranian’s health-houses are located in rural communities.  Communities can come together to get the services and care they need from trusted voices from their own village/city.  It also keeps a community connected with a goal of taking care of each other.

Dr. Shirley’s team worked hard to set up health houses in the Delta.  It is now incumbent upon his team to monitor and evaluate how effective this model is in reducing mortality, reducing health care costs, and transforming the disparity between urban-rural health care delivery.

If we cannot see our adversaries beyond the way our government defines them, then the hope for peace and collaborations will be all for naught.  It is up to us, to search beyond the status quo to find creativity in all we do.  Who would have thought that a doctor in the Mississippi Delta would be inspired by a rural Iranian health care model as a way to take care of his community?

Dr. Shirley inspires me, as he should you, to always seek out creative and innovative approaches to what may be intractable problems. During my Leadership Los Angeles Fellowship as part of the Southern California Leadership Network, we met with amazingly creative health care leaders.  They refuse to bow under pressure (financial, political, or cultural) in not providing care to the communities of Los Angeles.  From the doctors, analysts, policy makers, to the foundations who give support, tenants of public diplomacy are at play 24/7.  Understanding the role of “place” is at the root of care, whether in Los Angeles, the Mississippi Delta, or Iran’s countryside.  Leaders who integrate these values are those who will make the most difference in their publics.

For added luck – today I will be making black-eyed peas, greens, and copper pennies (carrots) to give 2013 all the good fortune that is needed!

Dr. Aaron Shirley

Dr. Aaron Shirley (center seated)

Love French-Style

From 1969-1974 there was a crazy show, “Love American Style” which promoted the sexual freedoms started in the 1960’s.  Each week, the show featured unrelated stories of romance (and lots of sexual innuendo), usually with a comedic spin.  Think of it as a precursor to any comedy skit show that centered around a large, ornate brass bed.

This kind of sexual freedom, expression, and experimentation was both thrilling and counter to what conventional relationships were like pre-60’s revolutions (women, political, sexual, etc.).

I am a child of the 70’s and my parents lacked non-conformity.  They found one another, were happy with traditional roles, and were committed to one another until one of them passed.  Even in death, their commitment to one another continues.

However, I missed out on that organic feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, I am no hedonist, but I just cannot understand a relationship that is based on a fantasy of everlasting love from only one person.  Love is about giving another person freedom, rather than slavery to a culturally manufactured ideal.

Many of the French share the thought that true love lies in the idea of freedom.  To love truly is to want the other free, the freedom to walk away, the freedom to love deeply.  No one person can fulfill all your desires and needs.

Don’t get me wrong.  Cheating, deceit, and falsehoods will take down a relationship in a New York minute, but different individuals come into our life at different times.

Looking back to the 16th century and the rise of the “libertines”, France has always had an edge.  Take for example the less-than-perfect relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  Never married, never lived together, and yet a deep relationship with all the complexities and challenges.

Love is always a risk-taking experience.  What I like is that there is no safety net, there is no everlasting.  Love is is always changing with both a gentle current and life-changing waves.   Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly, as said by M. F. K. Fisher.

There is no place for locks on a Parisian bridge with a river filled with the tossed away keys.


Our gal Hillary and the importance of food diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never once wanted us to think of her as some little woman waiting for her husband to come home from work with an evening cocktail and a home-cooked meal.  But that does not mean she does not know the persuasive power of food as a diplomatic tool.  She’s turned the State Department kitchen into a tool of international diplomacy.

Clinton put her Chief of Protocol, Capricia Penavic Marshall, in charge of what’s come to be known as “food diplomacy.”

Classic French food that used to dominate diplomatic functions is largely gone.  New and innovative chefs, cuisines, ideas are bubbling up all over State from social media, and now culinary creativity.  Foreign diplomats are served American food with fresh local ingredients, along with reminders of home.

Even in the White House, the desire to know when food comes from and how it informs who we are and what we stand for can be seen in the First Lady’s garden.  Listen to a great NPR story from this past May on how the garden came about and why it is an important aspect of presenting the U.S. to foreign publics.

“It’s really important because they’re going to talk about some tough issues with one another,” Marshall said. “We want the framework of those tough discussions to be relaxing, to be welcoming, to be inviting.”
Marshall says that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the State Department recently, he was surprised and pleased to find good hummus at the table.  My colleague’s crowdsourcing project, JEWCER, has a project titled, “Hummus Wars” which brings together foodies and publics of Israel and Lebanon for the coveted title of “best hummus.”Christopher James, the State Department’s deputy chef, said they use a spice visitors are accustomed to or they present a dish in a way that has never been seen before in their country.

And when China’s Vice President Xi Jinping visited this year, a top Chinese-American chef was brought in to cook Chinese delicacies. “Vice President Xi’s eyes lit up,” Marshall said. “He was so honored by the gesture.”

What I think is missing is the story.  Rarely do we use foreign foods, dishes, recipes, and spices to inform our narrative of  U.S. foreign policy to global publics.  By integrating this story and our values behind it, we can demonstrate respect, engagement, and listening through the food to deepen international relationships.

Even this week, acclaimed chef, Jose Andres, created the menu for a meeting of protocol chiefs from all over the world.  He went on to say, “I believe that dinner, gathering people around a table, you have a true opportunity to send hidden messages,” Andres said. “… Through a menu and through the food that you put on a plate.”

To remind the foreign diplomats of the tragic losses and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, Andres served Louisiana Gulf shrimp. “Doing this simple gesture all of a sudden at the State Department is sending a message that we need to be supporting American ingredients, we need to be supporting our fishermen.”

It would be hard to prove that good food makes for better diplomacy especially at a time when nations are so sharply divided on so many issues – but don’t tell that to Andres, who believes all things are possible through food. He said, “With better food and a happy table, probably, probably, we will have a better world, a happier world.”

To watch CBS News’ piece on Clinton’s food diplomacy project, click here.

To watch Jose Andres’ 2011 TED talk, “Creativity in Cooking Can Solve Our Biggest Challenges.”

Links to others talking about food diplomacy:

Twitter:  Gastrodiplomacy


Smorgesboard LA – Exploring the Culinary Underbelly of Los Angeles

Culture Kitchen – Delivering Ethnic Food Kits

Miss Lunch – Lunch in the Loft

New Friends Table – Underground Supper Club in Paris and London

Love Story of the Week – My Parents

The depth of my father’s love and dedication to my mom is omnipresent, but this week it was his 15 minutes of fame.  She passed away in the early morning on July 8, 2002.  We were with her as she took her last breath.  Even though she left us that night, my father’s devotion to her continued as if she was still with us.

Weekly visits to her grave site, the walls of his home filled with pictures of their life together, to the giving of her middle name to our dog.  All of these events keep her alive and present in a way that made his loneliness a bit more tolerable.

On her birthday and on the anniversary of her death, he has placed a tribute ad in the Los Angeles Times. Just a few lines to share with the world in a public love letter.

On a chance encounter with Steve Lopez on Monday, they chatted about life, loss, and the radical changes to daily journalism.  My father, Steve, and the editor of the Los Angeles Times lamented their losses, whether personal or professional.

One small article gave a snow-capped gent a moment in the son to profess his love for his late wife and to connect with long lost friends.

Today, an editor of the Huffington Post called to expand the article for their “Good News” section about the story.  As the headline states, “LOVE STORY OF THE WEEK“.

A lovely moment coming a few weeks after their 50th anniversary and just before dad’s 82nd birthday.

What inspires you when the good is gone?

I have been thinking about inspiration now that I have crossed the 1-year mark post surgery.  Let me share with you stats, since I think some you may want to know.  I lost 81 lbs.  While saying that and feeling great about the accomplishment, there is still lots of adjustments that are not tied to the weight.

As you know, I love food.  Thinking, eating, cooking, blogging, and watching it takes up most of my waking hours.  I have had to find new inspirations that go with these permanent changes.  As I am not going back!

After my trip to Paris, I was deeply moved by the local, innovative, and the classic all rolled into each meal.  I know that the trend for molecular preparation is all the rage, but it lacks the emotional connection for me.  I want to have a deep and meaningful relationship with the butcher who prepares my rabbit; with the fish monger who cleans my monkfish; and with the producer who harvests my olive oil.  Cultivating new friends with a re-jiggered stomach that are not part of the surgical weight loss community is few and far between.

So, I have discovered new pockets of inspiration.  In Paris, Au Passage, Agape Substance and the brilliant Miss Lunch bring inspiration, creativity and passion to their life, every day, each day, with their relationship to food. Believe it or not, Communal in Provo, Utah does the same in this food desert community.

Each day, those who give of themselves in the kitchen see food choice, prep, and cooking as a spiritual expression of who they are. Similar to a Sunday church service, there is drama, rejoicing, humility, and beauty.  There is faith in the gut of knowing what is right and what is false.  They honor the goddess who brings the bounty that then is transformed into a meal of memorable dimensions.

So I encourage you to discover what inspires you and then to take that inspiration and share it with others.  Be it a meal, a story, a poem, a song, or a newly configured stomach.

I am inspired by what I know about myself.










On Friday, I participated in my Southern California Leadership Network L.A. Leaders Fellowship.  The theme was art and culture.  There is plenty of content for this topic, but the specific speakers and site visits organized were simply engaging.  What each of us was charged to find is how we can incorporate art and culture in our leadership tool-box.  But, I also think that the more critical issue was looking at ways that creativity inform who we are, what we stand for, our civic values, and then how we engage with individuals in our personal and professional life.

From an examination of the creative sector in Los Angeles (for more information see the OTIS College of Design Creative Economy Report 2011), to arts and education or rather “art equity” from kindergarten to higher education to civil entrepreneurship in the business sector and finally community-based art and cultural experiences the underlying theme is that the huge cuts to the arts in Los Angeles (direct costs and elimination of programs) will severely put our communities at a global disadvantage.  For too many years, the decrease in arts funding and the lack of creative solutions were thought to be something that would “solve itself”, however, we are at the crisis point and there is nary a solution in sight.

From the growing global influence in higher education (South Korea, Asia, Gulf Region), to a third-world public education system, to communities who are too busy surviving and can’t afford (time or money) to participate in local art initiative, we have shifted from the creative innovators to “followers who cannot compete in a global workplace.

As sad as this is, the most troublesome aspect is the impact that the elimination of arts funding in K-12 education.  Art is not some ancillary aspect of eduction.  Having a well-rounded, critical thinking, civically engaged person must include all subjects from reading, math, art, sports, sciences, etc.  My site visit was to Inner-City Arts, a non-profit that brings art education to children in the inner-city (within a 3-5 mile radius from their site).  They have been visited by royalty (Prince William and Kate) and honored by governments.  Their sole focus is to bring arts to kids who would never have access.  While the origins of the organization came about in a very spiritual manner, they have not lost sight on what their core mission is and how creative leadership gets them to fulfill their mandate.

After a long day, the creative take-aways were succinctly shared by Charmaine Jefferson, Executive Director of the California African American Museum.  With arms like Michelle Obama and the energy-level of an impassioned and engaging politician, she wove a passionate narrative from her time as a public pool attendant to dancer to attorney to civic leader and how each of these points on her life’s timeline have been an act of creative engagement.  The most effective creative leaders know how to connect the dots in all aspects of their life and those connections create synergistic benefits.  When you begin to demonstrate creative leadership, then you are showing your authentic self.  Each job, action, civic role presents opportunities to find our inner-performer and then to show the world what we are good at.  It is at once personal and professional.

Lastly, Laura Zucker, Executive Director, from the L.A. County Arts Commission came to us to talk about how art (any kind of creative expression) makes us who we are, as citizens, producers, consumers, and moral citizens.  The County is undertaking a food diplomacy and cultural project with the organization, Fallen Fruit, to bring fresh produce to the diverse communities of Los Angeles.  Parts of Los Angeles are a food desert (area in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Food deserts are prevalent in rural as well as urban areas and are most prevalent in low-socioeconomic minority communities. They are associated with a variety of diet-related health problems. Food deserts are also linked with supermarket shortages.  This certainly does not surprise the civically engaged Los Angelo.  However, to have an arts and cultural entity taking on both food issues and public art project is amazing.  The Del Aire Park arts project is an installation that functions as a public fruit park with a planting of over 400+ fruit trees.

Walking out of the session left me feeling inspired in so many ways.  From how I can implement the ideas into my blogs, my work, and in my kitchen.

I realized that my artistic expression comes from my cooking.  Like many other artists, I have to cook.  It is just something that I need to do.  I drove home thinking about what I could do at home to express myself creatively.  So here is what I came up with and the result was on park.

Leek Asparagus Ricotta Chick-Pea Fritters
Makes 8-10 Fritters

1/2 cup skim ricotta cheese
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed of woody ends and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 leek, cleaned and sliced from the white section only
2 TBL butter
2 eggs
3 TBL multi-grain pancake mix
3 TBL chick pea flour
1 TBL marjoram, finely diced
1/4 TSP salt
1/4 TSP pepper

Sautee leeks in (1) TBL butter until soft.  Add marjoram, salt & pepper and sweat down until leeks are soft and translucent.  Meanwhile roast asparagus is 400 degree oven and slice into 1/2″ pieces.  Put all vegetables in large bowl and let cool 20 minutes.

In a mini food prep, process the two eggs and ricotta cheese until smooth.  Add to the vegetables and mix together.

Add multi-grain pancake mix, chick pea flour to the vegetable mixture and incorporate until it is a thick pancake batter.

Heat large skillet with non-stick spray and remaining TBL of butter.  Using a 1/4 measuring cup, place (4) fritters in the pan and let cook under medium flame.  Watch the fritters to see when then begin to set-up.  Or you can sneak a peek at the underside to see if they have browned.  Flip them over (one flip is needed) and cook on the other side.  Make sure the inside of the fritter is cooked through.

Place on a paper towel and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Repeat with the rest of the batter.  Keep warm on a sheet tray in an oven at 200 degrees until ready to eat.

I eat them plain or with a bit of marinara sauce and parmesean cheese.  They are amazing for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

And that is how I was an innovative and creative cook after my leadership session