food diplomacy through the story of a meal

Archive for January, 2013

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)