Food Job: Consumer Advocate

bfrankWe are undergoing a massive change in how we think about our food and in the ways we buy, cook, and eat it.

Our opinions are influenced by activists protesting the pollution of the earth’s soil, air, and water, the inhumane treatment of animals, and the presence of hormones, additives, and preservatives. Some of these concerns are amply justified; others have little or no basis in reality.

Our judgments are also molded—far more than we may be prepared to admit—by skillful advertising and by journalists and consumer advocates with axes to grind. As a consumer advocate, you will need to know how to make your words persuade, charm, inform, and inspire action.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is among the leading food consumer advocates. Its accomplishments include leading the efforts to win passage of laws that require ‘Nutrition Facts’ on packaged foods (and, later, to include trans fat on those labels), define the term “organic” for foods, and put warning notices on alcoholic beverages. The organization attracts considerable media attention. Check its website for job opportunities.

Do a Google search of ‘Consumer Food Advocates’ to find other sites such as Food & Water Watch. The information from this group tells us that it is: “A leading national consumer advocacy organization that runs dynamic, cutting edge campaigns challenging the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources. Since 2005, we have won significant victories to protect our food and water. Our work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major media outlets. As a growing organization, we have a number of opportunities for talented organizers, advocates, researchers, and policy experts.” Intern opportunities are available.

Contact the sites that interest you and see what sort of qualifications are required. Check the salary range too.

By the way, did you know the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a free government site that lists average salaries for food jobs throughout the U.S? For example, you will obviously earn more working in a fine dining restaurant in midtown Manhattan than in rural Mississippi even if you are making pancakes and sausages for brunch in both places.

No one ever said life is fair.


Searching for a Sustainable Cuisine

farmed-and-dangerousTo spread their message of “food with integrity,” Chipotle is launching a television comedy series on Hulu. The four program episodes are titled Farmed and Dangerous and, according to their press release, takes a satirical look at industrial agriculture.

“The series follows a fictional industrial giant called Animoil that develops a new petroleum-based animal feed called PetroPellet. The product promises to reduce factory farm dependence on oil by eliminating the need to grow, irrigate, fertilize and transport vast amounts of feed needed to raise livestock. There’s only one downside: the cows that eat the pellets have a tendency to explode (with cheap but amusing special effects).”

Sustainable agriculture is to farming what recycling is to manufacturing. Everyone is for it, as long as it is Continue reading

Baby Food Steps

WWII Food Rationing In England begins in 1940

England initiates food rationing and issues ration books in 1940

During World War II, adults in Britain had a weekly ration of two ounces of tea, two ounces of butter, two ounces of cheese and one fresh egg. When they were purchased, these foods were crossed off from the government-issued ration books. The system succeeded in ensuring fairness; everyone was forced to go on an austerity diet. There were no bananas.

German submarines in the Atlantic attacked British supply ships, cutting off the importation of wheat from Canada. When, in 1946, bread rationing was imposed, Winston Churchill vehemently opposed the measure. He called it “one of the gravest announcements that I have ever heard made in the House of Commons,”

Despite the widespread food shortages, the Government understood those in greatest need were not the adults, or the children but the unborn babies. For healthy pregnant mothers give birth to healthy babies they were provided with the most nutritious foods — and extra vitamins. Later, the National Health System provided adequate food and medical care for everyone.

As I plan a dinner party, I clearly remember the dark days of the London Blitz and ponder my own daily diet and the urgent need to consider how best to ensure there will be a seat at the table for all. I was reminded of this again when I watched a recent episode of  Moyers & Company on The Faces of America’s Hungry.

Today, and into the near and long-term future, the most rewarding food jobs will include the research scientists and recipe developers who are creating healthy, tasty and affordable alternatives for junk foods. Employment can be found too for activitists, who lobby on behalf of fair food legislation, and all who Share Our Strength.

What Can I Do?

When culinary students (and professionals) people ask me, “What can I do?,” I try to listen to what they are saying. Perhaps, of greater importance is hearing what they are not saying.

Often, there are little clues that momentarily hover in the air. It is a joy to make connections between a person’s true love, (something they love to do), with their unique personality — and their culinary experience.

There is nothing more satisfying than charting your own journey and sailing to your personal port in the storm. Having a sense of direction is infinitely less scary than being lost at sea. There are so many destinations from which to choose.

You could be a private chef and travel with an international super star or a diplomat or with an athlete who is competing on the world stage.

Have you considered cooking on a small luxury yacht? You’d be responsible for preparing three meals a day but you won’t need to worry about car payments or the rent for an apartment. Nor will you have to pay taxes on your income when you are three miles off shore.

Many major restaurant and fast food chains and catering companies including Aramark and Sodexo have branches in several countries, as do hotels and food processing companies. Check into employment as a hotel chef at Kimpton or W hotels and other worldwide boutique and resort hotels as well as the familiar names of hospitality companies. Would you like to work at a spa?

Employment in the U.S. can lead to many travel opportunities abroad. Supermarkets and food processing companies engage experts, who travel throughout the world to buy coffee, tea, cheese, chocolate, olive oil, pasta, cookies, and other prepared foods and raw ingredients.

Would you like to design vegan wedding cakes, (for such clients as Chelsea Clinton), or create butter sculptures or ice sculptures? Locate your hero and beg for an intern opportunity from which, with any luck, you may ascend to a permanent position.

Would you prefer to be a caterer or an event planner, a food scientist, or own a bed & breakfast or become a TV star or a food cartoonist or sign up to become a literary agent or a restaurant designer, a recipe tester or flavor maker or become the curator of a food exhibit or study to be a culinary librarian? Or develop a food game show?

Are you interested in humanitarian causes? Have you thought about developing policy for a hunger relief program or helping to develop agricultural or sustainable fishing policy? Perhaps you would consider working for a foundation or food-related charitable cause. Or, you may want to work for a local soup kitchen or a national organization like Share our Strength or Meals on Wheels that provides food for the frail elderly. Go to Google to investigate

It’s admirable to volunteer but there are many surprisingly well-paid positions to be found developing programs to counter cooking illiteracy, and new initiatives are constantly being designed to develop wellness programs for school children.

Clearly these are vastly different career paths but if you are able to narrow your options, it becomes considerably easier to focus your research.

If you are interested in science and technology, you may be able cross off art and design from consideration.

If you want to cook, explore the dozens of opportunities that are open to you in restaurants and foodservice. Similarly, (or oppositely), if you yearn to become a writer, you may need to seek sustenance employment wherever a salary check can be found.


My Lunch with President Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter, 1993

I am glued to the Democratic Convention, absorbing one brilliant speech after another and relishing every word of commentary too.

I was very happy to listen to President Jimmy Carter, and to see him looking so well at age 88.

Long ago, I listened to him speak on the radio. I was so mesmerized, I parked my car to hear every word. I’ve continued to admire him ever since.

Much later I wrote a Letter to the Editor of The New York Times. (How bold of me!) I expressed my opinion that genetic engineering was our best hope for the future of agriculture.

To my surprise and delight, I received an invitation to join then former President Carter for lunch in Plains, Georgia.

As you probably know, he has supported research at Emory University to isolate the protein that causes peanut allergy. He (and Julia Child) believed in science and technology to solve some of our problems as we struggle to feed a hungry world on diminishing expanses of fertile farmland.

I just want to describe the lunch itself though. We met in a small store-front cafeteria.The buffet table consisted of a row of six or seven industrial metal pans in which the tepid food was immersed in dirty water beneath floating globules of grease. The iceberg salad was dressed with something that tasted of strawberry shampoo.

We spoke about the possibility of establishing a peanut festival in Plains along the lines of the garlic festival in Gilroy, CA.  The Prez ate with gusto. I noodled.

When we approached the cashier, he waved away my wallet with a wide smile and pulled out his own.  My lunch tab came to $1.67. His was $1.59. (He got a discount because he attended church the previous Sunday.)

This lunch meeting remains among my most cherished memories.

And may I mention that my short letter to the Times resulted in a food job I loved. I worked for IFIC, International Food Information Council, a non-profit foundation in Washington. My task was to speak to the media about agriculture and marine biotechnology.

Food Job for you: Science writer? Peanut allergy researcher?



Christmas Food Memories

Memories of childhood determine whether the holiday feast includes Swedish gravlax or Norwegian baked cod, Mediterranean roast goat or stuffed whale skin (if you grew up in Greenland).  I mention these traditions because so many families are now celebrating the season by stepping into a restaurant for at least part of the festivities. How then will we create a nostalgic holiday for families that symbolically hold hands from one generation to the next?

We always had roast goose for Christmas dinner.  My mother, a woman of tradition if ever there was one, followed the custom hallowed by English cooks from time immemorial.  No sooner was the goose committed to the oven than the Brussels sprouts were set to cooking and so too were the chipolatas.  Chipolatas, in case these are foreign to you, are very small pork sausages — the backbone of the British Empire, some say.  They, (the sausages,) are hardly bigger than an index finger.  Five minutes is about as much time as it would take you to cook them.  My mother fried them, gently, for an hour or two and then left them to “keep warm” on top of the stove, where they continued to burn slowly until the goose was well and truly cooked.  How I yearn now for those mashed potatoes, lumpy gravy and gooseberry relish.

Tradition says that plum pudding is the symbol of an English Christmas.  The round pudding represents the good and abundant earth.  The holly berries symbolize the blood of Christ.  The flames of brandy are the flames of hell that are rapidly burned away as goodness triumphs over all. (Or, at least that is what is supposed to.)

Some families still make their own plum pudding, remembering to stir it clockwise, as the earth moves on its axis, for this will bring good luck and a wish may be granted. And even more good fortune will come to the diner who finds in the pudding a coin of the realm, a ring or a charm.  The notion is that a coin will bring a year of wealth, a ring forecasts a wedding in the future and a thimble predicts a happy life, though a solitary one as a spinster. There are worse things…

Now as we so vividly remember Scrooge ’tis the time to sin…and repent…preferably simultaneously.