Culin-thropic Holiday Gifts

'Tis the season for giving and gifting -- so today and perhaps tomorrow, I'll share a grab bag of ideas that may come in handy over the next few weeks. As fellow cooks and food-centric folk, you understand the altruistic power of a home-cooked meal and how it can warm the cockles of even the grinchiest of hearts. The sharing of food is an expression of love, whether you are giver or recipient, and it is transcends all other forms of communication because it is a universal language and it connects us all, from trailer to mansion, desert to tundra, Alaska to Zimbabwe.

The idea of cooking for someone you love (or even just met) has been shared in this space before, and one that I encourage all of us to entertain as often as the muse allows. But there are other ways to spread the good vibrations -- and that's through something I like to call culinanthropy -- gifts without a box or a ribbon but with perhaps more lasting value than a box of bon bons. I've compiled a list of organizations -- local and national -- that are harnessing the power of love through food 365 days a year, all of which can use our financial support. Some are personal hand-picked favorites that hold special meaning for me and others I admire from afar. And by all means, in the spirit of the season, contribute to the list as you see fit in the comments area below.

1. I had first heard of the word "culinanthropy" from Christine Carroll, founding director of CulinaryCorps, the fledgling organization doing volunteer culinary service trips to New Orleans. Many of you know that I joined Carroll's group in June, an eye-opening, week-long experience of cooking with various relief and rebuilding projects along the still-ravaged Gulf coast. Carroll, who just returned from her fourth trip this year, has made powerful inroads with projects such as Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, Habitat for Humanity's Camp Hope and local farmers' markets, is already making plans for 2008 trips, both in New Orleans and possibly in other areas of need.

2. Meal delivery services such as Food and Friends in Washington are often the lifeline for people living with AIDS or other life-threatening illnesses. Recently, I shared my experiences cooking at MANNA, a similar organization in Philadelphia, and how it shaped the way I think about food. In New York, similar great work is being done at God's Love We Deliver and at Project Angel Food in Los Angeles.

3. Youth leadership and life skills are the focus of Brain Food, which offers after-school and summer culinary programs for Washington high school students. The kitchen is the vehicle for teamwork, creating a menu, intercultural exchange, shopping with a budget, and the math, chemistry (and alchemy) that inevitably ensues when cooking with others.

4. Earlier this year, I heard about Homeboy Industries, a organization in East Los Angeles using food as a way out of the gang life. Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest, has been the force behind the multi-faceted youth development program that includes Homeboy Bakery and Homegirl Cafe and Catering.

5. At DC Central Kitchen, the motto is "Combating Hunger - Creating Opportunity." In addition to its daily meal distribution program, which provides meals to low-income and homeless communities, DC Central Kitchen offers culinary job training, with an in-house catering company and an after-school nutrition education program.

6. Learning to grow your own food is the thrust of community garden organizations such as the P-Patch Trust in Seattle and Just Food in the New York city area. Just Food has a CSA component, which creates a network to support a consistent economic lifeline for neighboring farms. The Seattle group earmarks garden acreage for crops specifically for area food banks and supports CSA programs in housing projects.

7. Speaking of farmland, American Farmland Trust, headquartered in Washington,works to protect agricultural acreage from getting swallowed by development. Part public policy, part advocacy and education, AFT works with both legislators and family farmers to conserve the land and other natural resources.

8. If fair trade has become one of your new favorite buzz words, consider supporting Transfair USA, the organization that makes all the fair trade connections possible and equitable. As the only third-party fair trade certifier, Transfair helps to guarantee above-market prices for farmers who grow fair trade coffee, tea and cocoa -- and hopefully soon, fruit and sugar.

9. For disclosure purposes, I'm a paying member of Southern Foodways Alliance, but there's a reason for that: These folks, based in Oxford, Miss., are doing great work to preserve the culinary traditions and cultures of the American south. When times are tough, like they've been in New Orleans and Gulf coast Mississippi, they come to the rescue, helping to rebuild restaurants so that they don't vaporize and become a memory. Their strength is in documentation of culinary history -- think of them as culinary anthropologists -- via film, audio, photos, old menus -- keeping those memories and traditions alive.


By Kim ODonnel |  December 11, 2007; 9:12 AM ET Gifts , Winter Holidays
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Those are all great ideas and I stumbled across another. You can pick from some great foodie raffle prizes for a donation. Visit http://www.chezpim.com/blogs/2007/12/menu-for-hope-4.html
for details!

Posted by: Kelly | December 12, 2007 2:06 PM

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