Monday, August 9, 2010

Fighting Hunger with Three Days To Go

(In a grocery store, this table of food would cost $63.
If obtained through the Greater Chicago Food Depository programs? $5.41)

So here's the thing. In all of the hooplah of throwing together such a large event with an overwhelming cast of chefs, it's easy to loose sight of what this event is all about. Who are the recipients of the money raised? How much food does your ticket buy for a family? How many kids are impacted by this one event? Internally at Taste of the Nation we call the answers that reveal what's beneath the surface of these questions, Hunger Messaging—and our own Chuck Sudo is the Bruce Wayne of Hunger Messaging. Next Thursday night, you'll see Hunger Messaging all around you.

But we're not talking decorations and fancy words that might convince you to throw in some extra money because that's what you're supposed to do—we're talking serious issues that just aren't forward enough on our consciousness. Take a look:
  • In Chicago, 1 in 4 children are food insecure.
  • 82 percent of Chicago Public School Students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
  • The Greater Chicago Food Depository distributed 62 million pounds of food to pantries and shelters throughout the Chicago area last year.
  • 780,000 Illinois families received food stamps in June 2010, an 11.9 percent increase over June 2009.
  • Over 200,000 children in Chicago live in "food deserts."
And this is barely a fraction of the messaging Chuck has put together for us. But I'm treading a fine line here when I group these messages together and use phrases like "barely a fraction." I remove the reality, the weight of what's being said in each message.

Think about it. In Chicago, 1 in 4 children are food insecure.

How many kids are on a youth baseball team? A ballet class? 1 in 4 is a dangerous ratio that hits far too close to home for all of us, and yet I think we don't see it. Did you have any idea that nearly 800,000 families received food stamps this June? Let alone that it's an almost 12% increase from the year before? What a painful blow to the goals of Share Our Strength—which is to wipe out childhood hunger by 2015.

2015. That's pretty darn soon.

And yet, we're not backing down from this goal. That top photo to this post is pretty staggering when you take in how much those groceries cost you and I when we shop at the super market. Because, for us, $63 makes a lot of sense. That's not staggering. It's the impact that organizations like the Greater Chicago Food Depository have on communities that have my jaw continually dropping the more involved I get with Share Our Strength. To think that those groceries could cost a family just $5.41—well, there's some difference making going on there. Big time.

And then there's Near North Health Services, another beneficiary of Taste of the Nation. Their Operation Frontline participants are taught how to shop for groceries on a budget, utilizing the most with minimal resources—the Chicagoist's Megan Tempest wrote a great feature on this program last May. 

(A common site in Chicago of an abandoned market via Chuck Sudo)

And as markets continue to close in Chicago, the food stamps that are given out to help families through this tough time become less and less helpful. In his research leading up to Taste, Chuck's unearthed this problem. It increases the need and demand for the $5.41 assistance that the Greater Chicago Food Depository provides, which increases the need for further assistance from donors and events by the surrounding community. Hence, Taste of the Nation is as important as ever this year.

Because what Chuck's seen is that as the grocery stores close, families turn to corner convenience stores for their food—where they can buy liquor, cigarettes, and whatever processed foods are available at these stores as their nutrition, and in that order. They're using their food stamps to buy junk food.

(A main grocery source for much of Chicago via Chuck Sudo)

Taste of the Nation is as big as it is because the battle we're fighting requires it. These organizations won't continue to make an impact without our support.

Sure. There are still free tickets to be had as the days tick away leading up to the event—but if you've just been waiting for the right moment, unsure to buy or to wait for another shot at a give away, well don't you think that right moment is now?

Come next Thursday in this little town of ours, for those few hours, there won't be a greater gathering of food and drink in the world. Think about that—which, my friends, is saying something.

Buy your tickets. Write them off. And get your tushy over to what might just be one of the most unforgettable moments of your life. And help us start hitting the delete button on our Hunger Messaging, bit by bit, in the process, yeah?

There are 800,000 families waiting to thank you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Updates From the Land of Taste

(The Aragon Ballroom won't look anything like this next Thursday...)

Tickets. We're giving them away and you want them. Here's how:

Steve Dolinsky. Steve will be our auctioneer next week—and oh man are there some insane items this year... Paul Kahan and Mindy Segal as your private chefs while you talk music with the guys from Sound Opinions, for one—and all week he's been holding contests on his blog. That ends today. But, your chances to win the tickets aren't up just yet if you can convince him you're the most deserving.

He's asking you a simple question. What would you order off of Stephanie Izard's menu at Girl and the Goat and why, in fifty words or less. That's it. So get to his site, read today's entry, and win those tickets, yeah?

(Via Steph's twitter, this 5 lb. veal belly roast debuted earlier this week)

Gaztro-Wagon. As you must know by now, chefs have been teaming up with naanwich maestro Matt Maroni all week as we quickly approach August 12—less than a week away, mind you—and we're not letting up on bit.

As of right now, we have four more scheduled ride-alongs through next week, starting with Chef Michael Fiorello of Mercat a la Planxa hopping aboard midday tomorrow. Following Michael will be our own Elissa Narrow later that night, and David Carrier from Kith and Kin plus Todd Stein (cibo matto) and Kristine Subido (Wave) will join in early next week. So yeah. We're not letting up—just ask Phil Vettel. He's noticed.

(At the wagon this week for Taste ticket give-aways 
w/ Chef Marianne Sundquist of In Fine Spirits)

Foodie the App. I love this thing. What started as an iPhone exclusive has become, for this Verizon loyalist, an interwebz staple. Building a web site so that any and every one could jump on board with Foodie was plain and simple brilliance—if for no other reason than I get to choose my own prix fixe from Piccolo Sogno while you're forced to stick with the regular menu. That, and I booked a reservation at The Bristol while you had to wait an hour. You know, things like that.

And now they've partnered with us—and I don't think this could be any more painless. All it takes is a reservation. A simple, easy, special laden reservation booked through their system. That. Is. It. Do that, and you're giving yourself a shot at one of two pairs of tickets they'll give away at random next Thursday. You're going out to dinner at some point between now and next Thursday anyway, so why the heck aren't you booking that reservation through Foodie? For more, check out their blog.

See—we like making this easy on you. Happy Friday, and good luck!

Or just buy your tickets, too...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Find the Wagon!

(The Boar Belly Naanwich via Andrew Huff's photostream)

Had a meeting last night with the Taste committee, and we're approaching the final stretch. Really something to see everyone rally together like this—and mind you, it's ALL volunteer work—in the name of fighting childhood hunger. It's rare to come across an event that brings out so much good, and I think that shows in the work everyone has put in to this year's Taste.

And about this year's Taste... last week I promised opportunities to get in on free ticket action, and that begins today! Any minute now, Matt Maroni will be pulling his gaztro-wagon out of the driveway and park it somewhere on our Chicago streets—with the incredibly talented Phillip Foss of Lockwood and "The Pickled Tongue" by his side. Later this week Phil is hosting a speakeasy with several participating Taste chefs, and we're thrilled that he's willing to help promote Taste in the process today with Matt. So—when that clock hits the appropriate time and you get your belly out the door for some lunch, find out where Matt's parked the gaztro-wagon, yeah?

Doing that will for sure appease your appetite, but it might just get you those free Taste of the Nation tickets, too! Find the truck. Order some grub. Ask for the tickets! But, when asking for the tickets, say the code word... "Aragon." Aragon. That's it!

And stay tuned all this week—Matt will be hosting a guest chef nearly every day leading up to the event next Thursday. And yeah, every day a chef joins in? More tickets will be handed out!

Looking forward to partying with whoever wins—and maybe you could bring me a naanwich while you're at it...