The Beach Boys bring splash of fun to final Amphitheater show


“Won’t be long ‘til summertime is through

(Summertime is through — not for us now)

Every now and then we hear our song

(Every now and then we hear our song)

We’ve been having fun all summer long

We’ve been having fun all summer long”

— “All Summer Long,” The Beach Boys

And, indeed, we have been.

But as summer 2017 comes to a close, and the Chautauqua season with it, there is at least one last hurrah to be had. With the Beach Boys set to play at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater, the summer fun can continue, if only for a little while longer.

The Beach Boys, icons of the 1960s California surf-rock vibe out of which they built a career, have been coming to the Institution for many years now. And each time, it seems, they are met with adoration by a multigenerational audience of Chautauquan fans.

But even a newcomer is sure to get something out of the band’s laid-back, good-times vibe.

From a Chautauquan who can’t tell the difference between “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations,” to one who knows every single word of “Help Me Rhonda” by heart, there’s no prerequisite for having a good time.

Two years ago, former Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley noted this ubiquitous appeal.

“The deal about the Beach Boys is that it’s hard to find an act or ensemble that appeals to such an age range,” Merkley told the Daily. “From small children to their grandparents — 1) People enjoy, and 2) People know all the words (to and) recognize all the songs.”

That popularity isn’t lost on the band members themselves, either.

“The audience always seems to enjoy the heck out of it,” co-founder and current frontman Mike Love said in a 2011 interview with the Daily. “It seems like the most fun they could have with their clothes on.”

And though many Chautauquans have spent the summer engaging with bright minds and thought-provoking ideas, it’s nice to take a little time to just enjoy some good music.

“It’s ironic, because Chautauqua is all about politics and philosophies, and there are all sorts of presentations for lectures from different people,” Love said in 2011. “It’s cool that people can just come and enjoy the music on their own terms.”

And from “I Get Around” to “Kokomo” to “California Girls,” enjoy it they will.

Robert Franklin looks back on four years of moral, civic leadership as he prepares for final sermon


In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus gives a final decree to his disciples before leaving them. He tells them to go out and teach all nations.

Before he goes, though, Jesus says, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” It is with this Scripture that the Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. will depart from Chautauqua Institution after leading morning worship at 10:45 a.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, with a sermon titled “Memory, Presence, Partnership.” Franklin is leaving behind a legacy of generosity, a decree to keep moving forward and many grateful colleagues.

“He’s juggled many things in his life to be here, and I’m very grateful for that,” said Maureen Rovegno, associate director of religion. “I’m just grateful for his generous spirit.”

Franklin has spent four seasons as the director of the Department of Religion at the Institution, but his history with the community goes back 17 years, to when he first spoke on the morning lecture platform. He said he felt a “kind of magic” that drove him to return as a speaker, and again as theologian-in-residence in 2005.

By 2014, Franklin had an awareness and appreciation for the complexity of Chautauqua, explained Tom Becker, former president of the Institution.

Becker said Franklin, with his experience in major administrative roles at Morehouse College and deep understanding of Chautauqua, was the perfect fit for the job that former director of religion, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, was leaving.

“The balance between being as intellectually sharp and trained as he is and being empathetic enough to be a pastor to a community isn’t a combination that grows on trees,” Becker said.

That intellectual rigor and empathy is part of the legacy that Franklin said he hopes to leave behind. Although Franklin said the religion programming has always been top — notch, Rovegno and Becker both said Franklin’s passion for theological scholarship was a key aspect of his tenure.

Franklin has taught religion and theology at universities across the country, among many other accolades. He is currently the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory University, which is where he will be expanding his work after leaving the Institution.

All of his knowledge of theology, however, would not mean much if Franklin couldn’t apply it. He did that by being a living example of moral leadership, which he strongly advocated for among Chautauquans.

“I define moral leaders as people who lead with integrity, courage and imagination,” Franklin said. “They are focused on serving the common good.”

Franklin put moral leadership at the forefront of Chautauquans’ thinking, Rovegno said, and made it even more relevant because he modeled it. He put the needs of the community first and made generous sacrifices to be at Chautauqua for three years, though his family remains in Atlanta full-time.

Cheryl Franklin, Franklin’s wife, said they had a lengthy discussion about how the job would fit into their family life. Ultimately, however, they knew that Chautauqua was where Franklin needed to be. She said she didn’t even consider the arrangement to be “hard,” rather simply “logistically challenging.”

Early in his tenure, Franklin said part of his vision of being a moral leader — and part of why he needed to be at Chautauqua — was to address diversity in a place that was already facing so many other issues head on.

Becker said he did not hire Franklin to be the “chief diversity officer,” but it is undeniable that Franklin is the only person of color in the upper levels of the Institution administration. The result has been that Franklin has had to educate others about racial issues and also listen to everyone who wanted to talk about them, which he said has been one of the biggest challenges of his tenure.

This has only gotten more difficult in light of disturbing events unfolding outside the gates, including those in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. Franklin led a vigil to give Chautauquans a place to share their feelings about the protests, and both white and black members of the Chautauqua community came forward to speak.

“If there were more African Americans and other people on staff, there would be more people to engage,” Franklin said. “When you’re the only person of color, you kind of carry a disproportionate load.”

Franklin said he hopes his work with the African American Denominational House, a group on the grounds that represents the African-American community, will be continued and built upon. It could help build a bridge between Chautauquans and African-American people of faith, he said, which is a positive change in divisive times.

Ultimately, Franklin said, change will have to come from the Institution, not just from a word-of-mouth movement. This could involve building up Franklin’s vision of a house dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., or hiring a diversity officer.

David Lollis, president of the Chautauqua Denominational Association, said Franklin’s efforts have already done important work, though it may be hard to tell from appearances. Although many people think having a house for the group would be ideal, Lollis said it is expensive. He points to the AADH’s successful programs, which have been packed with attendees, as a better indication of achievement.

Franklin’s willingness to talk to anyone, at any time, about important issues like race left a mark on Chautauqua. Lollis said Franklin’s ready smile and approachable demeanor in public set a welcoming tone for the Department of Religion, which has made it more accessible for outsiders and the nonreligious.

“Robert has seen that Chautauqua is one place where we can bring together people to really look at the changing world of religion, and the changing world of church, and figure out a way to have people go home with new insight,” Lollis said.

With this renewed focus has come renewed energy in the Department of Religion. Rovegno will succeed Franklin in the role of director of religion, but a new position — vice president and senior pastor — will be filled by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson. This will elevate the status of the department to the executive level and bring religion to an equal standing with the other programmatic pillars of Chautauqua. Both appointments are effective Sept. 1.

Franklin will continue the kind of work he’s done at Chautauqua in his new roles in the classrooms and halls of Emory University. Just as he will address in his sermon on Sunday, departure involves not only remembering but also also knowing that even while apart, he and the Institution will continue to work on the same great project.

“I think I have a stronger conviction about what we call the ‘mix’ at Chautauqua,” Franklin said. “I won’t find that anywhere else. I’ll always come back here for that.”

The features of Franklin that need to be experienced in person — his voice, his presence, his humor — will be sorely missed by many, though. People will have to wait patiently for his return to the halls of Chautauqua and heed his advice given at the end of his Final Benediction on Sundays.

“Blessed are the flexible,” Franklin often says, “for they will never get bent out of shape.”

Staff writer Ryan Pait contributed to this report.

Jennifer Tescher to analyze, discuss Americans’ financial health


Assumptions about the financial practices and well-being of one’s friends, neighbors, coworkers and even one’s employees can be significantly off the mark. Ditto for one’s community. People may think that an individual or city is prospering, when in fact they are just getting by or are at the brink.

A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, who’s looking out for Americans’ financial well-being?

Perhaps the best answer to this question is Jennifer Tescher — founder, CEO and president of the Center for Financial Services Innovation — and her CFSI team.

At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, Tescher will disclose “The Real Financial Lives of Americans in an Era of Disruption, Dislocation, and Uncertainty.” Her talk will conclude the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 2017 Contemporary Issues Forum speaker series.

Since 2004, Tescher has been working with the financial services and technology industries to increase and improve underserved consumers’ access to high-quality financial products and services. The national press — including NPR’s Marketplace, The New York Times and The Washington Post — have often turned to her as an authority.

Tescher didn’t set out to be a catalyst for change in the financial services industry. Because she wanted to be a reporter, she earned a combined undergraduate and master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University.

Jennifer Tescher

“I’ve always had a strong sense of justice, and thought (that) being a newspaper reporter was a really great way to speak truth to power and to fight for justice,” Tescher said. “And I had always been interested in poverty and inequality issues, and I had hoped to write about them as a reporter.”

For two years, Tescher worked for the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina and lived in Statesville, the county she was covering. With a population of 20,000 people, it was the smallest place she’d ever lived, having grown up in Miami.

She said she decided to earn a public policy degree to gain expertise in poverty and inequality and learn additional quantitative skills, and then return to journalism. Soon after she began her public policy master’s at the University of Chicago, however, she had second thoughts.

“I cared more about the issues than I did about the writing,” Tescher said. “In the early to mid-1990s, newspapers really didn’t care much about the issues of poverty and inequality. There wasn’t as much coverage of it. It was a very go-go time in this country.”

Ultimately, she decided she wanted to do something about these issues, not just write about them.

Although Tescher had not considered doing anything in banking and finance, during her final quarter of grad school, she interned in the consulting arm of ShoreBank Corporation, a regulated bank holding company with branches in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.

During the 1990s, ShoreBank integrated environmental conservation into its mission and was instrumental in developing the “triple bottom line” accounting framework that equally prioritizes people, ecological impacts and profits. Tescher said that it was not only the first and largest community development bank in the country, but also a national and international model.

According to Tescher, ShoreBank “led to the creation of a cottage industry of banks and credit unions and loan funds that were really focused on providing … products and services that were actually aimed at helping people who have less access, but who weren’t necessarily a bigger risk.”

Taken with the ideas that the private sector could be a “force for good in people’s lives” and a “powerful way to scale intractable challenges,” upon graduation, Tescher began working full-time at ShoreBank, initially for its president. She said she was stimulated by the intellectual challenge of working for a for-profit business “that was trying to do well and do good simultaneously, not as a trade-off between one and the other.”

For about eight years, as she worked in a series of positions within ShoreBank’s larger corporate structure, Tescher learned about banking products and services, including how one gains access to them and manages money effectively — “all the precursors to being in a position to borrow money in the first place.”

Then she returned to the company’s consulting division to develop a business centered on preparing people to be good borrowers. She said that until then, ShoreBank’s consulting work was largely focused on replicating its business model in other cities or organizations, and helping community development lenders improve their lending practices.

Tescher said that in the early 2000s, the Ford Foundation, a longtime ShoreBank shareholder, commissioned her to research the promise of the internet for reaching hard-to-serve consumers. While they knew an opportunity existed, they did not know what was really going on and how to develop a funding strategy.

“I came back and said, ‘You should create a center and it should look like this and do these things,’ ” Tescher said. “And they said, ‘Great; that’s a great idea, and here’s a check. You should go do that.’ So I launched CFSI. … When we first started, we were really founded to answer the question, ‘How can technological change in financial services benefit those who need it most?’ ”

CFSI became a separate 501(c)(3) organization in 2004, though it maintained its affiliation with ShoreBank until the latter failed during the 2007 financial crisis.

Prior to this crisis, Tescher said that CFSI spotlighted the issue of financial access for those who are unbanked or underbanked — about a quarter of the population in the United States — and encouraged banks to see the business opportunity in giving these people financial products and services that would be useful to them.

“These people were spending money somewhere; just not with (them),” Tescher said. “And technology would provide new ways to reach them cost-effectively.”

In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, which she said “essentially made financial access ubiquitous.”

“And then we had the financial crisis,” Tescher said. “And that made it clear that this wasn’t about whether or not you had a bank account. But millions of Americans — the majority, frankly — were struggling financially, and it had just been masked by the over-indebtedness that in part contributed to the financial crisis. So, we didn’t see it. We all knew that we were a society of borrowers, not savers. But we didn’t understand just how deeply in debt we were and what that was masking.”

Even in the present day, people may appear to have the “trappings of a basic middle-class existence, but they are intensely financially fragile,” Teschler said. “This isn’t like a niche problem. This is most people. And it’s not just about poor people.”

According to Tescher, 57 percent of Americans are financially unhealthy. She defines “financial health” as “having a strong day-to-day financial system that enables you to build resilience and pursue opportunity — to manage the downside, or avoid it, and take advantage of the upside.”

Given the magnitude of this financial instability, she said that CFSI reframed its focus four years ago. Its mission now is to improve financial health in America by working with financial services and technology companies to help them build businesses that are “predicated on their customers’ financial success.”

Saturday afternoon, Tescher will describe some of the many ways in which CFSI has been at the forefront of turning the U.S. financial services industry on its head and initiating successful efforts to improve the financial health and well-being of the majority of Americans.

Final Sacred Song Service to celebrate the memories of the 2017 season

The Fenton Deaconess Hom

As the sun sets and the final strains of the Massey Memorial Organ fade, President Michael E. Hill will tap the ceremonial gavel three times on Sunday night.

But before that decisive act closes Chautauqua Institution’s 2017 season, Chautauquans will be able to come together to savor the memories made over the summer. Starting at 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, will lead the congregation in singing and reciting texts that honor the Chautauqua experience.

“This is a living entity for everybody who comes here,” Jacobsen said. “And now it’s going away, hopefully just for a while, but you never know what’s going to happen in the next 10 months.”

Although this is the closing of Jacobsen’s 63rd season, he said he still deeply feels the grief of saying goodbye. He said it is hard to process everything that happens in the span of nine weeks because it is so intense. While Chautauquans are catching their breath, they are also not ready for the season to be over.

This is why the final Sacred Song Service is focused on reflecting about the season, Jacobsen said.

“It’s important to help people understand that it’s over,” Jacobsen said. “It’s loaded with baggage, this closing night.”

To help offset the sadness, Jacobsen has chosen mostly upbeat songs, including the primary hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” by Henry van Dyke. He said it starts out serious, but then “just cuts loose in ways only gospel choirs can do it.”

The hymn is set to the melody of “Ode to Joy” arranged by Ludwig van Beethoven. Jacobsen said “Ode to Joy” is about the triumph of the human spirit, which is also what Chautauqua celebrates.

Jacobsen was adamant that the service is not necessarily a goodbye to the Chautauqua experience. In fact, the final song that Chautauquans will sing after the Three Taps is “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” Instead of a goodbye, the service is a “see you later” because Chautauqua never really leaves a person.

“So even if it’s 25 years before you come back, or even if you never can come back, it’s in there,” Jacobsen said.

Amphitheater project nears finish line following successful first season


The new Amphitheater has done its job this summer, hosting an array of varied and sophisticated events, from the musical and artistic to the entertaining and educational. But there is work to be done after the season before general contractor LPCiminelli can turn over the new Amp to the Institution.

“The bench issue may be of most general interest,” said John Shedd, the Institution’s director of operations, who has been the administration’s point man on the Amp project almost from its inception at least eight years ago. “We’ll replace all the benches that are substandard or have developed flaws.”

The original bench subcontractor, a firm based in Nebraska, was unable to deliver the required 7,000 linear feet of benches in time for the opening of the season. The Institution scrambled and found creative, acceptable alternatives, but the issue remains unsettled. Shedd said all benches will be up to standard and in place before the beginning of the 2018 season.

Site work remains around the back of the house on the lake side of the Amp complex. An extensive flagstone patio, rain gardens and new handrails all await installation. Local contractor Frey Electric still needs to install lights at the end of the Amp benches and complete the grid of electric lights in the attic.

Meanwhile, the Amp seems almost papered with certifications, as is the way with large capital projects. Shedd said that the Amp this summer has been operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy issued by the town of Chautauqua. That certificate was provided following certification by general contractor LPCiminelli that, with the exceptions listed on a referenced punch list, the Amp project was complete.

That punch list, developed in turn by lead architect Marty Serena in accordance with a certificate of substantial completion, now becomes the basis for off-season work to complete the project. At some point in the off-season, “Ciminelli will hand us the keys and the Amp will belong to Chautauqua,” Shedd said.

Among the more significant items on the punch list are miscellaneous heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements and completion of a heating system not deemed necessary for use during the summer. An acoustic barrier will be erected around the condenser units on the north side of the Amp, near the loading bay. A fair amount of ductwork and insulation remains. Utility access panels await installation.

Institution officials have long mentioned their desire to have the new Amp certified as a leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) building. The authority in such matters is the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C. Before a final LEED certificate is issued, a checklist inspection by a third-party commissioning agent is required. The Institution remains confident that the LEED certificate is attainable.

Standing out almost uniquely in a sea of praise for the new Amp early in the season were critical comments about acoustics in the arena. Acoustic expert Ben Bausher, of the specialized consulting firm Jaffe Holden of Connecticut, has been working this summer, taking readings and suggesting measures to ameliorate the situation.

“Ben worked with our normal sound equipment contractor, Advanced Product Group of Dunkirk, and our own Amp staff sound master Chris Dahlie,” Shedd said. “In fact, Ben was here (Week Eight), taking measurements and samples both at the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra rehearsal and at its evening performance. He also assessed the space at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday church service and at a family entertainment event. We’ll get a report from him on what measures we need to take to improve things.”

One of the potential remedies for sound deficiencies would be the height and direction of speaker clusters around the Amp. Another would be selective installation of sound curtains.

“We have a number of options at our disposal,” Shedd said.

“It’s been a long race,” he added. “But the finish line is certainly in sight.”

Texas Tenors to bring together country and classical sounds to Amp


When John Hagen arranges songs to sing with his two best friends, he feels like he’s behind the wheel of a high-end sports car.

“I’ve got three different gears that I can work with,” Hagen said. “I’m able to think outside the box because of what the three of us can cover collectively with our vocals.”

Hagen, along with his two companion gears, JC Fisher and Marcus Collins, make up the Texas Tenors, who will give Chautauquans a taste of their new album, RISE, at 8:15 p.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.

“People will see some of the things that are on that album before anybody else,” Hagen said.

The album, due out on Sept. 8, is accompanied by a PBS special of the same name. This is following the group’s 2013 PBS special, “You Should Dream,” which won the Tenors their three Emmy Awards. RISE contains a mix of originals and covers including orchestral arrangements of “Amazing Grace” and Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”

The ability to blend multiple elements into a greater whole defines nearly everything about the group. This is most obvious in their treatment of genre. The group’s pieces bring together country and classical music most prominently, but also include references to Broadway, pop and gospel.

“We live by the motto: ‘There’s not a genre we don’t like,’ ” Hagen said. “Genre doesn’t matter as long as it communicates and connects with the crowd. That’s what’s important to us.”

Hagen is driven by the goal of giving every person in the audience a chance to connect with what they’re hearing and watching.

“We like to say it doesn’t matter if you’re 3 or 103 — there’s room for everybody in the show,” he said.

Hagen’s attention to audience inclusivity and positivity reveals itself both in the upbeat tone of many of the songs he arranges and in the way he addresses live crowds.

“We believe in equality and are hopeful that everybody will be treated fairly,” he said. “We end a lot of our shows by saying, ‘Be kind to one another.’ ”

He sees music as a unifying force, describing the feeling of “goosebumps when something really speaks to you” as one that “probably everybody” has experienced.

“People seem to be moved and touched by (music) … and (often) can’t quantify why a song hits (them),” he said. Further, it’s the group’s knack for synthesis that allows the members to prioritize these values.

“We have different skill sets, and between the three of us we cover the business,” Hagan said. “Marcus does a lot of lighting design and working the different agents, JC does a lot with the video elements … and I manage the money.”

Self-management lets the trio establish their own image, tone and content.

“I guess you could say maybe were control freaks. We like keeping our hands on something we built ourselves,” Hagen said. “We wanted to do things the way we wanted to do it and if it didn’t work out, we’re willing to take that responsibility.”

The group’s dedication to independence and steadfast values was tested by the nontraditional  way they rose to fame. The Texas Tenors first joined the national stage when they made it to the top four on “America’s Got Talent” in 2009. Hagen said this process required patience and focus.

“The thing that we told ourselves all the way through it was: We can’t worry about what this person thinks or what that person thinks,” he said. “We have to do what we know how to do and what we want to do, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Hagen described resisting producers’ agendas and deciding that, “this is gonna work for us, or not, because we are who we are.”

Hagen said the group’s dedication to uplifting audience members is important now “more than ever. … There’s just at times a little too much darkness going on. Life is short. … Let’s just be kind to one another.”

He hopes that Friday gives Chautauquans an opportunity to bring kindness to themselves and each other.

“There’s nothing like live music and the arts to feed the soul,” Hagen said.

Bryant Terry to speak on intersection of food and social justice


Bryant Terry serves activism with a side of greens.

“While we continue to work for food justice — the basic human right to fresh, safe, affordable and culturally appropriate food in all communities,” Terry writes in his latest cookbook, Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Flavors Remixed, “we must also work to reclaim our ancestral knowledge and embrace our culinary roots.”

Terry, chef and food justice activist, spreads awareness about the negative impact of an over-processed Western diet — a way of eating that disproportionately affects low-income people of color. Terry will use his blend of culinary and social justice knowledge to approach this week’s theme, “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food,” and close the week and season with his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.

Terry grew up eating abundant plant foods, he said in his 2015 TedMed talk. His grandmother had a cupboard “about 7 feet tall and a foot deep, each shelf crowded with glass jars full of preserves.” Although Terry’s family wasn’t following a vegan diet, he grew up eating a diet consisting of mostly what was in season and often harvested right before their meals.

Bryant Terry

Then he got to high school.

“I wanted to be like my buddies on the football team,” Terry said in his TedMed talk. “I became a junk food junkie.”

In his TedMed talk, Terry said he was drawn to the fast food that was constantly advertised to him and his peers. But after one of his friends played the song “Beef” by Boogie Down Productions for him, Terry stopped eating meat all together. The song outlines the negative impact the animal agriculture industry has on the animals, the environment and human health.

When Terry arrived in New York City in 1999 for graduate school, though, he realized the highly processed, animal-based diet was the norm for many children.

“(It was) deeply disturbing to me,” Terry said in his TedMed talk. “7:30 in the morning I’d be reviewing my lessons for the class I taught and I would see young people, children, drinking sodas, sugary juices, energy drinks. Eating candy bars, salty chips and items from the dollar menu at fast food restaurants. This was their breakfast.”

Terry’s devoted his life to spreading awareness about the benefits of eating more whole foods. In Afro-Vegan, Terry writes that “people of African descent need not look any further than our own historical foodways for better well-being.”

Contrary to what many people think, Terry told The Washington Post, the foundation of African-American cuisine is healthful foods, like nutrient-dense greens, black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes.

“Fried chicken, mac and cheese, red velvet cakes? Those are part of the cuisine, but those are the comfort foods, the foods people eat on special occasions,” Terry told the Post. “ … (W)hat my family ate growing up in Mississippi and on the farm, what we eat most of the time today, it’s food from the garden, simply prepared, nutrient-rich foods.”

In his recipes, Terry keeps “one eye on contemporary health concerns while presenting food that honors the flavors, ingredients, and heritage of the African diaspora,” he writes in Afro-Vegan. In traditional African, Caribbean, Southern and other Afro-influenced foods, animal products are not the central component but rather used to add flavor to dishes.

Terry simply removes the animal products, then cuts and pastes “the remixed food to produce recipes with farmers ingredients as their heart and soul,” he writes in Afro-Vegan.

As the inaugural chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Terry creates programming around the intersection of food, activism, culture and the African diaspora. Although Terry’s work focuses on how the processed, Western diet affects low-income communities, they’re not the only group that should be concerned with the shift in the Western diet.

“There are people who have lots of disposable income and who grew up with these traditions, who know what farm-fresh food is, but think that if you have money and are modern, you shop in the supermarket,” Terry told The Washington Post. “ ‘ Growing food?’ they’ll say, ‘That’s what country folk do.’ ”

In Afro-Vegan, Terry writes that “more and more mainstream medical institutions have been acknowledging that the overconsumption of animal protein puts people at increased risk of preventable, diet-related illnesses.” Although Terry doesn’t necessarily think a vegan diet is the right choice for everyone, he told the Post “we all can stand to eat more plant-strong foods.”

If people want to adopt a healthier, more sustainable and just way of eating, they should stop looking for signs and start creating them.

“Transformative moments don’t always happen themselves,” Terry said in his TedMed talk. “They can be served, like a delicious dish from your grandmother’s kitchen.”

Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries to discuss how ‘homies’ came together over food


When Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., first tried to come up with a way to give rehabilitated gang members jobs during Los Angeles’ most violent period, he turned to food.

More than 25 years later, Boyle will talk to Chautauquans about the role food played in the movement that followed his first project, Homeboy Bakery. At 2 p.m. Friday in the Hall of Philosophy, Boyle will close out the season’s Interfaith Lecture Series and its Week Nine theme, “Food and Faith.”

His lecture is titled “We Don’t Hire Homies to Bake Bread; We Bake Bread to Hire Homies.”

“Father ‘G’ has the most heart-filling sense of humor and joy, which opens our own minds and souls to his wisdom,” said Maureen Rovegno, associate director of religion. “We are thrilled that he is able to be with us again, especially in this week on food, which he uses as a conveyance for helping his homies to discover their humanity — and for us as well.”

Greg Boyle

Boyle, who has spoken on the Interfaith Lecture platform numerous times, is a Jesuit priest and former pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles.

Despite his popularity at Chautauqua, his connection to “Food and Faith” may not be immediately apparent. In 2016, though, the James Beard Foundation honored Boyle as Humanitarian of the Year, which is given to someone whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society.

Boyle first turned to food to help others when he founded Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program. It started with a venture called Homeboy Bakery, which was located in an abandoned bakery across the street from Dolores Mission Church.

At the time, the church was located between two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in the city. Boyle has told Chautauquans in his previous lectures about the violence that plagued the area, and how he started the Homeboy project as a path for gang members out of the violence.

Food, as this week’s speakers have pointed out, is uniquely capable of bringing people together — and that’s what Boyle discovered, too.

“Suddenly guys had a reason to get up in the morning. They could say, ‘I’m a baker. I’m working at a bakery!’ ” Celeste Fremon, the author of G-Dog and the Homeboys, said in an interview with James Beard Foundation. “It’s the metaphor of feeding your community, not just having jobs but having jobs that offer something of tangible value to the community.”

Many of Homeboy’s newer ventures are still based around feeding the Los Angeles community. They include the Homegirl Cafe & Catering in Chinatown, Homeboy at LAX, Homeboy Diner at City Hall and a presence in farmers markets throughout the city.

Boyle has said he considers himself a foodie, and so do some of the homies. He said in an interview with KCET that they watch cooking channels far more than they watch channels like ESPN.

In his book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Boyle talks about breaking down stereotypes and finding the humanity in all people, including gang members. After all, that is what Boyle has been doing since he was assigned to Dolores Mission Church in 1986.

“Father Greg Boyle is treasured beyond expression here at Chautauqua and wherever he is known, both for who he is and for what he has made possible for so many of his beloved homies,” Rovegno said, “and for all that he teaches us to be and to do by his lived example.”

Joey Alexander Trio to bring new music and swing to Amp


If Joey Alexander was a Chautauquan, he’d likely spend his days at the Youth Activities Center or perhaps play with the Music School Festival Orchestra. But at 14 years old, the jazz prodigy will instead be taking the stage at 8:15 p.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, playing for an audience that is at least four times his age.

But that’s mostly what Alexander does. Jazz remains a genre that’s popular among older generations, rather than millennials, and his own, Generation Z. He’s performed at jazz festivals across the world — Newport, New Orleans, Richmond, Jakarta, Copenhagen, Monterey, Montreal — and at the Grammys, where he’s garnered three nominations and made history in 2016 as the youngest jazz artist nominated for a Grammy.

When Alexander plays, he’s in the zone. His fingers dance emphatically across the piano and his feet tap beneath him. His eyes, framed by distinctly colored glasses, rarely lift from the keys. At times, they close. When the swing sets in, Alexander may even stand up, lifted by the reverberating rhythms.

Thursday, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland1, Alexander will be performing new music that he’s been composing over the last year. According to Alexander, his new music conveys “all types of moods.” He unapologetically gives due to God as the source of his creativity and success.

“For me, everything is an inspiration,” Alexander said. “Of course, it all comes from God. He gives me strength and the talent — everything.”

And after God, he credits his parents, the people he meets and the places he goes as sources of inspiration.

“When I go to the streets of New York, when I’m somewhere in Europe,” Alexander said, “(those places) give me the source of energy and inspire me to write songs.”

Born in 2003 in Bali, Alexander began teaching himself how to play the piano with a mini electric keyboard that his father, Denny Sila, gave him. As a jazz fan and amateur musician, Sila exposed Alexander to jazz through classic albums and by taking him to jam sessions with seasoned musicians in Bali and Jakarta. Eventually, his father and mother, Fara Leonora Urbach, who played jazz for Alexander while he was in the womb, sold their adventure tourism business to move to Jakarta so that Alexander could be closer to Indonesia’s top jazz musicians.

In 2014, Alexander’s family left Indonesia for New York, where he made his U.S. debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center following an invitation from jazz trumpeter, composer and aficionado Wynton Marsalis. Alexander has played alongside Marsalis, Chick Corea, and for Herbie Hancock. From 2014, his success only grew. Alexander released his studio albums My Favorite Things and Countdown in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Alexander continues to hone his craft by not only practicing and composing but through touring. He’s been on a series of ongoing tours since 2015.

Authors Jane Hamilton and Ann Patchett to talk food, families with shared CLSC presentation


Ann Patchett and Jane Hamilton have put their heads together and figured out exactly why they’ve been invited to Chautauqua.

Patchett’s book, Commonwealth, begins with a christening party that gets a little out of hand, thanks to some gin and orange juice. Hamilton’s, The Excellent Lombards, is set on a family’s apple orchard.

“It’s apples and oranges,” Patchett said.

“We know that’s the only reason why we’re here,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton and Patchett will discuss their novels — this week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections — at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine’s CLSC Roundtable. The two writers will present for the CLSC in much the same way they tackled their Daily interview: together.

Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said both Hamilton and Patchett are popular authors who have also received acclaim for their writing. Babcock said she wanted to honor that intersection between popularity and praise by choosing The Excellent Lombards and Commonwealth as CLSC selections.

Ann Patchett

“A lot of people look forward to reading their work,” Babcock said. “People look forward to the next book by Ann Patchett, the next book by Jane Hamilton.”

Having Hamilton and Patchett present their work together also felt like an excellent way to wrap up the CLSC programming for the season, Babcock said.

“Ending with this celebration of these two big books that are not only beautifully written, but have also done really well in terms of popularity — I think that’s just a great way to end the season,” Babcock said.

It helps that Hamilton and Patchett are friends, Babcock said, which means the audience will get to listen in on two authors who “are natural together.”

Patchett said she and Hamilton really are good friends, so they already speak to each other all the time. And there’s no way to fail when you’re onstage with someone you know and like, Patchett said.

They also know each other’s work well — and they’re often some of the first people to read it, Patchett said.

“We read our books out loud to each other,” Patchett said. “And we are, if not each other’s first readers, very early-on readers.”

Besides being friends, they’ve also interviewed each other before. Hamilton recalled a time when she interviewed Patchett for Symphony Space. Hamilton said she asked Patchett a question that she already knew the answer to, but she knew would lead to a good story.

“And you said, ‘Mrs. Willard!’ — that’s my married name — ‘You’re throwing the fish to the seals! Arf arf arf!’ ” Hamilton said, doing her own impression of Patchett’s seal impression. “That’s one of my favorite moments with you.”

“And I appreciated those fish,” Patchett said.

/ / /

Reporter’s Notebook

The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Historic Book List features hundreds of selections, some of which present themes similar to 2017’s CLSC selections.

If you liked Commonwealth and The Excellent Lombards, you might also like…

American Elegy: A Family Memoir by Jeffrey Simpson (1997-1998)

Brookland by Emily Barton (2007-2008)

• Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt (2010-2011)

Finally, five extra recommendations from the reporter:

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

• A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

• I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The Excellent Lombards and Commonwealth both focus on families.

Hamilton’s fictional family, the Lombards, is rooted to their apple orchard. Patchett’s fictional families, the Keatings and the Cousinses, are scattered as the result of a stolen kiss at that infamous christening party.

“A difference between the two books is that my characters are in a family that’s been smashed and rebuilt, smashed and rebuilt, and your characters are in a system that’s never been broken down,” Patchett said to Hamilton. “The whole family farm — it’s not just this generation. They are cemented by many generations.”

Patchett said Hamilton’s book is about the Lombards trying to figure out how their family farm can survive, especially when they can see “the end of the era coming.”

“And the parents are looking at the children and thinking, ‘How can we break this apart? Or how can we preserve it so everybody won’t be killed by it?’ ” Patchett said.

“That sounds really good, Ms. Patchett,” Hamilton said.

“And then in my book, it’s just like, scene one: whack,” Patchett said. “But that’s also true of us. You’ve been married 35 years. You have been in the same house in the same place. Your parents stayed married, and after your dad died your mom didn’t marry anybody else. My parents were just like, marry, marry, marry, marry.”

Hamilton said that each time a family is shattered and reformed by divorce and marriage — which is what happens in Commonwealth and what happened in Patchett’s own childhood — it’s “like a kaleidoscope.”

Patchett said she liked that imagery.

“That’s exactly right, and it does really represent our experiences,” Patchett said. “Yours being cemented — how do you break it? And mine being fragile from having been broken so many times.”

Both authors said that the books are their most autobiographical. They’ve written far outside their own experiences before, but The Excellent Lombards and Commonwealth offer fictional slices of life that are much closer to home for Hamilton and Patchett.

Patchett said the hardest part of writing Commonwealth was just deciding to do it.

“But once — and this is true in every aspect of my life — once I make a decision, I do not ever second-guess myself,” Patchett said. “I will be very thorough and cautious in making a decision. I don’t ever make a snap decision about anything. But once I’ve made up my mind, that’s it.”

Patchett said by doing all of this work “up front,” she was put at ease once she started writing.

“I knew who these people were, I could steal attributes from real people and put them on the characters,” Patchett said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Hamilton said she operated in a “far more immoral way.” She decided The Excellent Lombards was the book she wanted to write, and she would “deal with the fallout later.”

“There’s a lot of material that I had available to me,” Hamilton said. “And I could’ve written an epic, but I wanted to write a poem.”

Her husband was “deeply worried” when the book was about to be released, Hamilton said.

“But my relatives are not readers, it turns out,” Hamilton said. “We’re also polite people. So I guess, so far, so good.”

Hamilton keeps a quote from Willa Cather by her desk — one she thinks informs the tensions of most fiction. It’s a quotation from a piece of literary criticism Cather wrote on the stories of Katherine Mansfield: “One realizes that even in harmonious families there is this double life: the group life, which is the one we can observe in our neighbour’s household, and, underneath, another — secret and passionate and intense — which is the real life that stamps the faces and gives character to the voices of our friends,” Cather wrote. “Always in his mind each member of these social units is escaping, running away, trying to break the net which circumstances and his own affections have woven about him. One realizes that human relationships are the tragic necessity of human life; that they can never be wholly satisfactory, that every ego is half the time greedily seeking them, and half the time pulling away from them.”

“That’s the human tragedy,” Hamilton said. “You want this thing, but you also cannot bear it.”

Jane Hamilton

That thing is exactly what Hamilton’s central character in The Excellent Lombards, Mary Frances Lombard, both wants and cannot bear. As the novel follows her development from childhood into her teenage years, it becomes clear she wants to be embedded in her family and for things to never change.

“I think the pleasure of writing an adolescent character is that they are so wrong about things, but also right about fundamental things, too,” Hamilton said.

Patchett said that while their books feature very different types of families — rooted and blended — one element their novels have in common is the children they feature.

“They are there, they think they have seen it, they think they know exactly what is going on and they don’t have any idea of what’s going on,” Patchett said. “And they never ask because they’ve been there and they’ve seen it.”

“And they’re keeping a secret, too,” Hamilton said, referencing a dark secret the six Keating-Cousins children keep over the years.

“We know that’s true in children, but really it’s also true in adults,” Patchett said. “We think we know what’s going on, we think we know right from wrong, but in fact we don’t know half the time.”

/ / /

The authors are presenting their work on a week focused on food at Chautauqua. Week Nine’s theme is “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food.”

Food is a detail that many writers of fiction tend to bypass, but both Hamilton and Patchett said it’s key to the novels they’re presenting Thursday.

“Food is important and it offers a place for people to come together,” Hamilton said. “So a dining room scene can often be revelatory. This is a farm, and they’re eating the produce.”

The outside world “leaks in,” however, when Mary Frances’ mother becomes interested in cooking, Hamilton said.

“That’s just one way to bring the world to the table,” Hamilton said. “And the kids don’t like it — when did noodles become pasta? Why is our mother such a snob?”

Hamilton said besides showing how the outside world can intrude on a family unit, she likes to describe food and likes reading about it, too.

“It’s a sensual pleasure to spend time thinking about food and describing it,” Hamilton said.

Patchett offered a different take: in Commonwealth, food portrays “service and oppression.”

“The most autobiographical part of that novel is when Franny is in Amagansett and is just cooking and cooking and cooking and picking up glasses and scraping plates and emptying ashtrays,” Patchett said, referencing a scene in which Franny Keating takes on the task of cooking lobster and entertaining a group to impress her lover.

“And sometimes I feel like that’s all I ever do,” Patchett said. “So it isn’t about this sensual pleasure of eating, it’s just about figuring out how in God’s name do you get all of these people fed, and the women’s work of food.”

Regardless of how they portray food and families, though, Patchett and Hamilton hope that their books leave people hungering for more.

“I hope that they have such a good experience with the book that they will want to read another book by anyone else: that the reading will perpetuate reading,” Patchett said.

Patchett said she loves when she reads a book that makes her want to seek out more.

“I — and I’m sure this is me as a bookseller — I love the idea of a book just pushing people forward to more books,” Patchett said. “That’s what I want.”

“I love that,” Hamilton said. “I agree.”

Hindu scholar Vasudha Narayanan to discuss how food brings people and God closer together


In the laws and rules that govern Hinduism, marriage is the most regulated ritual. Second to that, though, is food.

Vasudha Narayanan, distinguished professor of religion at the University of Florida, will talk about Hinduism’s intricate relationship with food at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy. Her lecture, titled “The Flavors of Faith: Fasting and Feasting in the Hindu Traditions,” will provide a Hindu perspective to the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Nine theme, “Food and Faith.”

“When you offer food mentally to God, and ingest it, it’s seen as a marker of divine grace coursing through your veins, literally,” Narayanan said.

Vasudha Narayanan

Narayanan, who is speaking in the Hall of Philosophy for the third time, said she was able to have a lot of fun developing this lecture because food has been a part of her faith for her entire life.

In 2000, Narayanan wrote an essay about how a peer at Harvard University, where she attended graduate school, dismissed the food traditions and rituals in Hinduism as “anthropological stuff.” But Narayanan said it hadn’t been simply anthropological for her and her grandmother, whom she was close with growing up in India.

“For my grandmother, the way in which the food was cooked, the way in which it was served and consumed … was very much part of (her) religious life,” Narayanan said.

Narayanan, who has been the author or editor of seven books and numerous articles on Hinduism, became interested in studying the faith after reading books on the topic. Although it was not traditional to study religions in India, she was entranced by the nuances.

Thursday, Narayanan will discuss multiple aspects of the intersection between Hinduism and food, including the various rules governing food rituals, the propensity and energy levels of different foods, and how it is offered to deities.

There are some important caveats, though, that Narayanan will note. The first is that it is nearly impossible to make clear-cut generalizations about food habits in Hinduism because communities have modified the rules so much.

“If you eat a slice of pizza you’re blowing about six different rules right there, which many of us do happily enough these days,” Narayanan said. “Domino’s and Pizza Hut are very popular in India right now.”

Although a lot of the rules have been bent, Narayanan said it astounded her how many are still followed some 2,000 years later. Those are usually the more “non-negotiable” rules, including not eating beef and fasting on certain days of the lunar calendar.

Narayanan, who is a former president of the American Academy of Religion, said another aspect of eating that has been lost over the years is the connection to the source of food, which has been a popular theme this week.

Reconnecting with the sources and all of the labor that goes into growing food will allow people to reconnect with the sacredness of eating, Narayanan said, which is especially important for Hindus.

“It’s through the body that you get to know the world and God,” Narayanan said. “And the body is the home of the divine spirit. There is a strong sense in the Hindu tradition that your body is the temple of God.”

Professor Marion Nestle to speak on food’s connection to politics


Marion Nestle has fallen in love. The object of her affection? The first nutrition course she ever taught.

Ever since her experience teaching the class, Nestle has been on a roll. Alongside her position as Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University Steinhardt, Nestle has written books on topics ranging from why calories count to how to best feed a pet. And from 2008 to 2013, Nestle wrote the “Food Matters” column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nestle will return for the first time since 2008 to the morning lecture platform at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater. Her lecture, the fourth in Week Nine’s theme, “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food,” will touch on the dynamic way people approach their plates.

“To me, the biggest change is the shift from the personal to the political — from only caring about food from the standpoint of what to have for dinner to a food movement focused on producing and consuming foods in ways that are healthier for people, fairer to everyone involved in the food system and more environmentally sustainable,” Nestle said.

Marion Nestle

In a Dec. 15, 2016, blog post, Nestle described Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler’s book, Farm to Table: The Essential Guide to Sustainable Food Systems for Students, Professionals, and Consumers as “weekend reading.” She lauded the book for its two-part system — the first titled “Food” and the second titled “Table.” The book talks about the true cost of what we consume and how to stop breaking the environmental bank.

Nestle penned her first book — a book on nutrition for medical students — in 1985. The rest of her publications examine the “politics of food”; the first, preceding seven more, was titled Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. She is in the process of submitting a manuscript for her next book, which will focus on “food industry funding of nutrition research and practice.”

“As for how they are received: Food Politics was very controversial, but it’s used in classes and is now in a third edition,” Nestle said. “My most recent book, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) got especially nice reviews.”

Due to the controversial nature of food politics, alongside her author- and professorship, Nestle also holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and MPH in nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley.

“The degree in molecular biology means that nobody messes with me about the science,” Nestle said. “It also makes keeping up with the science easier. I can read studies about food and nutrition pretty quickly and tell right away whether they are likely to be believable.”

Nutrition, of course, is dependent on food, and food is connected to a whole line of studies — biology, physiology, history, agriculture, sociology, economics and, Nestle said, “politics — inseparably.”

“It’s the best way to teach just about any subject,” she said. “Everyone eats, and everyone relates.”

So when she takes the podium in Chautauqua, she hopes audience members relate enough to make food politics a larger part of their lives. As Nestle puts it, she hopes Chautauquans resolve “not only to vote with their forks, but also vote with their votes.”

Irene Rodríguez Compañía closes dance season with Afro-Cuban choreography


The dance season at Chautauqua Institution is closing with a twist — a Cuban twist.

Irene Rodríguez Compañía will make its Chautauqua debut at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater. The performance follows a five-day residency at Jacob’s Pillow in western Massachusetts. The company was brought to the grounds through an agreement between the Institution and Jacob’s Pillow.

Irene Rodríguez, both the choreographer and compañia’s namesake, has been building acclaim for her company since she founded it in 2012. She has choreographed and traveled with her own company, and taught at her school, Irene Rodríguez Spanish Dance Academy, which she founded in 2014. In her years of teaching, she’s trained dozens of professional dancers in Cuba and created choreographies for companies throughout the country. Rodríguez is also artistic director of the La Huella De España festival, which is held annually in Cuba.

Rodríguez is set to showcase new works that were recently premiered at Jacob’s Pillow. Acclaimed by The New York Times as an “intense, exacting” and “fiery” dancer, Rodríguez brings with her the passion of sharing Cuban dance and flamenco to new audiences. Aside from its distinct Afro-Cuban flair, the company actively works to innovate what the genre of Spanish dance is by “merging it with everything that broadens performance vocabulary such as the dramatic arts, contemporary dance currents, native rhythms,” Rodríguez said, that bridge both “tradition and modernity” within the more specific Cuban genre.

Her performances are often accompanied by Cuban musicians who, through instruments and use of their own voices, provide the soundtrack to Rodríguez’s choreography.

To celebrate the company’s arrival, the Athenaeum Hotel is hosting a “Cuban-inspired feast” beginning at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Reservation information is available at

In an age of excess, Michael Ruhlman and Ann Patchett talk quality foods and quality lives


When Michael Ruhlman and Ann Patchett sat down to talk about food, they had a lot of ground to cover.

“I feel like we could talk for eight hours without stopping because food is just the centerpiece of so much of the national dialogue,” Patchett said.

“We take it for granted, though,” Ruhlman noted. “We (took) it for granted for so long. This is why it’s so important to talk about it now.”

Though they came together to talk, each half of the duo is a writer by trade. Patchett has authored three works of nonfiction and seven novels, one of which — Commonwealth — is one of this week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections. Ruhlman, meanwhile, has written more than 20 books, primarily focused on food and cooking. His most recent is Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America.

And speaking Tuesday morning in the Amphitheater during Week Nine, “At the Table: Our Changing Relationship with Food,” it was on that very institution — the grocery store — that they would focus.

“Tell me why you love grocery stores,” Patchett prompted.

For Ruhlman, it all comes down to cooking — not just as a means of physical nourishment, but as an aspect of family and community building.

“We’ve largely given up cooking, in big ways, at our own peril,” Ruhlman said. “And so in order to encourage people to cook more, how important cooking was, I had to know where this food in my grocery store is coming from.”

To him, the fact that nearly every type of food is available under one roof, often for cheap, is amazing. And from Heinen’s (the small regional chain he focused on in Grocery) to Amazon (the e-distributor changing the grocery game from the ground up), it’s an industry he wants everyone to understand.

“Where is all this food coming from?” Ruhlman asked. “And what does it mean?”

Intellectual curiosity aside, there’s also a more personal impulse at play: Ruhlman’s late father was an avid grocery-shopper, so the subject provides a means of paternal reconnection after death.

And, as if echoing the love for food his father instilled in him, Ruhlman now tries to do the same thing with his own children.

“It’s a way to talk with my kids about food,” Ruhlman explained.

Turning from the industry’s social implications to its economic ones, Patchett asked what the rise of food-by-mail means for the Heinen’s of the world.

“For a long time, grocers were worried about Amazon,” Ruhlman said. “Now they’re really worried.”

Especially now that Amazon has purchased Whole Foods, and all the stores and supply chain infrastructure that that entails, Ruhlman expects an imminent change in how people acquire their food.

And for more traditional grocers, it’s adapt or die.

“Grocery stores are a fascinating thing; they combine two business models,” Ruhlman said. “They have a mercantile model that gets stuff in, they merchandise it, they send it out. They have a manufacturing model: they get product in, transform that product, and sell it as something different. They are basically turning into restaurants-slash-food purveyors.”

And if Amazon combines that function with its core shipping purpose, it could spell big changes for the entire notion of brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

“OK, so my Whole Foods in Nashville, Tennessee — do you mean that they will be taking orders and sending (boxes) of cereal out in the mail?” Patchett asked.

To some degree, Ruhlman said, Amazon already does this. The change will be that they can now deliver prepared foods, too.

“Is that something that (only) rich people are going to do?” Patchett asked. “I mean, it doesn’t seem that this is really applicable to everyone.”

That’s the case currently, Ruhlman said. But one day, it could actually be a big boon for low-income communities.

“My hope would be that it would serve people who live in a food desert,” Ruhlman said.

About 23 million Americans live in food deserts, he explained, where they lack access to basic nutrition and produce. And the negative health impacts on them are significant.

“It’s a problem, and it could be theoretically solved by Amazon’s delivery distribution system,” Ruhlman said.

Of course, that’s not without its own downside. The enormous amount of packaging waste produced by food delivery services like Blue Apron, Patchett noted, has a real environmental impact.

The ease in home cooking it allows for is a big plus, Ruhlman said. But that only matters if people actually put forth the effort to cook meals, and that doesn’t seem to be a very common practice nowadays.

“There’s an argument that cooking made us human,” Ruhlman said. “It was the actual activity that allowed us to triumph over our upright hominid ancestors. … (It) allowed us to form communities, and this allowed us to succeed. (But) we stopped cooking in (the) 1950s and ’60s, and we’ve gotten sick. And I think that we need to go back to cooking our food.”

This is hard, though, when an entire generation has grown up unexposed to home cooking.

“I feel like if people don’t grow up in a household where there’s cooking, in the same way if you don’t grow up in a household where there’s religion, it’s just not something you’re going to pick up on your own when you’re 30,” Patchett said.

In a society-wide sense, Ruhlman said, it is hard.

“We’re trying to relearn something that shouldn’t have gone away in the first place,” he said.

But the act itself? Not so much.

Well, maybe.

“Cooking’s not that hard,” Ruhlman said.

“It is!” Patchett interjected.

“Stop it!” Ruhlman replied. “How hard is it to make an egg?”

“Yeah, an egg, (but) that’s not cooking,” Patchett said. “I make dinner every single night and it grinds my soul to death.”

Ruhlman wasn’t buying it.

I feel like if people don’t grow up in a household where there’s cooking, in the same way if you don’t grow up in a household where there’s religion, it’s just not something you’re going to pick up on your own when you’re 30,” Patchett said.

“It can be hard, if you make it hard,” he said. “It can be easy, if you make it (easy).”

Getting back to their original discussion, Patchett asked what the food landscape will look like when “the middle is gone” and all that’s left is the boutique and the bare essentials.

“You can go up and buy a quart of milk in a drug store; we didn’t used to be able to do that,” Ruhlman said. “All that center stuff is going to go away. It’s going to be delivered to your house through the mail … and grocers may very well come back to the original days when they were purveyors of specialty goods that no one else could get.”

Places like Heinen’s, he predicted, will mainly carry the finest wines and cheeses and meats. Amazon-type businesses will have all the essential commodities.

“I think we’re going to eat less and less of those commodity foods because of it,” Ruhlman said.  “And we’re going to appreciate the fine things that we have, and we’re going to demand more.”

Enjoying good food is one thing, though. Getting nutrition from it is another.

“Let’s talk about health,” Patchett proposed.

Patchett grew up around the women’s magazine industry, constantly cutting out different foods from her diet based on articles about their supposed unhealthiness.

But the question shouldn’t be one of health, Ruhlman said. What matters is nutrition.

“We need to think differently about food,” he said. “And then we have to know where to shop for food.”

“(People should) eat food that goes bad,” he continued. “Food that goes bad is the stuff that’s good for us. Food that won’t go bad is more likely to be bad for us.”

And as for those magazine articles?

“Don’t listen to them,” Ruhlman said. “Don’t listen to anybody about (health). Don’t listen to me about it. Listen to yourself.”

Dairy fat, for instance, isn’t unhealthy in small amounts. But something like fat-free half-and-half, as Ruhlman once saw a woman buy, just replaces that fat with corn syrup — a type of sugar that is, indeed, bad for you.

Patchett was confused; Ruhlman couldn’t blame her.

“We have been given bad information for decades,” he said.

And whose fault is this?

“The lobbies in Washington are very powerful,” Ruhlman said. “And (the) sugar industry, as we now know, was hugely influential in making the ‘fat is bad’ (narrative) and steering research away from looking at sugar. So it’s very bad; we have to be skeptical of everything.”

But at the same time, reducing eating to pure biomedical science is a sort of defeat in and of itself. Health is important, but so is happiness.

“We’ve started treating our food like medicine, and I think that’s dangerous, too,” Ruhlman said. “It’s taken the joy out of food. Food should be joyous. It should be shared. It should be enjoyed.”

This isn’t to ignore the real obstacles that get in between people and good food, of course. Time, money, allergies — not everyone can cook and eat a nutritious meal every single night.

However, they can take steps in the right direction.

“My suggestion would be: one meal a week,” Ruhlman said. “Shoot for that. Teach your children how to cook basic food. Have them help — they’re free labor.”

Or, Patchett suggested, cook for the whole week over the weekend and save it for each mealtime.

That’s still work, of course. But the benefits, both physical and emotional, are self-evident.

“Anything that’s really good for you takes work,” Ruhlman said. “We have to stop demanding everything be so convenient.”

Anna Blythe Lappé to address power of real, sustainable food


Anna Blythe Lappé has her fingers in so many pies, she could paint a colorful mural.

There’s the Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund. Real Food Media and Real Food Films. Real Food Reads and Food MythBusters. Voices of the Food Chain and Voices of an Organic Planet. Panta Rhea Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, and Mesa Refuge.

Underpinning all of her work are the knowledge, know-how and values expressed in three acclaimed books: Hope’s Edge, Grub and Diet for a Hot Planet.

As an authority on land-based food systems and agricultural sustainability who fights for fair, healthy, humane, local and environmentally responsible food chains, Lappé speaks up and speaks out.

At 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater, Lappé, a 2016 recipient of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, will take to the stage to give an address titled “The Empathy of Food.”

For many in the baby-boom generation, Lappé has long been a household name. She said that both of her parents influenced her work.

Anna Blythe Lappé

Her father, toxicologist and bioethicist Marc Alan Lappé, was instrumental in the movement to integrate ethics with toxics and genetics policy. He advocated for the precautionary approach to risk management and against toxic chemicals — including the massive amount of toxic wastes dumped at Love Canal in Niagara Falls — silicon implants and genetically-modified organisms, until his death from a brain tumor in 2005.

At age 26, her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, made her own mark with her pathbreaking book about why there’s hunger in a world of plenty — Diet for a Small Planet — the first of many.

Frances Lappé wrote about the harmful environmental effects and wastefulness associated with meat production, and argued that world hunger is caused by ineffective food policy rather than food scarcity. She provided rules for a healthy diet and recipes for high protein, meatless cooking. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Diet is “one of the most influential political tracts of the time.”

While traveling with each parent at a young age, Lappé realized the importance of issues associated with power (who gets what, where, when, why and how, and who does not), and empathy (who cares about the people working the land, who doesn’t, and why not).

Lappé did not plan to go into “the family business.” She left the San Francisco Bay Area to attend college at Brown University, and then entered Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Partway through her master’s curriculum, her vision shifted.

“I had a fateful conversation with my mother in a bar in New York City about what she should do with her life,” Lappé said. “I told her she should revisit Diet for a Small Planet on the eve of its 30th anniversary; go back and pick up where the story left off. The root causes of hunger are caused by scarcity of democracy, not food.”

She said she advised her mother to show, rather than simply tell about, movements and cities around the world that are building democracy.

Instead of her mother undertaking the project alone, they teamed up. Initially they focused on a book, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.

As she was still in grad school, she said she successfully petitioned her advisers to allow this book to serve as her graduate thesis.

Lappé spent her second year at Columbia working on it, including traveling to Bangladesh, India, Poland and other countries, where she met with environmental and social change-makers.

“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Lappé said. “I became a public educator. Our food system is a driver of crises and a powerful lever for solutions.”

In 2001, while they were immersed in creating Hope’s Edge, Lappé and her mother co-founded the Small Planet Institute to show “that humans are capable of changing failing ideas in order to turn our planet toward life.”

They also established the Small Planet Fund to raise money to “support global efforts for justice and sustainability.”

Five years later, the book Lappé wrote with Friday’s lecturer Bryant Terry — Grub: Ideas for an Organic Kitchen — made it onto bookstore shelves nationwide.

She said that her third book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, was due to the publisher on the day that her first child was due to be born; fortunately, her daughter arrived late.

“When I wrote Diet for a Hot Planet, no one was talking about the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and the food sector, which produces a third of these emissions,” Lappé said. “It’s a big problem and we have the power to reduce them. Since then, I’ve seen an incredible shift in that conversation.”

For the past eight years, Lappé has been an active member of Rainforest Action Network’s board of directors. When she joined RAN’s board, it was the only organization with an agribusiness campaign.

“One of the biggest drivers of rainforest destruction is commodity production,” Lappé said. “The main work now is in Malaysia and Indonesia, connected to palm oil. Maybe my day-to-day life isn’t about addressing the climate crisis, but being on the board is a way of connecting to it.”

Although she has been steadily contributing to numerous books, Lappé said she has shifted from book writing to different storytelling methods. Her writing has appeared in prominent newspapers, including The New York Times, and in magazines, such as Gourmet.

Lappé also established Real Food Media to provide “powerful storytelling and communications to inspire, educate, and grow the movement for sustainability and equity along the food chain.”

RFM collaborates with other organizations within the United States to generate conversation about the food system and to “connect communities for action” through grassroots events, an online action center, and creative videos and movies for children and adults.   

RFM has also partnered with StoryCorps on a project called “Voices of the Food Chain,” and with the the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Center for Good Food Purchasing to advance the “Good Food Purchasing Program” in cities throughout the United States.

On public television, Lappé has appeared as an expert on “Need to Know” and in the documentary “Nourish,” as well as a co-host of “The Endless Feast.” She was also featured on the the Sundance Channel’s documentary series about environmental innovation, “Big Ideas for a Small Planet.”

For the past two years, Lappé has worked as the food program officer for Panta Rhea, a private foundation in Sausalito, California, that assesses and funds organizations committed to a more just and sustainable world.   

Lappé said that her biggest challenge is not unique to her.

“It’s how much our public institutions, like the EPA, USDA and FDA, are influenced by corporate donors and corporate lobbyists,” she said.

Yet when she speaks to diverse audiences across the country, Lappé is heartened by their shared values.

“People don’t want to contribute to climate change or pollute water,” she said. “But we don’t see this reflected because of the incredible influence that the largest companies in the world have on our elected officials.”

According to Lappé, the problem of an unsafe and unhealthy food system is becoming more acute in the United States.

Hope’s Edge came out 15 years ago,” she said. “That’s what gets me up in the mornings — people seeing that there really is a food system. We need to care about food workers, and if we care about our own health care, we have to care about animals.”

Scholar Zahra Jamal returns to Chautauqua to highlight spirituality of Muslim food rituals


Zahra Jamal fell in love with Chautauqua as a girl over a lemon poppy seed muffin and the inspiring speakers in the Interfaith Lecture Series.

Wednesday, many years later, Jamal is returning to Chautauqua Institution to stand on the other side of the podium to talk about how Muslims value food. Jamal, associate director at Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, will speak on “Food for the Soul: A Muslim Perspective” at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy.

“In Islam, food, like health, is a divine gift to be cared for, nurtured and shared for the betterment of society,” Jamal said.

As part of Week Nine’s interfaith theme, “Food and Faith,” Jamal will discuss five main topics in the relationship between Islam and food. The first is how food builds communities during the annual rituals of Nawruz, Ramadan and Hajj.

These food rituals were influential in Jamal’s youth, she said, reciting fond memories of waking up before dawn to pray and eat with her family before beginning the fast during Ramadan and breaking it after dusk with her community. When she went away to college, she celebrated Eid with friends with traditional foods like biryani and kheer.

Zahra Jamal

However, Jamal said, some of her favorite childhood memories were the everyday family dinners. Related to this are two of Jamal’s other lecture topics: how breaking bread can help create dialogue, and how food symbolically and literally nourishes people. Part of this is eating mindfully, which Jamal said Muslim people take seriously.

“When partaking in a meal, most Muslims clean their hands, body and mind, as well as offer a prayer of gratitude for God’s bounty and blessings both before and after eating,” Jamal said.

During their family dinners, Jamal’s father also sparked her interest in studying Islam by regaling the family with narratives from Islamic history.

Jamal went on to study Middle Eastern and Islamic studies for her undergraduate degree. Then, as a graduate student at Harvard University, she focused on the anthropology of Muslim communities.

At Rice University, Jamal now educates students about religious tolerance and civic engagement in the Islamic world, on which she has advised the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.

Although developing Wednesday’s lecture pushed Jamal outside of her usual research area, she will incorporate her expertise by discussing how Muslim dynasties advanced agricultural production and examples of Muslim civil society organizations that are tackling the global hunger crisis.

Jamal said she is excited to return to Chautauqua to join the ranks of esteemed speakers who have lectured at the Hall of Philosophy. During her youth, she came to Chautauqua often with her family because her uncle, Habibullah Jamal, was instrumental in developing the original Interfaith Lecture Series.

Jamal will contribute an important perspective on food and faith during the week as an expert on Islam, which has many unique food rituals. These include eating dates to break the fast of Ramadan, as the Prophet Muhammad did, and eating Halal meat, which means the animal is sacrificed humanely. Both of these are deeply spiritual customs tied to the Quran.

“In my view, as a Muslim, symbolic and physical nourishment are deeply spiritual, environmental and moral acts that enable the subordination of the ego, the cultivation of communal life and identity, and the connection to creator and creation,” Jamal said.

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