Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On Your Plate

Fifth Avenue and 81st Street. 10:00 PM. Photo: Jeffrey Hirsch.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013. Sunny and mild with temps in the 60s.

I went down to the Metropolitan Club before noon for City Harvest’s annual On Your Plate  luncheon.

City Harvest, if you don’t know already, is in the business of collecting food that is left at the end of the day from restaurants, markets, and distributors, and re-distributing it among the citizens of New York.

There are more than 1.7 million New Yorkers now living in poverty. Basics, like food, rent and medical are often financially out of reach.

City Harvest feeds more than a million people a year. They rescue more than 115,000 pounds of food daily, and they re-distribute it to almost 600 community programs all over the city. They are fighting hunger a/k/a in modern techno-speak, “Food Insecurity.” That means not enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, no matter what you call it.

I became aware of City Harvest’s work almost 20 years ago through my friend Joy Ingham who has been working on fundraising for them for more than two decades. It was a rather small operation back then. I think they had two trucks working. Today there are a fleet of trucks as well as smaller vehicles and tractor trailers, all working on collecting, delivering and re-distributing the food. In the past year and a half they’ve even acquired a “Food Rescue” facility (on lease) in Long Island City where they can store up to 45,500 pounds of food.

Their success has been tremendous. The drivers of the trucks play an important part in the process because they too are involved in the process of “helping” their fellow man. You get the feeling when you talk to them about it, that the experience has almost been an uplifting of consciousness. This year those men will rescue more than 42 million pounds of food for hungry New Yorkers.

This is not a sexy charity, however. Hunger is not on the top priority for most people who are philanthropists, self-styled or otherwise. Most of us who have the resources (i.e., the money to pay) don’t even know what hunger is. Or what it does to the individual, to one’s health, and to the health – both mental and physical, and to the society that we all live in.
Joy Ingham, Gillian Miniter, Edwin Ayala, Martha Stewart, Jilly Stephens, and Topsy Taylor.
The most popular charities in New York are those which involve, in one way or another, the personal issues and interests of the givers. Medical research, hospital support, the Parks, the libraries, the colleges, religious, educational, mental health. The social and humane philanthropies lag behind like stepchildren – cared for but without empathy. This is just the way we are. Most of us, that is. It is the ultimate dilemma for all life.

Men and women who can pay $250, $500, $1000 for a ticket to lunch are not that hungry. What they are is empathic – a sense of responsibility to one’s fellows. Nor do they personally relate to the issue unless they are on a diet, and even then the feeling that intrudes is often guilt, not the pangs of food deprivation. Also, a great many of us are on diets if we know what’s good for us.

The millions going to bed without food or enough food every night is growing in this country -- to previously unimagined percentages. More than 47 million Americans use food stamps. These people are hurting, and for their children it is even worse, much worse. This is ironic, considering that the United States is potentially the breadbasket of the world, as it was forty years ago.

All of this is bad news, and not the stuff people want to read. There’s enough bad news available everywhere else in our world. What we are being forced to do now, however, by the state of our finances, both international and individual, is to look at how we are going to sustain a society that can live healthily and in peace with each other. Without food, we won’t.
Memrie Lewis, DPC, and Martha Stewart.
The luncheon opened with Executive Director Jilly Stephens welcoming the guests and providing a progress report of the last year. This year's luncheon raised $200,000. They honored Pat Barrick, the Vice President External Relations of City Harvest. Pat has been a very effective and very well liked member of the team that has transformed this organization to grow with the times.

Yesterday’s guest speaker
was Martha Stewart. I don’t know her well but I have observed her for two decades, and was well aware of her as far back as the early '70s when she was first getting started.

She is a remarkable woman, in my book. She started out in business baking and selling cakes and cookies and desserts, and catering in Westport, Connecticut back then. She went public with a little space selling her baked goods in an up market clothing boutique for men and women. The quality of her product was so good that her business naturally flourished, and she became a “name” locally. In the early '80s she published her first cookbook, and the rest is history.

But what is remarkable about her to me is not only her enormous business success but her capacity for work and for actualizing her ideas, be they for her personal life or for her businesses – which may be all part of A Life.

Click to order Living The Good Life.
I’ve only seen her on television once – during one of her own shows where she was making something. It was easy to see why she was a great success on camera: she is an excellent teacher – involved, impassioned, and able to coax the viewer into thinking they can do it too. (And they believe her even if they would never try.)

Yesterday was about her new book: “Living the Good Long Life; a Practical Guide to Caring For Yourself and Others.” Martha will be 72 in August. I am her contemporary, older by two weeks. The business of Aging is an odd conundrum for us human beings, should we live so long. For my generation, the early Baby Boomers, it is almost peculiar and not believable despite the glaring evidence (or lack thereof).

Martha Stewart’s approach to it is classic Martha – What Can I do to make the best and the most of the experience. There are recipes that emerge, just like her cakes and cookies (and green juice). The glass is never half empty for Martha; always, at least, half full.

She told us that (I think) this year more than 78 million of us will be 65 or older. This is a significantly larger percentage of the population than those who follow. Furthermore, the birth rate in this country as well as other “developed” countries – Japan especially – is declining and has been for decades.

There are many who have studied and written about this matter who are  more than pessimistic. Martha, on the other hand, is inclined to look for ways to make her garden grow. This to me, is remarkable. This is humanity in flourish. I’m not saying Martha is anything but a human being, a woman with an enormous capacity for work, but her approach is far more alluring than the approach of the aforementioned.
DPC introducing Martha Stewart. Martha takes the stage (and the audience).
I could go on about the matter of Martha’s success. She is the American Horatio Alger story, the modern version – the woman’s version. She is the classic late bloomer. She didn’t get started until she was in her 30s, and then she was in her forties before she began her first business. From there she attained great fame and great fortune, not to mention great personal satisfaction – those things which we men are admire and are admired and fawned over for. I don’t think admiration has come that easily to her door, although respect certainly did. And for a woman like Martha, that’s enough, and very adequate because she’s already moved on.

Martha and her mother, who passed away at 92 in 2007.
It began with her mother and her father, growing up in New Jersey. They lived on a small plot of land and a good portion of it that wasn’t occupied by the house was garden. Vegetables. They never went hungry although like many of our generation, they rarely had access to extras, like candies, ice cream, sodas, etc. Nor did they eat much that came out of cans. Because they had their garden.

You can see that the woman had very fortunate parenting. Whatever the domestic problems that afflicted (as some always do), they were united on living and eating in a healthful and enjoyable way. Their daughter is simply a perfect exponent of that union. That’s Martha’s good fortune. And ours too, if we wish to consider.

She began her talk, after pointing out the aforementioned statistics of our generation, by telling us that “all” of us in the room either knew, or had met, or knew of someone who is alive today who will live to be 150. She pointed out that the creature (my word, not hers) has developed to a point where sustainable good health is an approaching reality. This is all notwithstanding the danger of our bombing or gassing ourselves out of existence beforehand.

I don’t know how other people in the room felt about that proposed fact of living so long. That would mean the age 100 would be the new 30. Seriously.

This was yesterday lunchtime in the great dining room of the great Metropolitan Club, built more than a century ago by the auspices of J. Pierpont Morgan who wanted a club where his friends would be acceptable no matter what other clubs defined. It is one of the grandest surviving pieces of architecture from the Gilded Age, and it is always a treat to be in its great halls and reception rooms, for that reason alone. It is Yesterday, but Yesterday Forever. Or we should hope so.
Jennifer McLean introducing Pat Barrick.
Pat Barrick.
Edwin Ayala.
There was palpable irony in the room of Martha Stewart talking about the good life, well lived, sensibly, practically, and well nourished, versus the reality of City Harvest’s philanthropy. For many of us are, to the contrary, overfed yet under-nurtured.

Her talk was preceded by Edwin Ayala, a City Harvest Driver. Mr. Ayala came in his work uniform and hat, and gave a personal speech about his experience moving food into the hands of his fellow New Yorkers. A City Harvest Driver makes this speech of personal experience each year. Their talks always reflect an almost Zen-like experience, especially considering it’s the streets of Noo Yawk, and not the serene lakes and mountains of far off Asia. Mr. Ayala’s speech was so good, and he delivered it so professionally and so humbly at the same time, that I later joked and asked him who his speechwriter was.
The City Harvest staff.
Honoree Pat Barrick with Danielle Barrick, Dan Barrick, Tom Barrick, and Adam Barrick.
I don’t know how the guests felt about this event with Martha and the City Harvest donors. The world she envisions is highly ideal considering the day-to-day tribulations of us humanoids. I came home full of glaring regret that I didn’t have the woman’s discipline and clarity of purpose and managerial skills to execute everything with aplomb and authority. I don’t know if she ever entertains those feelings. Maybe so.
I felt compelled to look at her book when I got back to my desk. I turned first to her chapter on green juices in the morning. Yes, it is a primer remember. She made it sound so good and so good for you – especially if you have to get out there and work everyday. Then I looked on through. It’s another good idea that is an ideal – something to strive for. And maybe achieve. From time to time. Or like Martha, for good.
Alice Judelson, Kathy Steinberg, Karen LeFrak, and Muffie Potter Aston.
Topsy Taylor, Kitty McKnight, and Marion Selig.
Charlotte Ford and Diana Feldman. Eleanora Kennedy and Martha Stewart.
Janet Robinson, Sharon Jacquet, and Louise Miligan.
Suzanne Cochran, Laura Zeckendorf, and Cece Black. Lynn Fisher and Anita Hoffman.
Elizabeth Weinberg, Pat Barrick, and Margaret Holman.
Rebecca Fontes and Cathy Gu. Amanda Morcos and Jennifer Brown.
Anna Saffir, Nico Landrigan, and Eleanora Kennedy.
Tobie Roosevelt. Noreen Buckfire and Nancy Paduano.
Memrie Lewis, Marina Galesi, and Margo Langenberg.
Karen Lefrak, Gillian Miniter, and Muffie Potter Aston.
Barbara Huffman, Ann Hohenhaus, and Deena Wolfson.
Jocelyn Markowitz and Melanie Friedman. Tara Palmeri.
Wendy Moonan, Michel Witmer, and Margo Langenberg.
Elese Reid and Dixie De Kooning.
Rosemary Weaver, Hillary Califano, Edwin Ayala, Nancy Whaley, and Jackie Weld Drake.
Marion Selig, Diana Feldman, and Kitty McKnight.
Kamie Lightburn and Anna Casperson.
Jennifer Brown, Saira Lal, Kate Chechek, Felicity Daftuar, and Cathy Becker.
Natalie Banes, Nicole Weyman, Amanda Morcos, Jennifer Vaughn Miller, and Stacy Hock.
Marianne Strong and Jean Shafiroff.

Contact DPC here.