I was in the 8th grade and had this idea– I wanted to start a soup kitchen instead of having to participate in the science fair for the 4th year in a row. Science fair was required back in the day and thankfully my science teacher had an alternative. We were allowed to do a “substantive project” instead of the usually required science fair competition. So I wrote a proposal for my science teacher on how this may work. We got a plan worked out. I was to basically write a report about homelessness and poverty. Then I spent time trying to talk to adults in my community who were “helping” and may or may not have wanted to spend time with a teen who wanted to do something in her community.
What we know:
There are food deserts in Baltimore.
People in Baltimore are not healthy.
There is a wide range of economic backgrounds in Baltimore.
People like to eat.
Change is hard.
Charm City Casserole Cook-Off: Eat This, Baltimore!
The solution uses highly applied public health and urban food policy approaches in order to promote community building and city revitalization. Casseroles became the frontrunner as the catalyst for change after using a wide social, structural and cultural lens to assess the opportunities that could be seized to create a turning point in people’s lives.
Casseroles are a familiar food and easy to make. They can be made with easily sourced ingredients and can be made at a variety of health and price points. Many of the current food/urban agricultural projects that are occurring across the city are focusing on food accessibility and nutrition consciousness-raising. A logical next step is to get people cooking.
Casseroles, in this paradigm, are intended to be used in a similar way as mushroom soup is used in their recipes—as glue that holds unsuspecting ingredients together. Casseroles are inherently meant to be shared and thereby are great vehicles to promote community building. Driving deeper connections in the community raises trust and can help rebuild our informal networks, which are an important influencer of health status. Casserole contests can be part of Baltimore’s economic engine. The contest can be used as an opportunity to showcase the diverse food offerings Baltimore has to offer as well as raise funds for a worthy cause like Whitelock Community Farm. For reference, the Texas State Fair made $3.6 million dollars in ONE day…the day of the fried food competition. Why wait?
There’s a $50 1st place cash prize for each category! Compete/Eat!
I was certain that there was a moment in which I screamed at the top of my lungs “That’s it!” and picked up my pitchfork to make a change in the world. But I couldn’t really come up with one such instance. I could probably come up with a different event depending on the day and circumstance….What I know for sure is that it was born out of an intrinsic calling for social justice. But not wanting to miss out on a good story just because I have a bad memory–I surveyed my friends and asked them what my turning point was. They described me as sort of having a slow consciousness raising period during my college years which led to me choosing women’s health as my grounding point. I read a lot of books and shadowed a midwife. I went to nursing school became a squatter of sorts at CHOICE—whose midwives taught me so much about the breadth of women’s health and choices we make as clinicians. But there were also international experiences that shaped my ever-growing understanding of the trials and tribulations of the system in which we hang our hopes to save us. I went to Crow Creek moved to Colorado and Maryland, did health fairs and witnessed births and deaths and peri-menopause.
After some discussion, I began to wonder if it matters so much that I don’t remember a dramatic moment. Maybe my Turning Point was comprised of a million small observations about how women are both carved out of the larger health system (OB and peri-menopause) and constrained in a health system that generates lower health outcomes for women compared to men (heart disease, mental health, drug-reactions among others ).
Now that I think of it, my Turning Point is fused with what keeps my pitchfork raised. I read about all of these things (good and bad) and thought—there must be a shortage of people who are willing to help. I am a do-er after all. My pitchfork is not simply outrage but rather something to channel my force—my energy—my call for change.
Over time my Turning Point in awareness led to a devotion to the work. My devotion to making the system better.