A quarter of Philadelphians are food insecure. What are we doing about it?

Photo by Kriston Bethel

Photo by Kriston Bethel

The Line

by Alex Jones

On a blustery, sunny Friday she’s taken off of work, Melanie Hudson waits in line for food.

“I have a lot more month than money,” says Hudson, 46, who works with autistic teens at Upper Darby High School. Her 17-year-old daughter Veronica is an honors student at the school and plans to join the Air Force when she graduates.

In 2009, Hudson’s husband passed away after a brain aneurysm and left her a single parent. She lost a job she’d held for 15 years. And, during what was already a time of great hardship, Hudson suffered significant damage to her eyesight due to glaucoma.

These challenges meant that Hudson, who radiates a confidence and positivity that belies her past troubles, had to seek help to ensure that her and her daughter’s basic needs were met. “I was trying to figure out how to feed my family,” she says.

She sought out assistance from Philabundance and began patronizing its Fresh For All program, a sort of traveling farmers market that distributes fresh produce and other perishable foods like milk, bread and even meats at no cost to anyone who shows up during the one-hour distribution window. This morning, Philabundance volunteers and staff in green sweatshirts and orange safety vests keep trays and boxes of fresh vegetables stocked while clients fill shopping bags, totes and carts with portions of each item.

Hudson greets fellow clients she hasn’t seen in a while after loading up her bags with cabbage, cauliflower, bananas, peppers, bread and milk. During the school year, her work schedule conflicts with the food distribution schedule, but during summer break, and days like today when she’s taken off work, she still lines up with a few hundred other Philabundance clients Friday mornings at Christ Lutheran in her Upper Darby neighborhood.

“When you come through the Philabundance line, it helps you get to know the members of your community,” says Hudson. “[You build] a type of network or friendship with the people that you stand in line with for about an hour [each week].”

The cold wind keeps the morning from feeling festive, but the sun is warm, people are chatty and the line moves relatively quickly. A boombox plays classic rock while a line of bundled-up clients stretches out of the parking lot and around the block. Clients from around 200 households who self-identify as in need of assistance will collect food at the day’s distribution, some lining up for the 9:30 start time at 7 a.m. The clientele is diverse: black, white, Asian, Latino, seniors, single men, teens, women with and without kids—everyone is represented.

Whether we know it when we see them or not, these are the faces of hunger in Philadelphia.

‘Radical hospitality’
A patched-together network of food pantries, soup kitchens, churches, grassroots organizations, regional nonprofits and other groups across the city do what they can to keep hungry Philadelphians fed as best they can. The Philly Food Finder, a web tool developed by the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger (GPCAH), provides a single online portal that people can use to find myriad food resources near them. But the need far outweighs these essential yet short-term solutions.

Nationwide and across Pennsylvania, poverty levels have inched down in recent years. But here in Philadelphia, the problem has grown. One in four citizens are food insecure—running out of food and money to pay for it before the end of the month. That’s nearly twice the national and state average.

Hudson’s story helps to shatter myths some hold about the food insecure. Many are working people, single parents, and others are trying to make it as best they can in a city and country where, more than ever, the system seems designed to work against them.

But the problem also extends to unstable populations such as the homeless and people suffering from drug addiction or mental illness, which many people find more difficult to relate to than someone like Hudson. But these populations aren’t any less hungry, and new programs are also promoting the idea that they aren’t any less deserving of help—or respect.

When Philadelphians in need of a meal walk into Broad Street Ministry, they get something more than a full belly.

“Broad Street Ministry practices an approach we like to call radical hospitality,” says Executive Director Mike Dahl. “Our role, as we see it, is to serve as a wide-open front door for the most vulnerable populations in the city.”

Tablecloths, silverware and fine china top round tables spread throughout the sanctuary of the cathedral-like Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church building on the Avenue of the Arts. There are no plastic trays or chow lines. Meals are made exclusively with fresh ingredients—nothing frozen or canned. Wait staff take orders and serve meals to patrons as they would in a fine dining restaurant.

Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, a program of Broad Street Ministry, estimates it will serve 80,000 meals to around 7,400 unique individuals in 2016. Many of these clients are among the city’s most vulnerable, living with addiction or mental health issues or attempting to re-enter society after being released from prison.

The food wouldn’t be out of place at one of the high-end restaurants on this tony downtown strip. Dinner at one of these Breaking Bread meals might be vegetable ratatouille served with polenta and balsamic reduction, for example. When he came on four years ago, Executive Chef Steven Seibel revamped the culinary program, making a point to design menus with quality, flavor and nutrition in mind. Service frequency also increased from one to seven meals per week.

“We wanted to be the one place where [guests] could come and get a meal that’s freshly made, that’s made with love—something that they don’t get much [elsewhere],” Seibel said.

The program takes a trauma-informed approach to serving its constituents, centering the experiences and perspectives of clients and avoiding coercive interventions or triggers—including excessive security or practices that pathologize clients—that may lead to re-traumatization.  Offering a top-quality dining experience, well-trained and sensitive staff and volunteers, and a host of other essential services on-site, can help clients reclaim feelings of personhood and a sense of stability after experiencing traumatic or challenging events in their lives.

Depending on the weather and the week—attendance spikes toward the end of the month when benefit checks have run out—Seibel and his team serve anywhere from 150 to 500 patrons per meal. In addition to conventional purveyors, he also sources from local, sustainable food sources when possible; the program receives regular donations of organic produce from Carversville Farm Foundation in Bucks County and has sourced grass-fed beef and tallow through whole-animal butcher Primal Supply Meats.

“We’re trying to put our purchasing power behind sustainable food operations, but we also know that we’re bringing in the best possible produce, the best possible protein for people that truly deserve it,” Seibel says.

While Breaking Bread meals are the primary entry point for patrons, Broad Street Ministries and its partner organizations provide “stabilizing services,” like distributing clothing and personal care items, offering health screenings and assistance signing up for benefits, and another unique service: a mailing address. Having an address can be the first step for patrons to re-establish their lives, as it’s often required to apply for an ID card, benefits, housing and jobs, and it provides a way for clients to reconnect with family and friends.

“We’re trying to provide a place that offers a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a place where [clients] can restore their self-value,” says Dahl. “Put simply, they’re going to be treated with respect and dignity.”

In West Philadelphia, another food service model that’s helping to feed those in need takes a community approach, bringing those who can afford to eat and those who can’t to the same table.

Many Philadelphians take for granted that they can walk into a restaurant and order a meal where they’re attended to by a team of professional servers and cooks—some of whom may be food insecure themselves. At EAT (Everyone at the Table) Café, divisions between those who can pay and those who cannot are removed.

It’s the city’s first not-for-profit, pay-what-you-can restaurant, offering tasty, wholesome meals to all in the community.

Diners can select one of two rotating three-course meals from a streamlined menu—caprese-inspired chopped salad, flavorful lemon roast chicken with pasta, sorbet with fruit for dessert and a hot cup of tea, for example—but when the check comes, diners decide what they can pay: the suggested price of $15, or more, or less, or nothing at all.

EAT Café wasn’t just conceived as a place where those unable to buy food might be able to get a healthy meal. The concept offers the same experience for everyone, combining a welcoming, community-driven ethos with touches that echo trends  that diners might see at the city’s cutting-edge BYOs and fast-casual restaurants, like a menu that’s updated every week based on what’s in season and a no-tipping policy, since all staff are paid a higher than average hourly wage.

The café is the culmination of a years-long collaboration of Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, the university’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, Vetri Community Partnership and the greater West Philly community.

“The idea is to minimize hunger,” said April Thompson-Harris, a Powelton Village resident and a member of the project’s Community Advisory Committee. “You have those who can afford [to eat] and those that can’t. If you’re able to pay the suggested price, that’s great. If you’re economically unable to, it’s perfectly fine. They designed [the restaurant] in this way for comfort, ease and community, and [so we can] grow together.”

The service, the food and even the end-of-meal transaction that usually occurs are designed to be the same for all diners, paying and nonpaying. In this way, EAT Café offers an experience that creates community by encouraging diners who can pay full price (or more) to do so to support the concept, while diners who can only pay less than full price or not at all can enjoy a healthy meal in a beautiful space side by side with other diners.

General Manager Donnell Jones-Craven, a food industry veteran whose culinary career has included fine dining, specialty catering and upscale hotels, joined the project in 2014 and has worked with project partners to bring EAT Café from an idea to a brick-and-mortar space to open for business.

“I'm really excited about getting open and working with my staff and just making our hospitality and our customer service stand out—then the food comes after that,” Jones-Craven said just before the café’s opening in late October.

The food that EAT Café serves comes from a combination of donations from grocers, bakeries and other food businesses as well as purchases from purveyors. It’s important to Jones-Craven to build relationships with mission-aligned organizations and businesses, and to source food produced within 200 miles of Philadelphia, including urban growers, whenever possible.

“We’ll be utilizing purveyors that are sensitive and passionate about what we’re doing, who want to join our cause, as well as local community gardens [and] local grocery stores,” says Jones-Craven. They’ve received donations from businesses like Giant supermarket in Wynnewood and Metropolitan Bakery’s Rittenhouse location, among others.

EAT Café’s menu, which is posted online each week, will change seasonally and based on which ingredients have been donated. While selections are limited—initial menus included two appetizer and dessert choices and three entrée options—the kitchen is able to accommodate for dietary restrictions and food allergies.

Waste not, want not
Even as a large percentage of our country goes hungry, we’re still throwing out an awful lot of food. That’s why Megha Kulshreshtha set out to reduce food waste and feed hungry people. Food Connect, the program she’s been developing since 2014, does both.

As the Indian-American child of immigrants growing up in a New Jersey home where food was never wasted and resources were sometimes scarce, it felt natural to Kulshreshtha, who is now a real estate investor, to find a way to give back. In her case, that meant working nights and weekends to develop a solution to food waste and food insecurity: a way to connect excess prepared food with those who could most use it in a manner that’s timely, convenient  and safe.

Food waste is a big problem—and not just because unused food could be used to feed those who don’t have enough. Food waste uses other resources on a large scale: According to ReFED, an alliance of advocates, funders and government agencies dedicated to reducing food waste and its negative impacts, the $218 billion worth of U.S. food wasted each year consumes 21 percent of all fresh water, 19 percent of all fertilizer, 21 percent of landfill volume and 18 percent of cropland.

In response, some supermarket chains have started marketing “ugly” produce, like misshapen carrots, that would otherwise go to waste. Other programs, like Hungry Harvest, which recently began serving the Philadelphia market, aggregate this produce into affordable, CSA-style subscription boxes priced at 20 to 30 percent less than supermarket produce and delivered straight to customers’ homes.

Food Connect intervenes at the food service level, rescuing uneaten but perfectly good food from the waste stream. Restaurants, dining halls and other food service operations with excess food—say, trays of lasagna from a college cafeteria or unserved bowls of salad from a catered wedding—can use Food Connect’s app to schedule pickups. Volunteer drivers are dispatched to pick up donations and bring them straight to the food pantries, shelters and other institutions that distribute food to those who need it.

In its first 30 months, Food Connect donated 6,000 meals—not bad for an all-volunteer organization recording transactions by hand on paper.

“I didn’t want to build [technology] until I knew exactly where the pain point was,” says Kulshreshtha, who has so far funded the all-volunteer program out of pocket. Logistics—how the food would get from donor to recipient promptly—was a big one.

“We addressed that [bottleneck] by leveraging existing resources and efforts in our city,” Kulshreshtha says. “That’s where that Philly spirit comes in, and we really saw that play out during the DNC.”

Food Connect had the technology, but it didn’t have the resources to rescue food at the 50,000-person event in July. Partnering with other hunger relief programs, which already have vehicles and drivers on the road, was key to increasing the program’s capacity in time for the convention. Working with mission-aligned organizations, Kulshreshtha was able to dispatch, say, a Philabundance truck to pick up and deliver a big donation, while a small army of volunteers from around the city helped ferry pickups from smaller-scale businesses.

“What you saw happening was a coming together of all of these different efforts,” she said. “We were able to do this really fast because we didn’t have to do it all ourselves. It really was a team effort.”

That scaling up made possible by the app has made a big difference in Food Connect’s impact. Since the convention, approximately 50,000 meals have been rescued and donated to organizations feeding Philadelphians in need. And the event inspired some big players in Philly food service such as Garces Group Catering, Starr Catering and Temple University’s dining halls to sign up and use the service to donate surplus.

Food Connect’s next phase, Kulshreshtha hopes, is to raise funds to secure the program in Philadelphia; other cities have also expressed interest in a similar model. “Now that we see that there’s real demand for all of this, [our goal] is keeping up with that demand,” she said. “[Donors] are really excited to have this option in a safe and efficient way.”

A growing problem, with threats looming
These programs give cause for hope, but their efficacy is limited by the sheer scale of the problem of food poverty and food insecurity. In the background of rising numbers on both fronts, the specter of federal funding cuts looms, particularly given the results of the presidential election and conservative sentiment about entitlement programs.

“In Philadelphia, if you look at the number of young kids in poverty, that number actually went up [in 2016],” says Kate Scully, policy director at Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, which focuses on studying and mitigating the impact of hunger on very young children. The problem of hunger is nested within the problem of poverty—not making enough money to meet your and your family’s basic needs.

“Hunger doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Scully said. “When kids are food insecure, they’re often energy insecure, housing insecure.”

This increase is echoed in poverty levels in the city overall. "Even with the household income increasing slightly, the poverty level [in our city] remains around 26 percent,” says Tom Mahon, communications director at GPCAH.

One in four Philadelphians live at or below the poverty line, which the federal government defines as an annual income of $24,300 for a family of four—far below a living wage just about anywhere, let alone in a major metropolitan area.

Twelve percent of the city’s population—that’s around 183,000 people, according to 2013 census data—live in deep poverty, defined as income at 50 percent of the poverty level or less. That’s $12,150 to provide food, clothing and housing for a family of four.

What’s more, hunger affects vulnerable and minority populations disproportionately. Thirty-six percent of children and 6 percent of seniors in Philadelphia fit the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition of “food insecure,” according to data from GPCAH.

Hunger affects black (18 percent) and Latino (25 percent) populations more than whites (14 percent), and food insecure people are 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to require mental health services than those who have enough to eat, GPCAH data show. And because of the lack of access to fresh food in many low-income neighborhoods, food insecure people are at higher risk of obesity-related health issues.

While the city has struggled with poverty and food insecurity for the past several decades, the recent recession made things much worse.

“There are plenty of people above the poverty line who still struggle,” said Kathy Fisher, policy director at GPCAH. “Even as unemployment has dropped, there are a lot of jobs that don’t pay very well and don’t provide full-time hours. There are plenty of people who would love to be working full time, but they’re scheduled for 20 or 25 hours a week.” And low-paying jobs in the service industry, for example, often have schedules that change frequently, which can make securing a second job or other paying work impossible.

An increase in the minimum wage, Fisher says, would be a huge step toward ending hunger and poverty in Philadelphia; similar initiatives in other states have been effective in reducing poverty.

To put all these numbers in perspective, it helps to see what the situation looks like on the ground to organizations fighting food insecurity.

Share Food Program distributes emergency food to food pantries; in 2015, more than 500 volunteer-led food pantries in Philadelphia County alone received emergency food donations from Share totaling nearly 25 million pounds of food. The organization also partners with community groups such as churches and senior centers to provide families and individuals with monthly food packages, which include such items as fresh fruit, frozen poultry or fish, eggs, packaged foods and canned vegetables. They are offered at a low cost, and Share requires that recipients put in two hours of volunteer time in exchange for the package.

Despite Share’s significant service area and impact—in addition to its home base of Philadelphia, Share offers distribution points in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and metro New York—the number of families seeking the organization’s services just keeps growing.

Share saw a 31.4 percent increase in the number of low-income individuals its programs serve each month between 2011 and 2015. An average of 150 families patronize the food cupboards that Share supports during distributions, often overwhelming programs that are run out of small neighborhood churches or community hubs.

“The biggest challenge is having enough resources to provide food to the ever increasing number of food cupboards and the people they serve,” says Steveanna Wynn, the organization’s executive director.

The specter of further cuts to the social safety net and other policies that negatively affect low-income and marginalized populations would put further strain on resources already spread thin.

Wynn says it’s too soon to say how the impending Trump administration’s policies might affect the ability of local and state governments and advocacy organizations to support those who are food insecure.

“Everyone in the community will need to be part of the solution in making sure people have food to eat,” Wynn says. “It is a basic right, and in 2016, it is a shame we are still having this discussion.” Wynn and her fellow advocates “plan to be vigilant on the legislative front and increase advocacy and education to legislators and families as needed.”

At the same time, she says, “We are trying not to react to what we do not know. So much depends on the reauthorization of the Farm Bill [which includes SNAP legislation] and child nutrition program.”

SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the new name for what many know as “food stamps,” and advocates maintain that it’s a critical piece.  

“SNAP is the number one defense against hunger in America,” says Fisher. One in seven Americans receives benefits, with that ratio even higher in poorer states.

Streamlining the application process for SNAP and making it easier for those in need to keep their benefits would also help; the city has set up BenePhilly centers to offer this kind of support.

Even with organizations like GPCAH helping approximately 5,000 individuals each year to navigate the arduous process of applying for SNAP, the program has less power to mitigate the effects of poverty than it used to. According to a 2016 report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, recent budget cuts have reduced benefits for many recipients, and seniors have been hardest hit. Time limits implemented at the federal level have reduced or eliminated benefits for able-bodied, low-income adults without children, many of whom do not qualify for other forms of assistance.

According to the Office of Sustainability’s 2016 Greenworks report, one in three Philadelphians receives SNAP benefits, but one out of every 10 Philadelphians qualifies for benefits and does not receive them—only 73 percent of eligible households in the city are currently enrolled in the program.

“There’s still quite a bit of stigma, especially among seniors, [around] participation in the SNAP program,” Fisher said. Getting the word out about existing programs like free school breakfasts, which have a high rate of use at some schools with food insecure students but not others, she said, will have a positive impact.

‘It’s OK to ask for a little help’
According to GPCAH’s Mahon, a lot of the challenges around mitigating the effects of hunger on Philadelphians in need are due to a stigma that still exists around seeking assistance, whether from a neighborhood food pantry or through SNAP.

“This is a problem that affects so many people,” Mahon said. “Almost 500,000 in Philadelphia alone receive SNAP benefits. I think people, when they are in this situation, get the sense that they’re all alone, and we’re trying to reach out to them and say, listen: There are countless other people that are facing similar issues, and we’re here to provide resources and let you know that you’re not in this alone."

That’s why Melanie Hudson is spreading the word that everyone goes through challenges, and there should be no shame attached if you need support.

“Sometimes I look back, when you weigh it out, it’s more hard times than good,” Hudson said. “But my attitude is really good about it, because what’s the alternative to living life and trying to get through it?”  

After looking to Philabundance for support during her hardest times, Hudson says she’s grateful for the opportunity to give back to the organization and her community by working with the organization’s public relations department, which seeks out clients who’d like to share how its support has affected them.

“I was like, ‘What’s the big thing about me standing in line getting food?’” said Hudson of the first time the organization approached her about sharing her story. “Now I see that it’s bigger than that. Philabundance is more than food.”

In this role, Hudson is able to act as an ambassador to those who might be in need but afraid to ask for help, and also as an example of a person served by the program who shows funders and the public what food insecurity really looks like.

“It’s OK to ask for a little help,” she said. “We all need it sometimes. It’s OK.”

A simple soup mix offers homemade comfort to friends and family

The Gift of Good Health

by Anna Herman

There are few things more appreciated than a lovely homemade gift, especially one you can eat or drink.

Hosts and hostesses will welcome a batch of sweet and spiced nuts to put out with drinks, or brandied fruit to accompany dessert. Cooks and non-cooks alike can admire a decorative and practical jar filled with herb vinegar, or a bag of your homegrown dried herbal tea blend. Your office mates or kid’s teachers might appreciate a tin of house-blend cocoa mix. If you are feeling ambitious, you can pack it in a mug along with homemade vanilla marshmallows.

Homemade gifts need not be elaborate, nor time consuming to prepare. In fact, many of the best homemade gifts are more a matter of planning and packaging than actually preparing.

Look for interesting jars, tins, small crates, baskets and bottles throughout the year. Stockpiling containers to repurpose is not just economical, it is environmentally prudent—reusing being even better than recycling. Well-washed used jam jars and tea canisters, as well as freshly purchased tins and canning jars of various sizes, can hold nuts, cocoa, herbed salts or mixes. Most cookware and hardware stores also stock a variety of jars, canisters and tins.

With paper and pen, glue stick and scissors, you can easily personalize your creations. Cloth scraps or decorative paper is an easy way to dress up a jar lid, while tissue paper, wax paper and parchment are helpful for lining tins and boxes for cookies and candies. Store-bought labels and a computer are also great resources for creating gifts that look as good as they taste.

Fewer uses of your credit card this season may not benefit the overall economy, but spending time creatively making and packing your own gifts may turn out to be a gift you give yourself.

Making a Soup-Mix Jar for Gifts

Choose your mix
One of the easiest homemade gifts to make (and use) is your own soup mix blend. Base it around quick-cooking lentils, which come in various shades of orange, red, green, brown and black to make the presentation pop. Alternatively, your soup mix could be light on lentils and instead feature pieces or powder of flavorful dried mushrooms with vegetables and barley. Or, perhaps dried corn and Southwest spices are to your taste. The key is to have grains, beans and veggies that cook relatively quickly and taste good together.

Get your recipe down
For a pint jar, you’ll use approximately 1 cup of lentils, 1/3 cup of barley, 1/3 cup of dried vegetables, 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herbs (a mixture of parsley, savory and/or thyme) and a heaping teaspoon of salt. I also add 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon dried garlic, 1 tablespoon dried onion and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Sometimes I add curry powder or some powdered ginger. Other times an adobo spice blend.

Pack the jar
Find a clear jar with a tight-fitting lid. Layer your mix and be sure to pack the jar full. Bang it on the counter gently to allow ingredients to settle, then top it up so there is no gap between the ingredients and the lid. This ensures the layers don’t shift and a more professional look.

Test a sample jar
I generally suggest one jar of mix to five jars of water. Make sure there is sufficient seasoning and salt, and you’ll jump from pretty good to delicious.

Decorate simply
A hang tag with ingredients and instructions need only say “just add water” but you can also wrap ribbons or decorative string around your jar. Your friends and family will be able to make a big pot of tasty, healthful soup in under an hour.

Anna Herman is a garden educator who raises chickens, ducks, bees, fruits and veggies in her Mount Airy backyard.

Publisher's Letter: Reckoning with the Election

by Alex Mulcahy

In the early morning after the election, on that Blackest Wednesday, I sat down to write a sales pitch to Grid advertisers. What came out instead was a letter of gratitude and appreciation to Heather Blakeslee, Grid’s managing editor and the company’s COO.

I sent the letter, and a torrent of emails flooded my inbox. Many of the respondents were women, many of whom wrote only two words: Thank you.

Some, however, challenged what was perceived to be the email’s implicit assertion that Hillary Clinton lost because she is a woman. Perhaps it was an important factor, readers argued, but not the reason. I agree.

Below is the email I sent, and a few of the many thoughtful responses we received.

But first… Now seems a good time to announce that a capable woman with an impressive resume will officially be at the helm of Grid. Effective immediately, Heather Blakeslee will assume the role of Grid’s editor-in-chief. I will, meanwhile, focus on ad sales and business development.

And finally, Heather did come to work on that Blackest Wednesday. There is no quit in that woman.

Alex Mulcahy, Publisher

My Right Hand Man is a Woman
Two years ago, almost to the day, I hired Heather Blakeslee, easily my best hiring decision in the last 10 years. Her position initially was not clearly specified—typical of the loose ship I was running—but soon we decided she would be COO of the company. Immediately, we began to act more like a business. Her spreadsheets and plans replaced my whims and impulses. She patiently listened (and listens) to my half-baked ideas, nodding her head with a Mona Lisa smile, before informing me, yet again, that we can’t make any decisions until we run the numbers.
If you’ve noticed the dramatic improvement in Grid’s editorial during this same period of time, know that it isn’t a coincidence. While she’s been dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on all functions of business, she’s also been making Grid’s content more sophisticated and political. It looks better, too; in addition to being a wordsmith with good business instincts, she also possesses a strong visual sensibility. (In her spare time, she plays guitar, writes songs for her band and is learning the cello.)
I doubt she’s coming to work today. I think it’s more likely she will be curled up in a ball in bed, crying, swearing, scouring the internet trying to find an article that will make sense out of today’s headlines. She will find none.
I know elections and candidates are complex things to analyze and dissect, but there is a bottom-line truth that can’t be denied: An experienced, competent woman lost to an under-qualified, and potentially dangerous, man.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and my heart aches for every woman who thought her moment had arrived. It isn’t our elections that are rigged; our society is rigged. And it’s rigged against women.
Sorry, Heather.
Alex Mulcahy

Readers Respond

‘...Bigger than the reactionary wave that led to World War II’
Hello Alex,

Your email was possibly the first reaction I saw after the election, and I thank you for it. In the shock and dismay that followed this election, I find it amazing that you wrote a coherent and empathetic email, when most people were just trying to catch their breath.

I interpreted your email as attributing Hillary Clinton’s defeat to misogyny. Unfortunately, I wished it were that simple. Her defeat is the result of the combination of what I think is the largest reactionary movement in human history. There is no question in my mind that the failure of the U.S. government, and of the Democrats in particular, is to have totally ignored the needs for reassurance and economic safety of the people left behind by the high-tech economy. In my opinion, this reactionary wave is bigger than the reactionary wave that led to World War II. This is a combination of racism, bigotry,  homophobia, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, anti-immigration, anti-globalization and climate-change/global-warming denying—all that mixed together. Reducing this movement to one single component is masking the size of this reaction.

The true question for me has been: How is it that I respond to this new political environment we are in? I decided that my

No. 1 priority is to reinforce the community of people sharing the belief that individuals of all colors and creed matter, and global warming is real and needs to be addressed.

The outcome of the presidential elections of 2016 calls in question Grid’s resolve to expose destructive environmental behaviors in the Philadelphia region and promote positions and behaviors that will reduce global warming. I look forward to discovering the response that you and Grid’s staff will construct.

Warm Regards,
Jacques Sapriel

What we sweep under the rug every day

Love this. Thank you, Alex, for acknowledging what we sweep under the rug each day and are now confronted with in such stark light.

The prejudices run deeper than any of us wanted to acknowledge but we have to call it like it is, daily.

Jenn Rezelli

‘We will have a woman soon, it’s inevitable’
Hi Alex,

I’m a big Grid supporter and like the trending of the magazine.

I campaigned for Bernie in North Philly, and he lost the Democratic primary in part because the Democratic National Committee (DNC) machine had Hillary insiders tilting the playing field against him. Debbie Wasserman Schultz led that effort, and when it became public she was yanked from leadership of the DNC, and then Hillary gave her a job.

After Bernie lost the primary, I campaigned for Hillary and went to work trying to convince millennials why they should vote Hillary and not Green Party. It didn’t work. 55 percent of millennials (18–29) voted for Clinton, and we needed 75 percent.

As an “experienced, competent woman” I agree with you that she “lost to an under-qualified” and potentially dangerous man. In my view it was because of cultural misogyny and because she allied herself with Wall Street and corporate interests (including oil and gas) and the perpetual warfare economy at a time when, for the last 30 years, impoverished people all across the central region of the country have been screaming for “change.” Most of those people are white, but some are black. [Clinton] spent $556 million to Trump’s $248 million. She tried to be more progressive and populist, adopting the $15/hour minimum wage and changing her position on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it was too late—she’d already staked out earlier positions to toe the line with corporate America and was painted as an “I’ll do anything to win” candidate.

It’s not all gender. If she were a man, though, she probably would have won. We will have a woman soon, it’s inevitable.

I cried this morning when Hillary gave her gratitude speech to her campaign workers, thinking of what an opportunity has been lost, at how smart and gracious and committed she is.

I have been doing this type of progressive support for a very long time. These losses are disappointing. Losing hurts.

You are not alone. We will get there.

Keep the faith,
Kip Leitner

‘It has always been up to us, the little guys, to take action’

Decades ago we thought President Johnson would destroy our entire generation. Then we thought Nixon was the scariest thug in the basement. Then we thought Reagan would blow up the world. Then we thought Bush Sr. (head of the CIA) would put us all in jail. Then we thought George W. would drag us into hell.

All these Republicans, and the Democrats in between, caused great damage. To the environment. To the Constitution. To the middle class. To the poor. To other nations.

Many have regarded Trump as Godzilla, trampling everything good. But regardless who is elected, the military is unleashed. The prisons boom. The cities bust.

Today Trump gains official authority, but he’s surrounded by a Congress full of millionaires and lobbyists. These jokers serve the money machine, regardless of what happens to your community. They foreclose our homes, jack up medical insurance rates, send our jobs overseas, poison our food and water, send our youth to war and jail.

So Trump will be pressured to feed that machine. Keeping him on track is up to us, starting where we live. Our revolution emerges without waiting for presidents. It has always been up to us, the little guys, to take action to prove there are healthy alternatives to corporate power. We will build locally what we desire. Practical revolutions in food, fuel, housing, health care, policing, transportation, education, finance.

Paul Glover

‘We will all make it through, slowly but surely’
Hi Alex,

Thank you for this. I really appreciate and admire the fact that you are using Grid’s voice to support Heather and women in Philadelphia.

Heather, I am feeling your pain and frustrations today, too. As I told my team, our president may have changed, but the people and issues we care about have not. We will all make it through, slowly but surely.

Thanks again for this, Alex. I’m happy to see another local Philly company stepping up when we need it most.

Melissa Lee

‘Being judged… because we are women is something we face on a consistent basis.’
Hi Alex,

As a woman leader, thank you for sending this email. Being judged... because we are women—is something we face on a consistent basis. It is frustrating, and today is indeed a sad day. I’m with Heather and you, and hope we can make a difference and a path forward together.

All the best,
Andrea Hackman

‘I had just been thinking about how women in the workplace would fare today’
Dear Alex,

Thank you for taking the time out of this difficult and discouraging day to write and distribute this thoughtful, encouraging letter.

I had just been thinking about how women in the workplace would fare today and going forward from this election, and your letter provided a glimmer of hope that the gains we’ve made in the last decades won’t be completely erased, if intelligent people work together in appreciation of experience, skill, diversity and talent.

May you and Grid magazine thrive in the spirit of enlightenment.

All the best,
Mary Gilman


Our values will light the way in the dark

After Midnight

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

At a time of year when we hope to reflect on what is most important to us in our families, communities and within ourselves, we’re being confronted with just how wrong things can go when we aren’t vigilant about our values every day of the year.   

After a gut-wrenching election, we watch as President-elect Donald Trump stocks his Cabinet with spoiled meat and rotten apples, a veritable rogues’ gallery as unfit to lead as he is. And while I’m worried about the gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, I’m more worried about something closer to home: the possibility that friends of mine, in the harsh spotlight of this new regime, won’t make it home to their porch light one night.

Violence spiked everywhere in the country in the days after the election, and where I live in South Philadelphia, swastikas were painted on storefronts, revelers at a street party threw glass bottles at a gay man as he walked home, and “Trump” and “black bitch” were spray painted on a woman’s white SUV. At the University of Pennsylvania, all black freshmen were added to a social media group called “Nigger Lynching,” an act that the FBI is still investigating. 

When Trump turned to the “60 Minutes” camera and told supporters who were committing hate crimes in his name to “Stop it. Just stop it,” it was a little too late. It was like watching a malevolent babysitter—amid the din of destruction—whisper that it was bedtime after pumping the kids full of caffeine and candy, giving them power tools and telling them there were no rules anymore.

It’s only partially a metaphor. Our children are listening to what has been going on. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that acts of intimidation and violence spiked after Trump’s win, and fully 40 percent have been committed at K-12 schools and at colleges and universities. Kids have told their classmates that they should be deported, that they should be out picking cotton and much, much worse. 

In light of that fact, I’m going to suggest that—in addition to really owning that some of us are protected by our skin color, sexual orientation, gender or money, and resolving to give time and money to the causes that reflect our values—we should also make a pledge to talk to the kids in our lives.

A teacher and students from my own high school in central Pennsylvania have just asked for my guidance to set up a student group dedicated to supporting vulnerable kids and community members. That gives me hope.

Teaching this period of our history in real time will be no mere civics lesson on how the political mood of the country swings left and right. We must help them understand that this isn’t normal, and that they have a role to play in keeping the people around them safe. If we’re going to give our kids power tools, let them be in the service of dismantling the racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia that undergird our society. 

Three values were clear in my house growing up: Work for what you want, treat everyone with respect, and stand up for the people who need your help; we needed few rules as a result. As kids, we could stay up as long as we wanted as long as we were good. As teenagers, we had no curfew, and we were expected to conduct ourselves in the same way before and after midnight. 

It’s after midnight now, and it feels very dark. In what feels like the absence of rules, I am depending on those values to light the way.

Choosing love and kindness in the wake of the election

Illustration by Herbie Hickmott

Illustration by Herbie Hickmott

The Morning After

by Lucy Vernasco

By 4:15 p.m., our only trace left in the Ardmore, Pennsylvania, Clinton campaign office was the 3-foot-tall “H” drawn on the chalkboard behind the counter.

It was the week after the election, and our phone-banking card tables were in their final resting places in the former café’s basement alongside chairs, clipboards and Clinton-Kaine signs. The realness struck me in a way it hadn’t before, and I really questioned whether the place had ever been a campaign office at all.

As a member of Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania team, I can say that Nov. 9, 2016, was one of the worst days of my life.

I’m devastated, not only because we didn’t elect Hillary, but because hate and anger won. Since the election, my grief has transferred from numbness to hopelessness and depression. Now? I’m angry. I’m also worried that complacency is beginning to spread and Americans are going to accept the president-elect as “normal.” But acceptance will only set us back further.

This election has put things in perspective for me. It’s taught me that even though most Americans voted to continue a progressive movement with Hillary Clinton, there are many voters who feel disenfranchised and left behind who made their voices heard by voting for the president-elect. If we really do want to continue the progress we’ve made, we need to reach out to Trump voters, listen to their perspectives and stories, and learn why they feel the way they do.

Despite my initial anguish, I’m not dashing away to Canada, escaping back to the liberal bubble of San Francisco or off to work in a fluorescent-lit office in Manhattan. I’m staying right here in Philadelphia to continue the work we started, to protect our most vulnerable from the president-elect’s policies and to support local progressive candidates.

In that spirit, just days after the election, I attended a breakfast at the Urban Affairs Coalition with a friend and fellow activist. The theme of the event was, fittingly, “Where do we go from here—chaos or community?”

We all have choices to make right now about how we move forward. In the past week I’ve received messages from friends and acquaintances asking what they can do or, more often, saying, “I don’t know what to do.”

I’m going to hold on to the fact that Nov. 8, 2016, was one of the best days of my life.

I nearly skipped down Broad Street before casting my ballot, and I had more butterflies rustling in my stomach than during my date the previous week. Never before has a woman’s name appeared in bold font on a major party’s ticket. Despite the results, casting my ballot for the first woman president made history. Nobody can take that hope and glee away from me and from everyone else who cast a historic vote for a platform of progress.

Anytime I do feel despair, I look at the Hillary Clinton poster in my room that says, “When you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.” Hillary wouldn’t want us to spend our days sulking. She would encourage us to get back into our communities, support our most vulnerable and find the courage to “do the most good.” Hillary would want us to organize and to fight back—not with violence but with love and kindness.

Lucy Vernasco was the Pennsylvania deputy digital director at Hillary for America.

Congress should reauthorize funding to help feed our hungry and poor. But you can do your part, too

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Sharing Our Plenty

by The Coalition Against Hunger

Following a bitter and contentious election, family gatherings will no doubt meander through, or completely around, treacherous topics this holiday. Some will avoid political discussions all together, some will commiserate, others celebrate. However, we hope that the holidays will be a time of healing where families focus on the love they share, rather than their differences. It’s a time for us to be thankful for all we have in our lives—our families, friends and good health included.

No matter your faith or culture, food features prominently in our traditions. As you enjoy the abundance that accompanies the season, we ask you to remember that simply having enough food is a blessing—and a tremendous struggle for many families in our region and across the country.

If we hope to eliminate hunger, we will need to ensure that our federal safety net, in the form of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), stays in place, and that we remain vigilant and generous at the community level—the scope and complexity of the problem is hard to comprehend.

The reality is that nearly 600,000 individuals in our region, our neighbors, seniors and children, don’t have access to the food they need on a regular basis. Hunger is a year-round, nonpartisan issue that affects every demographic in every region across rural, suburban and urban communities.

Children in food insecure households are more likely to incur lower nutrient intake, greater cognitive problems, higher levels of aggression and anxiety, higher probabilities of being hospitalized, poorer general health, higher rates of asthma and anemia, higher probabilities of behavioral problems, and they are at greater risk of childhood obesity. Food insecure adults are more likely to have long-term physical health problems, higher levels of chronic disease, diabetes, hypertension and higher levels of depression.

Chronic health conditions not only create additional medical costs, but often can limit a person’s ability to work and thereby lessen earnings, forcing people to choose among medication, food and other household expenses—kicking off a stressful cycle where,  all too often, health conditions worsen and nutritious foods are more out of reach.

The half a million hungry residents in our five county region rely both on the federally funded SNAP benefits and our extensive informal network of more than 800 food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency food providers. For some pantry guests, their SNAP has run out, for others they may simply have a bit too much income to qualify for federal benefits but still struggle to make ends meet.

Despite the exemplary work and unwavering dedication and grit of these mostly volunteer-run emergency food pantries, it is not enough to meet the needs of their communities.

In fact, the Coalition Against Hunger’s 2015 Emergency Food Provider Survey found that 90 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens reported running out of food or having to provide less food at some point last year. Food shortages are driven by increased demand, and feeding programs have not experienced a lessening of the need that had grown out of the recession.

We anticipate an even more challenging environment in the coming year.

For those of us working in partnership with low-income communities, it’s too soon to know exactly how the new Congress will approach reauthorization of the Farm Bill (the behemoth law that governs SNAP, emergency food assistance, farm subsidies and more), but we’d be fools to not be concerned.

SNAP is a huge program, precisely because it responds directly to the very real and large problem of hunger in America. As such, it has a large price tag and routinely carries a bull’s-eye for lawmakers who want to cut spending. But cuts to SNAP would be counterproductive. If anything, families who face hunger need greater support.

Nearly everyone—including lawmakers on both sides of the aisle—agrees that no one should go hungry in America. And while we don’t know what exactly will happen with the Farm Bill, there are meaningful ways to get involved locally in the meantime.

Make a resolution to fight hunger in the New Year by volunteering at a local soup kitchen, hold a healthy food drive at your school or business to benefit a neighborhood food pantry, and donate to help support work that fights hunger.

You can also talk to your elected officials about hunger. Tell them you care about our neighbors facing hunger and not to cut SNAP or crucial funding for food banks. Visit hungercoalition.org/advocacy and sign up to receive our Advocacy Alerts, especially surrounding the Farm Bill as it moves through Congress. We will keep you informed and help to make sense of things as they unfold throughout 2017.

We will be donating food forever, unless we come together now to protect valuable programs that support our neighbors, family and friends who face hunger.

The Coalition Against Hunger has worked to create a just and equitable society for over two decades. If you or someone you know needs help, visit hungercoalition.org or call their hotline at 215-430-0556.


Chickpeas aren’t the only option for homemade hummus

Beautiful Beets

by Peggy Paul Casella

The beet plant is an ancient member of the chenopod or goosefoot family of vegetables, along with chard and spinach, and its leaves are similar in taste and texture to that of its relatives. In fact, the greens—not the sweet red root we think of when we think of beets—were the first part to be widely consumed. It wasn’t until the time of ancient Rome that people began cultivating the plant for its bulbous root. Over time, the vegetable’s natural sweetness was recognized, and eventually it became a staple in cuisines across the world and was even cultivated to produce sugar.

These days, there are three main varieties of beets available for consumption: red, yellow and chioggia (or candy stripe). Their rich, jewel-tone colors offer much more than visual appeal: The purplish-red and golden pigments come from powerful phytonutrients that may aid in overall nervous system health, boost the immune response and help the body ward off certain types of cancer. You can find beets at the market all year round, and as temperatures drop, this brightly hued, sweet, warming vegetable is just the thing to add some vibrancy to your winter cooking repertoire.

Sadly, you won’t have much luck finding bunched beets with their tops during the winter months, so instead look for bulbous roots that are very firm and deep in color with smooth, unblemished skin. They will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about three weeks.

Beet Hummus Dip
Makes about 2 cups

  • 3 medium beets (not peeled)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves (not peeled)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Scrub the beets and place them on a piece of aluminum foil, along with the garlic cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap tightly in the foil, creating a sealed packet, then roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beets are easily pierced with a knife. Remove the packet from the oven, open it very carefully, and let the beets and garlic cool to room temperature.
  2. Peel and chop the beets and squeeze the roasted garlic cloves from their skins. Place the chopped beets and garlic in the bowl of a food processor, along with the tahini, lemon juice, cumin, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Purée until smooth, then taste and add more salt and pepper as desired.
  3. Serve right away, or for a more intense flavor, let the hummus sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Store the hummus in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.

Peggy Paul Casella is a cookbook editor, writer, urban vegetable gardener, produce peddler and author of the blog Thursday Night Pizza.

December: To-Do List

Illustration by Chris Bernhardt

Illustration by Chris Bernhardt

1. Cope with the election
If you’re concerned about November’s election results, volunteer time or donate to organizations that reflect your values. Voting is one day—the real work begins now.

2. Donate winter clothing
As cold weather sets in, clothing drives and shelters will be grateful to receive garments
from the back of your closet that can help keep someone warm.

3. Take a walk in the neighborhood 
It’s worth strolling in the cold to see your neighbors’ decoration prowess, and until Dec. 31, Franklin Square has a Holiday Festival & Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show.

4. Celebrate with your neighbors
Winter festivals have a different sort of charm than their summer counterparts: Hot cider, crackling fires and hearty menus set the mood. The Hazon Philadelphia Jewish Food Festival will be at Rodeph Shalom on Dec. 11, and both of Greensgrow Farms locations will host music and activities during the Subaru Arctic Blast on the first two weekends of December.

5. Save time for self-care
In addition to a brutal election season, winter can be just plain hard. Make yourself a January appointment now for a great massage, or find a meditation center where you can find peace
of mind. See listings on Page 46.

6. Laugh a little with a new favorite holiday movie
OK, so we’re all going to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” again. But what about less popular holiday movies? “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” sounds promising, as does the “Star Wars Holiday Special,” featuring Chewbacca’s son Lumpy and a cameo by Bea Arthur. And don’t miss “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas”—a Jim Henson spin on an O. Henry classic.

7. Enjoy some winter bulbs 
If you don’t have room for a ton of holiday decorations, a single $5 amaryllis bulb, which will grow up to 3 feet high and have a large, gorgeous bloom or two, can really brighten a room. Paperwhites are another choice that will bloom indoors and give you a little solace as the winter sets in.

8. Change out your screens for storm windows
We know this is still lurking on your energy efficiency to-do list, even though November would have been a better time. Get that weather stripping up, too!

9. Read a great book
If you’re fortunate enough to get some substantial time off work this season, cozy up under a blanket and finish something on that ever-growing reading list. Facebook can wait.

10. Find unique gifts from local makers 
Check out the events on Page 58 for holiday markets selling work by artists and crafters from the area. The Clay Studio will hold craft demonstrations Dec. 10, Germantown Kitchen Garden will showcase handmade goods Dec. 10 and 11, and Go West Craft Fest returns Dec. 18.

December: Comings & Goings


Public Pushes Back on Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority Board of Directors voted to reject a proposal from Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) that would have used the terminal to expand the South Philadelphia oil refinery. Instead, the board chose to invest $300 million in a proposal from Liberty Property Trust for a shipping container development slated to produced 2,000 direct port jobs. The vote comes after a sustained campaign by Philly Thrive and other advocacy groups citing health, safety and economic sustainability concerns of expanding PES operations.

The PennEast Pipeline has been delayed after a route change. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in November opened a 30-day comment period from environmental organizations concerned that the pipeline would damage the Delaware River and other waterways. The New Jersey Sierra Club has been asking FERC to deny PennEast’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement—a requirement through the Department of Environmental Protection for major projects—due to incomplete details and PennEast’s inability to prove it qualifies for necessary construction and operation permits. A review of comments will begin in February 2017.

A proposed natural gas plant at the Midvale Regional Rail depot in Philadelphia will proceed despite vocal opposition from Nicetown residents and advocates of a Fossil Fuel Free SEPTA campaign organized by 350 Philadelphia. The SEPTA board approved the plant at its November meeting as advocates chanted “No vote.” SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel will now either approve or reject the plan. Advocates had demanded a health study, analysis of alternatives, a public hearing and a renewable energy plan.

Green Building Orgs Strike Alliance
The Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) is joining forces with the Greater Philadelphia Passive House Association and the Living Building Challenge Collaborative to create a unified green building organization. Together these groups seek to strengthen the green building movement by working collaboratively on common objectives, sharing resources, and streamlining membership, education and volunteer opportunities.

“While green building has come a long way since DVGBC was formed in 2002, the urgency in creating a healthy, resilient built environment has never been more clear. Buildings are still the single largest and most controllable source of carbon emissions in Philadelphia, and therefore key to local climate mitigation and adaptation strategies,” says Alex Dews, executive director of DVGBC. The newly formed community is focused on advancing green building using all of the tools at their disposal (LEED, Passive House, Living Building Challenge, Energy Star) and will hold an open briefing and meeting Jan. 20, 2017.

William Penn Foundation Pledges $100 Million to City
The William Penn Foundation has made a landmark donation of $100 million to the City of Philadelphia. It’s the largest grant in the foundation’s history, and it will be used to invest in renovations of parks, libraries and recreational centers as part of Mayor Kenney’s Rebuilding Community Infrastructure plan, aka Rebuild. The price tag on the entire seven-year project is $500 million. Other funds for the initiative will come from a recently passed sugary beverage tax, city bonds, private donations, and state and federal funding.

Law to Ban Stores from Charging for Plastic Bags Defeated
In a 112-75 vote in late October, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives rejected HB 1280, which would have barred stores from charging customers for plastic bags at checkout.

Opponents of the bill are trying to introduce a plastic bag fee to Philadelphia City Council in spring to persuade consumers to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and they argued that HB 1280 was a way of coddling the plastic bag manufacturing industry and contributing to more litter and waste.

Bicycle Coalition Petitions for Vision Zero Safety Measures
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP) is seeking 1,000 signatures for its online petition to persuade the city to adopt “vision zero” policies to reduce traffic accidents.

The petition calls for redesigned corridors, a commitment to install 30 or more miles of protected bike lanes, public education about traffic safety and other measures.

BCGP is not affiliated with city government, but it has a seat on Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Task Force, which was approved in November via executive order by Mayor Jim Kenney.

NKCDC Executive Director Retires
Sandy Salzman will retire after 21 years with New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC).

One of the main goals of NKCDC during her tenure was reclaiming the neighborhood’s many vacant lots while garnering community support. A retirement celebration will be held

Dec. 8, and Salzman will remain in her position until a replacement is appointed.

Land Health Institute Receives $15,000 for Urban Revitalization
Land Health Institute, a nonprofit for environmental education and land revitalization, now has the funding to expand its Urban Arboreta project, which began in 2015 with the revitalization of a 3-acre vacant lot across from West Fairmount Park.

$15,000 from the Knight Foundation Donor-Advised Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation will go toward transforming more vacant lots into green space.

South Philly Food Co-op to Open Grocery Store in the New Year
After a three-year search for a location, South Philly Food Co-op will open a 3,400-square-foot grocery store at 2031 S. Juniper St. in 2017. The store will also offer food-education programs once construction is completed by South Philadelphia developer Blake Barabuscio.

South Philly Food Co-op was founded in 2010 and currently has more than 660 member-owner households.

Three co-working spaces for artists

Photo by Marika Mirren

Photo by Marika Mirren

Theatrical Design, Graphic Design, Photography and More

by Brion Shreffler

1. CultureWorks
“Across everything that we’re doing, there’s the idea of a sharing of resources,” Associate Director Liz Sytsma says. As a nonprofit, CultureWorks acts as a management commons for organizations, projects or individuals working in the arts, heritage or preservation sectors. It handles everything from insurance to bookkeeping, legal support, project management and payroll—aspects of business that artists often shy away from—while offering co-working space. Plans are in place to take the model across the country.
Membership rates: From $20 per day for a shared workspace (no conference room access) to $350 per month for unlimited access
Contact: info@cultureworksphila.org

“CultureWorks is full of dynamic artists… They have great events and artwork as well.”
– Lovella Calica, Warrior Writers
Photo by Katie Tackman

Photo by Katie Tackman

2. Gravy Studio & Gallery
Gravy was built by photographers, for photographers, and member Eric Ashleigh says it’s all within the context of vanishing galleries. It puts a collaborative workspace, studio, a recent pop-up shop and—more recently—a dark room at the disposal of budding or seasoned photographers. Aside from providing a physical space to contrast with the digital realm (i.e. Instagram), Gravy partners photographers for projects with local businesses and restaurants on North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties.
Membership rates: Customizable at $100 to $250 per month
Contact: gravy.photo@gmail.com

Photo by Marika Mirren

Photo by Marika Mirren

3. The Philadelphia Design Center
Situated in the old fellowship hall of a church in Grays Ferry, The Philadelphia Design Center provides critical support for emerging theatrical designers and the wider design community. Expensive hardware—sewing machines, steamers, a custom-made cutting table and more—is on hand in its costume/textile shop. The computer lab offers nascent designers access to much-needed and equally pricey software. A lounge and conference area renders coffee shop meetings a thing of the past.
Membership rates: Month-to-month ranges from $25 to $150; one time only, six-month discount pricing ranges from $60 to $105 per month
Contact: info@phillydesigncenter.org

“I like being able to have meetings there instead of at a coffee shop or my house.”
Joshua Schulman, lighting designer

Reaching out to new communities is top priority for city’s sustainability office

Photo by Margo Reed

Photo by Margo Reed

Moving Forward

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

The new approach to Greenworks will be disorienting and disappointing for anyone who was looking for a big reveal on Mayor Kenney’s sustainability priorities. The new version, released in its printed form November 2016 by the Office of Sustainability (OOS), is emblematic of some big shifts in approach.

Gone are the 14 targets with baselines, metrics and goals; in their place are eight aspirational visions, such as “All Philadelphians waste less and keep our neighborhoods clean” and “All Philadelphians are prepared for climate change and reduce carbon pollution.”

But there is still a lot packed into the report. Given the sheer amount of work going on, as well as the number of departments involved, it was a struggle to list initiatives in order of importance, says Christine Knapp, who will lead OOS during the Kenney administration.

“There’s no weighting system we could come up with that we thought was fair,” Knapp says.

The result is a sometimes confusing mashup of task forces, advisory councils, plans and goals listed alphabetically by department underneath each vision. Knapp said she understands that the new format could be frustrating for the policy-and-metrics set, and that OOS is going to continue to work on how to best communicate with multiple audiences now that the printed version of Greenworks has evolved from a policy document to a communications piece directed at the general public. Knapp’s message to people uncomfortable with that shift? Be patient.  

Dialing in to new numbers
In the same 2014 election that propelled Mayor Jim Kenney into office, Philadelphia voters passed 2-1 a ballot measure that made OOS permanent, essentially protecting its existence from the political whims of different mayoral administrations. However, like all city offices, the mayor still has wide latitude when it comes to how it’s staffed, whether budget resources are allocated and how aggressively a sustainability agenda will be pursued. Furthermore, the city’s original Greenworks plan, created under Mayor Michael Nutter, was set to expire at the end of his administration.

So there was widespread approval in the sustainability community when Kenney appointed Knapp, a long-time environmental advocate. (Full disclosure: Knapp is also a personal friend of mine.) There was a further collective sigh of relief when the office was funded at Nutter administration levels.

But the question remained: What would Kenney’s plan be moving forward? How committed is he compared with the Nutter administration?

The original Greenworks plan was created whole cloth under the leadership of inaugural director Mark Alan Hughes and then largely implemented by his successor, Katherine Gajewski; it was a metric-laden piece intended to set and accomplish goals within the time frame of the Nutter administration.

Knapp told an audience at Drexel University in November that some of the numbers in the first plan were too easily achievable, while others were a stretch, and that developing new metrics will be key, even if some of them take decades to accomplish.

She told Grid that OOS hopes to focus on “quality not quantity when it comes to the numbers.”

Part of that approach speaks to another big change in the plan, which is that equity indicators are baked into each of the eight visions instead of existing as a stand alone goal as it did the in the first version of Greenworks, alongside energy, environment, economy and engagement;  a Greenworks Equity Index will guide their work. As an example, Knapp points to tree coverage goals and investments in parks.

“We do want to work with Parks and Recreation on figuring out what the appropriate goal is for new tree planting, but to be smarter about it and not just have a blanket number. If we only planted 50,000 trees, but they were in the neighborhoods that needed them the most, wouldn’t that be more effective for our overall strategy than just saying we were able to plant a lot and then have a bunch of them turn around and die? We’re really trying to be a little bit smarter about the approach that we’re taking, and not just trying to meet numbers for numbers’ sake.”

Another major part of the new strategy is moving the numbers online and keeping them updated regularly.

“We have a new Greenworks dashboard on our website that we only have part of up right now. We’re going to be adding to it over time so that we can update data more frequently... certain information we get regularly, [and now] we don’t have to wait for the annual report to put that information out,” Knapp says.

She also explains that a big structural change in how OOS relates to the rest of the city will help as they work closely with each department to develop goals and benchmarks.

“We’re now part of the Managing Director’s Office, rather than in the Mayor’s Office,” Knapp says. “This has been a really helpful position for us because we’re now among all of the other operating departments and have a common boss and common goals that we work on together. That’s really helped to break down some barriers and give us more access to those departments and to help them figure out what’s in the way—Is it budgetary? Is it information?—and help them overcome those barriers toward implementing the work.”

New audiences
Knapp says the change to moving metrics online and simplifying the printed report was based on community input.

“We heard from a lot of folks when we did our public feedback sessions that the previous Greenworks report was very complicated to the average person,” says Knapp, who is a veteran of soliciting and responding to community input; she led the Next Great City program at PennFuture and coordinated efforts at the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation at the Navy Yard. She also took a turn at the Philadelphia Water Department, where she was deputy chief of staff for the director of government affairs.

If you’re a community member, this report will give you a much better idea of which city departments are doing work toward these visions and what you can do to help.

“This is our first concerted effort to really have an external-facing engagement,” she says. “We’ve never had that in this office before, in part because the priority of the work was really getting it infused into city government and institutionalizing it here.”

As part of that outward-facing shift, Greenworks offers what may seem like remedial tidbits to hardcore advocates (like kicking your bottled water habit), but Knapp wants to get to the large portion of the city’s population who haven’t yet been engaged, rather than continuing to preach to the choir. The real meat of how to change your own behavior or become a better advocate is now online. A new program, Greenworks on the Ground, offers downloadable ideas and resources for each of the eight vision areas, organized by whether you are an individual, community group or institution, along with supportive resources.  

Finally, Knapp also wants to be reassuring when it comes to the recent election results, which she says won’t affect the city’s plans.

“We can really do this work ourselves,” she says. “It does not rely on having that higher-level support. It would be great if we had higher-level policies that would help to drive change. What’s in our control is what’s in our plan, and what we can do ourselves, we are going to continue to do.”

The upshot
There is a lot going on, and the focus on equity across visions is heartening. Advocates will have to wait for further serious plans and more metrics. Some reports are out, such as the climate-resilience-focused Growing Stronger plan and the water department’s internationally lauded Green City, Clean Waters effort. But other big-impact initiatives are forthcoming, such as the Energy Master Plan and the Transportation Master Plan. Following are Knapp’s picks for pieces of Greenworks that will have a big impact on our future as a sustainable city.

Greenworks 2016 Highlights

Food & Water

“All Philadelphians have access to healthy, affordable, and sustainable food and drinking water.”

First metric
The Greenworks report highlights the massive problem of food insecurity in Philadelphia, and its first metric is to track the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) participants who buy food at farmers markets.

In the works
A Shared Food Metric developed with the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council and others that will better track whether more Philadelphians are getting access to healthful food. The city itself is also a big purchaser of goods, and plans are in the works to increase procurement of “healthy, fair, sustainably sourced food from locally owned businesses.”


“All Philadelphians waste less and keep our neighborhoods clean.”

First metric
Although population has increased, as has construction—notorious for creating the bulk of waste in landfills—our overall waste production is down, and the city wants to track that trend.

In the works
The approach here seems to be to take seriously the concept that “reduce” comes before “recycle,” and that litter is a perennial problem in the city that ranks high on neighborhood-level quality-of-life surveys. The city will create a Solid Waste Plan and a Zero Waste Plan and Task Force.


“All Philadelphians have access to safe, affordable, and low carbon transportation.”

First metric
A majority of Philadelphians drive themselves to work, but an increasing number are walking, biking and using public transit, and the city wants to see that number continue to trend upward.

In the works
A cross-departmental Transportation Master Plan that takes into account effects of climate change, community health and racial equity in access to transportation is the keystone of this piece of Greenworks. Also listed in the report are an expansion of the Indego bike share program, investments in the trail system and an update to SEPTA’s sustainability plan.

Air Quality

“All Philadelphians breathe healthy air inside and outside.”

First metric
Outperforming the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index standard for cities.

In the works
The air inside our homes can be terrible: Before we add mold, cigarette fumes and toxic releases from everything from new furniture to cleaning products, the air we take in from outside is already compromised. We’ll be finding out just how bad it is with an official street-level Air Monitoring Survey and developing ways to cut down on emissions from city vehicles through an alternative fuel vehicle study.


“All Philadelphians efficiently use clean energy that they can afford.”

First metric
The city is tracking energy use in relation to weather to ensure that there is actually a downward trend even during warm winters.

In the works
Efficiency standards will be built into one of Mayor Kenney’s signature programs, Rebuild, which will invest heavily across all neighborhoods in rebuilding parks, rec centers and libraries. Also in the works is an Energy Master Plan, which will analyze the myriad social, economic and environmental benefits of citywide energy policies, a project that dovetails with the Philadelphia Energy Authority’s Philadelphia Energy Campaign, which expects to spur $1 billion in investments over 10 years in energy efficiency projects and solar installation.

Climate Change

“All Philadelphians are prepared for climate change and reduce carbon pollution.”

First metric
The trend is downward when it comes to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, and Mayor Kenney has set a goal of reducing carbon pollution 80 percent by 2050.

In the works
We’ll be moving into the implementation phase of the report, Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate Ready Philadelphia, which outlines the risks of climate change as they relate to major city departments such as Public Property, Public Health and the Office of Emergency Management.

Natural Resources

“All Philadelphians benefit from parks, trees, stormwater management and healthy waterways.”

First metric
Continuing to track tree cover, important for stormwater management and reducing how hot our neighborhoods are, will be the first metric here; where those trees are planted will become an even more important part of how the city uses this metric as it develops its Greenworks Equity Index, also a key part of the plan across its visions.

In the works
Continued implementation of the city’s lauded green infrastructure and stormwater management plan, Green City, Clean Waters, and development of a Clean Water Act Task Force, which will help move the plan along by studying opportunities and barriers to its implementation.

Education & Jobs

“All Philadelphians benefit from sustainability education, employment and business opportunities.”

First metric
The number of Philadelphians engaged in sustainability-related programs, including PowerCorps PHL, Waste Watchers, TreePhilly, Greenworks updates and the Philly Spring Cleanup.

In the works
A Workforce Development Pipeline project that will study how to create pathways to employment in clean economy jobs, and implementation of the GreenFutures report, the school district’s first sustainability plan.

A Phillies legend and his childhood friend want you to be stewards of the earth

Illustration by Sam Cardelfe

Illustration by Sam Cardelfe

The Pitch

interview by Alex Mulcahy

There’s more to life than baseball, but it didn’t feel that way on the night of Oct. 29, 2008, when Brad Lidge let loose the pitch that made the Philadelphia Phillies World Series champions, delighting the city and rewarding an ecstatic fan base. However, just four years after his perfect season, Lidge’s baseball career was over. He and his family moved back to Colorado, where he had grown up, and he went back to school and earned a postgraduate degree in archaeology from the University of Leicester in England, a significant departure from his bachelor’s degree in religious studies. Part of the coursework was working at an excavation site in Italy.

In addition to pursuing a new academic path, Lidge also reconnected with an old friend, Aaron William Perry, with whom he had played in baseball and football leagues as a kid. While Lidge had been a Major League Baseball player, Perry had started and run two sustainability-related businesses, one in oil-recycling and the other in natural and local food delivery. Perry realized that his experiences, coupled with his own academic pursuits, were giving him fodder for a sustainability-themed book.  

“Y On Earth: Get Smarter, Feel Better and Heal the Planet,” which will be released in early 2017, is a book Perry hopes will encapsulate his life’s learning so far. The “Y” is for millennials—Perry has a teenage son and daughter—and he wants the book to serve as a guiding light for Generation Y. The ambitions of the book are wide and far-reaching, and it’s being presented as “a quest exploring our connection with Earth, soil, food and each other, in order to cultivate a culture of love, care and a spirituality of grounded optimism, stewardship, humor and humility.” Lidge is helping to promote the book, offering signed baseballs and other collateral as rewards for people who pledged money to the book’s Kickstarter campaign. When the book is released, both Perry and Lidge plan to promote it here in Philadelphia.

Do you feel like your archaeology studies have informed your views on sustainability or humanity as a species?
Yes, and I think just as much from the ancient history perspective. When I was going over to Italy and staying in a small town there—you know, Italy is the hub and the originator of the Slow Food movement. They’re still making their pasta, and making their dinners, taking a long time to do it, and it really becomes a communal thing. It changed my perspective. You look out at the fields that they have there, and you realize for thousands of years they’d be growing these olives and these grapes and harvesting the way they have, and nothing has really changed there. There’s something that really feels kind of fulfilling when you’re going through the same process of eating the same food that you’re studying about—that the ancient Romans did 2,000 years prior to me being there.

I think it speaks to an urge to rediscover continuity.
That whole notion of really understanding ourselves and our generation in the context of the broader human story I think is one of the really important messages that we speak to in the book.

We have a tendency to think that whatever we have seen in our lives is normal, and it’s easy to forget about how different things were even relatively recently.
One of the things that just popped in my head is a little slogan—consumerism is a fad. And it’s a fad crossing a couple generations here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t really change quite a lot over the course of the next couple generations. I remember beginning to learn about things like permaculture and things like taking good care of the soil, and learning also that, meanwhile, “mainstream” practices in agriculture were really kind of a carryover from the normalization of the industrial-chemical machine that was part of defeating fascism in World War II.
Things have changed so much [over generations], we couldn’t really see how different our current situation is and was a couple of generations prior. And when I was talking to my grandfather, who actually was a prisoner of war in World War II, about things like gardening and the importance of growing your own food, he was the one who said, “Yeah, that’s normal. Growing your own food, having your own garden, that is the normal pattern.”

Brad, I’m always shocked at how much anger and hostility there is out there when athletes make a political stand. Even though the message of the book is, “Hey, this isn’t political. This is dirt, this is air, this is water, this is humanity, this is not political,” it will be construed that way by some. Do you worry about the possibility of blowback from lending your celebrity to a cause?
I think you get to a point in life where you have to go for it with things and different ventures that maybe come up in your life that you really actually believe in. I’ve known Aaron for a long time, and I completely believe in what he’s doing. I’ve listened to him talk over the last few years about this stuff, and he’s so committed to it. This is something that I really believe in, and I’d like to be able to help out in any way possible. So, it’s definitely true, there’s always the people who will jump on Twitter, or whatever, and kind of bash things, and interpret things incorrectly. But like I said, you get to a certain point in life and I think that [you stand up] for what you believe in.

What role does religion and spirituality play in this?
I was raised Catholic as Aaron was, and I guess my religious views would compel me to act on this more than people might understand. If you don’t dwell on these issues, or if you don’t think about it, it becomes not necessarily integral with your religious beliefs a lot of times. But for me it is. For me it is integral with my religious beliefs and how I perceive God and everything else, because [we are] stewards of the earth, stewards of life. It doesn’t have to be a religious thing, but for me it does align with what I believe—being a steward of the earth and taking care of this earth—and handing down those thoughts to my children so that they can do that with their children.

AWP: It’s not that this is a religious project, per se—it’s really not. But we as humans, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect a bit on our spiritual orientation and our sense of being stewards on this planet, this just amazing creation.
I was struck that for a lot of us that might identify more directly as having a faith-based orientation of the world—there’s been almost like a big rift between a lot of those friends and family of mine and notions of environmental stewardship, and we’re actually seeing that really, really shift right now.
I think it’s in part [due]... in particular [to] the leadership of Pope Francis around his very emphatic call to humanity to embrace our lives as stewards, and to embrace being compassionate for our fellow human beings, and connecting the dots between macro changes to our climate and impacts to the forests and the coral life.
[Pope Francis] speaks to—one out of eight people on the planet [who] identify as Catholic. Three out of eight identify as Christian. When we start to dig into the texts a little bit, we find [the Book of] Genesis—the creation story that Jews, Muslims and Christians identify with, representing over half the global population. And I think there’s just so much wisdom and knowledge that can be gleaned from some of these ancient texts, and the same is going to be true over in the Sanskrit and Vedic texts that we would find in Asia.
That may not be the entry point or the trailhead for everybody to get engaged with these topics that we’re exploring and sharing with folks, but I think it’s, a really important one to further connect dots that probably haven’t been very well connected in our culture.

BL: There are threads that are common and unite every religion—whether the Eastern philosophy of, “Do not do harm to others” or Western philosophy of, “Do unto others,”—there is that thread of taking care of humanity. And for me, I see more clearly now every day how being a steward of this earth is taking care of your fellow human. So for me, it becomes almost imperative in terms of my religious beliefs.

Aaron William Perry is a social entrepreneur and author who lives in Boulder, Colorado. Brad Lidge, who also lives in Boulder, is a budding archaeologist and an all-time Phillies great.

Developing a strong community can help keep us well

Illustration by Nicholas Massarelli

Illustration by Nicholas Massarelli

You Can’t Buy Health

by Jerry Silberman

Question: What does it mean for me to be healthy?
The Right Question: Can I be healthy without a healthy community?

I suspect that we have an inborn ability to recognize good health in another person when we see it—and that our perception of beauty rests substantially on a foundation of recognizing good health. It is precisely that innate ability, rooted in evolution and our tribal history as a species, that should alert us to a critical aspect of health and wellness that we often overlook: our need for community.

But let’s start with good food and clean air and water first.

Initially, access to clean water, fresh air, sunlight and food were our only requirements. And although humans evolved in a subtropical environment, our ability to supplement our inborn temperature regulation (with, initially, the skins of animals unlucky enough to meet the end of our spear points) allowed us to spread over the globe.

In different environments, we developed vastly different diets to get us the same nutrients we needed to promote health. We were exposed daily to competing organisms in our environment and were required to collect the means of our sustenance. Hence, we developed our senses, muscles and immune systems.

In contrast to the conditions that allowed us to flourish, modern, high-tech society presents us with significant challenges.

The mechanization of food and work in general challenges our muscular development and physical health, leading many to resort to working out in gyms rather than leading a generally active life.

The introduction of chemical toxins our bodies have no ability to process—and isolation from the natural microorganisms that stimulate immune system development—challenges our metabolic defenses, and may lie behind the explosion of chronic metabolic and autoimmune diseases.

Our diets have also been compromised. The rise of processed foods, which strip out micronutrients and oversupply elements that stimulate the appetite, has been linked to obesity and any number of chronic conditions including diabetes and heart disease.

Crops have been genetically modified primarily for the purpose of introducing resistance to herbicides. That has contributed to a vast increase in the release of toxins into the environment, most notoriously glyphosate, a probable carcinogen.

These huge structural conditions—industrial agriculture and the processed food industry, widespread pollution and other chemical intrusions—conspire to make us unhealthy.

But the solution, in my view, is not to embrace another commodity, in the form of the latest silver-bullet diet supplements, additional relationships mediated by cash, or a practitioner of some newly invented scheme to rejuvenate my body. (Note: I firmly believe that medical traditions outside the modern industry of Western medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, have a lot to offer, in the proper context.)

First, we should eat well, paying attention to where and how our food was produced, as well as its composition. Limiting and reducing our load of environmental toxins is clearly possible. Second, let’s keep our tribal roots in mind.

Honoring that structure is crucial to the “mental and social well-being” aspect of health, which the World Health Organization cites in its definition of a healthy human. The feedback loops among mental, social and physical health are real, but only partly understood.

Some researchers in British Medical Journal have recently suggested an even more inclusive and dynamic definition, which includes the concept of resilience. “Health is the level of functional and metabolic efficiency of a living organism. In humans it is the ability of individuals or communities to adapt and self-manage when facing physical, mental or social challenges.”

I like this framework, because it gets at the idea that maintaining good health requires access to the environmental conditions in which we evolved—including community.

While a huge crowd means security for a wildebeest or a caribou, it creates anxiety for a human. At the same time, we are not tigers—solitary creatures except for rare bouts of sex or parenthood.

Unfortunately, many of us—as a matter of defense or survival—tend toward the tiger mode, with few or fleeting serious relations of mutual dependence. These relations of mutual dependence among a diverse group of human beings who meet each other’s needs in distinct but complementary ways is what makes a tribe.

A tribe is a community, and a community a tribe. No matter what you call it, it’s part of our nature, and critical to our well-being.

Once again, our modern society is getting in the way. Overcrowding, alienation from tribal or community structure, and the experience of money mediating much of our human interaction challenges our social and mental well-being on many levels.

So it’s important to embed yourself in a real community; people you need and trust, who will be there for you, as you will be for them. The foundation of this community can be your family, your neighborhood, your religious institution or many others less clearly named. Reduce your consumption of goods and services that mediate between  you and others (eating right will take a bigger chunk of your disposable income, and it’s worth it). Shut off the noise of social media and the big screen and read your favorite books out loud to each other on those long winter nights.

Jerry Silberman is a cranky environmentalist and union negotiator who likes to ask the right question and is no stranger to compromise.

Three ways that getting your z’s can mean a better you

Illustration by Marika Mirren

Illustration by Marika Mirren

Sleep Therapy

by Hannah Tate

Can you remember the last time you were consistently getting enough sleep? Not the sleep where you wake up five times to pee, or finally doze off after contemplating for hours whether an avocado is a vegetable or a fruit (rest easy: It’s actually a single-seeded berry). We mean that deep sleep that’s rejuvenating, doesn’t leave you wanting more and gets you through the “afternoon slump.” Did you know that some of us need nearly 11 hours of sleep to really feel rested? Although scientists are still studying all the reasons why we sleep, we do know some of the benefits. Here are three that should encourage you to treat it as the foundation of any health program you’re embarking upon. If you’re waking up without an alarm, that can be one sign that you’re getting the right amount of shut-eye.

Sleep makes you smarter
You really do need a good night’s sleep before a test or presentation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, all the information we absorb during the day needs to be processed and stored, which happens while we sleep. Through a process called consolidation, bits of information are moved from short-term to long-term memory. Our brain also pieces together knowledge from different areas of the brain during sleep, aiding us in problem-solving and generation of new ideas.

Sleep influences our mood and mental health, as well. Anyone can tell you how even one bad night of sleep can leave you feeling irritable. That’s because disrupted sleep can influence your energy, motivation and emotions. Long-term disrupted sleep has been linked to anxiety, depression and stress, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Rest fights off infection and even heart disease
Sleep is one of the easiest ways your body helps fight infection. The fatigue that sets in when you get sick is no accident. The immune system produces a substance that both fights disease and causes fatigue, so you’ll be inclined to sleep and help fight the disease more quickly.

Sleep can also affect your heart’s health. People who don’t sleep enough are at a higher risk for heart disease, no matter their age, weight, smoking or exercise habits. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one study found that adults over the age of 45 who slept six hours or fewer were about twice as likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack compared with those who slept six to eight hours per night.

‘Beauty rest’ also keeps you fit
Getting enough sleep may help you maintain a healthy weight. Sleep is now seen as a potential risk factor for obesity, in addition to eating and exercise habits. According to Harvard Medical School, studies have linked six hours of sleep or fewer to a higher body mass index and eight hours of sleep to a lower BMI.

In order to gain the full benefits of sleep, you should follow the recommended hours for your age group and maintain consistent sleeping habits. For adults 18 to 65 years old, seven to nine hours is recommended, and adults 65 and older should get seven to eight hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But sleep is highly personal: Some may find they only need six hours of sleep or they need 10 to 11 hours to feel rested, but it’s up to each individual to determine their magic number.  

Throwing off the weight of the world at Flotation Philly

Photo by Marika Mirren

Photo by Marika Mirren

Back to Black

by Emily Kovach

Russ Stewart’s journey with floating started six years ago with a bad day at the airport. He’d been stopped by the TSA, nearly missing his flight to visit his aunt in California. When he arrived, he was in a terrible mood and his aunt suggested a float in her neighbor’s sensory deprivation tank, which had helped lessen her own anxiety. He tried it, floating in the dark quietude, his body held by water the exact same temperature as his skin. “I didn’t know what to expect, but afterwards I felt like I’d put down a 20 pound kettle bell,” he says. “I realized a bad day doesn’t have to affect me.”

At the time, Stewart was working as a commodities broker selling coal and iron ore. His job required lots of travel, and during trips to cities like Nashville and New Orleans, he’d research and visit flotation centers. After a few years of unhappiness in his job, and many floats later, Stewart decided to open his own space in Philadelphia. “My wife and I had just sold our house and had some funds coming,” he remembers. “My wife knew I was unhappy and said it was time to go for it… she was a huge support for me.”

They found a storefront on Fishtown’s burgeoning Girard Avenue and opened Flotation Philly in February 2015. The space, which resembles a typical spa, offers three float vessels in private rooms: a pod, a tank and a cabin. Though varying in size and features, all deliver the same result: a soundproof area free from the stimuli of light, gravity and temperature.

Guests are given a brief but thorough information session before being left to shower and enter the tank. The water is dosed heavily with Epsom salts, which helps the body float and relaxes the muscles. Earplugs shut out noises that may leak through. The first 10 minutes are spent adjusting to the environment, and then the mind can begin to enter a dreamy, meditative state.

“A lot of the people we attract are clientele who use this in conjunction with their overall wellness umbrella,” Stewart says. But he’s noticed that while floating is still a niche, it’s gotten more mainstream through the endorsement of professional athletes and celebrities. “Some people do it and check it off their bucket list, but a lot of our clients, probably 80 percent, are repeats.”

Stewart floats at least twice weekly, and repeat sessions have given him a philosophical take:  “My floating practice has changed how I use my time on this earth, the people I spend it with, the emotions I want to portray. I don’t want to cause negative energy or emotion. That’s part of how it’s helped round me out as a better person.”

Meditation centers throughout Philadelphia

Illustration by Marika Mirren

Illustration by Marika Mirren

Monkey Mind Be Gone

Meditation and mindfulness. Whether you’re practicing for spiritual enlightenment or to calm your mind and lighten your holiday stress, many centers throughout Philadelphia are available.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these centers are free to attend, with donations suggested.

Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center
The temple’s spiritual leader, Losang Samten, usually guides the Sunday Morning Sangha, which incorporates mantras and prayers. Discussion groups, ceremonies and retreats are also regularly scheduled.
1417 N. 2nd St.

Kadampa Meditation Center
Titles within Kadampa’s meditation classes include How to Be an Urban Bodhisattva: Becoming a Friend to the World, Using Meditation to Build Healthy Relationships and Uprooting Insecurity. Wednesday evening classes are free; classes Sunday mornings and Monday and Thursday evenings are $10.
1102 Pine St.

Monkey Mind Zen
This West Philly group opens its 10:30 a.m. Saturday meetings with chanting, followed by seated meditation and a discussion. Beginners can learn the ropes of Zen during periodically scheduled meetings, which you can RSVP for online.
Studio 34, 4522 Baltimore Ave.

Nalandabodhi Philadelphia
Introductory sessions usually take place on the first Sunday of each month, and Sunday evening meditations take place on the second Sunday. For those interested in learning more about Mahayana Buddhism, Nalandabodhi also offers study groups and discussions of various texts.
Children’s Community School, 1212 S. 47th St.

Peaceful City Sangha
“We joyfully welcome people of all backgrounds, traditions and beliefs, both experienced practitioners and those new to meditation and mindfulness,” states the website for this group in Center City, which practices in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Seated meditations are Wednesdays at 5:45 p.m. at Eviama Life Spa and Sundays at 10 a.m. at members’ homes (RSVP is requested).
Eviama Life Spa, 109 S. 13th St., Suite 2N

Refuge Recovery
The peer-led West Philly branch of this national organization utilizes mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy as the foundation of the addiction-recovery process. Every Thursday at 6 p.m., the group meditates together, shares experiences and reads excerpts from the book “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction” by Noah Levine. A $5 donation per meeting goes to support the group, but no one is turned away for inability to donate.
Ahimsa House, 5007 Cedar Ave.

Shambhala Meditation Center
This center practices seated meditation that will be familiar to those who have tried group meditation, except that participants are not instructed to close their eyes. Slight variations like this are common among mindfulness groups.
Shambhala Meditation Center has listings for introductory sessions on its website, and holds group meditations on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, as well as Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Every Friday evening, the center holds an anonymous group meditation/talk for people struggling with addiction.
2030 Sansom St.

Soji Zen Center
A contemporary Buddhist center in Lansdowne, Soji offers a calendar full of lectures, study groups, yoga classes and retreats. Free meditation instructions are held Thursdays at 6 p.m., where participants can learn how to manage their posture and wandering thoughts.
2325 Marshall Road, Lansdowne, Pa.

Willow Branch Sangha
Two-and-a-half-hour sittings are accompanied by songs, chants and talks in a nondenominational setting inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh. Willow Branch provides reading material online covering some of the group’s customs and points of discussion.
Church of the Loving Shepherd, 1066 S. New Street, West Chester, Pa.

Won Buddhism of Philadelphia
Group meditations are held Tuesdays at 7:15 p.m., and include some walking and chanting. Dharma services are every Saturday at 10:15 a.m. and revolve around rotating discussions of Buddhist philosophy and practice.
423 Abington Ave., Glenside, Pa.

Zen Center of Philadelphia
Two-hour sessions are held Sunday mornings at 10, which include sitting and walking meditations and a group discussion. At some point during the seated portion, the center’s teacher will lightly tap on your shoulder and invite you for a private talk about the practice.
Hour-and-a-half sittings are held Wednesday evenings, and daylong sittings are scheduled once a month for people who have been practicing for a while. 
4904 Cedar Ave.

The long journey of holistic health center Art of Wellness

Photo by Marika Mirren

Photo by Marika Mirren

Mind Body Mecca

by Emily Kovach

As a small child growing up in Communist China, Yan Huo suffered myriad health problems, including asthma and anemia. The irony was that her father was a foot doctor trained in the healing practices of Chinese herbs, but her parents were forced by the government to reside and work in other provinces. It wasn’t until her family immigrated to the United States in 1982 that she lived with her parents, who immediately set to work on healing her.

Throughout her childhood in the U.S., Huo’s parents shared their knowledge with her.

“My dad loved my curiosity, and taught me a lot,” she remembers. In college, Huo pursued nursing, but was quickly disenchanted. “During internships, I saw people on lots of medicine and eating poorly, and couldn’t see myself getting into that… I didn’t believe that was medicine.”

She refocused her studies on art therapy in grad school at Hahnemann University Hospital. “I fell in love with how we can change our minds and increase motivations for positive action,” she says. After graduating, she worked with patients in addiction treatment and with refugees, witnessing the huge needs in these communities. Along the way, she observed how few therapy practices integrated the body and the mind. Ultimately, this motivated her to open Art of Wellness in 2009.

This holistic wellness center was first located at 7th and Bainbridge streets and offered acupuncture, yoga, massage and life coaching, as well as nutrition counseling, couples’ therapy and art therapy.   

Huo also wanted to create a family inclusive facility, with the goal of normalizing treatment.

“I’ve helped so many people off their drugs, from Xanax to heroin, or helped them jumpstart their body with hormonal balance, improving sleep, helping with anxiety,” she says.

In the fall of 2015, Huo learned that a new landlord was raising her rent by $1,000 per month. She frantically began looking for a new space, and a new home in the Constitution Health Plaza on South Broad Street. While the move caused Huo to lose many of her previous clients, she said the response in South Philly has been great.

As Art of Wellness has gone through growing pains over the years, employee Emanuel Ramos stayed with the practice and helped them through transitions—Huo refers to Ramos as webmaster, wellness advocate and marketing manager, but also as their “chief visionary officer.” Clients, however, know him as the center’s go-to massage therapist, someone who has helped them through pains of their own. He’s developed a devoted following from taking the time to understand the underlying issues that are causing physical discomfort, and then working with his clients over time to help them get well again. Ramos looks at every pain in someone’s body as an individual problem to be solved.

Huo is a firm believer that a holistic approach to medicine needs to become more mainstream, and she’s creating educational materials to train more providers, especially in women’s health.

“I want to give them an extra set of tools for their practice,” she says.

Three can’t-miss community health centers

Acupuncture, Yoga and Meditation for All

by Emily Kovach

Healing Arts Collective
519 S. 9th St.
This cheerful, welcoming space provides a range of services and classes in holistic wellness. Yoga, Pilates and gyrokinesis classes take place throughout the week, many of them geared toward beginners. Once per month, a combination yin yoga and reiki workshop is offered, focused on giving participants deep, introspective relaxation to alleviate stress and fatigue. Workshops, such as Moving in Deep Focus: Embodied Shamanic Journey on Dec. 17, bring in teachers and leaders from both the local and national wellness communities.  

The Healing Garden hosts Community Acupuncture each Saturday on a sliding scale of $30 to $45, multiple modalities of massage and bodywork, including myofascial release and craniosacral therapy, as well as physical therapy. To get a taste of what the Healing Garden is all about, try the yoga pass for new students, a great deal at $30 for an unlimited one-month pass.

Six Fishes Healing Arts
750 S 15th St. & 2308 Grays Ferry Ave.
With two locations, Six Fishes Healing Arts offers a diverse array of services, focused on the body both inside and out. The staff’s expertise lies in Chinese herbology; founder Cara Frank is recognized as a leader in the field, having started China Herb Company in 1991, the first mail-order herbal dispensary in the country. At Six Fishes, patients are prescribed customized combinations of between six and 18 herbs meant to help with various ailments.

The Grays Ferry location also hosts Community Acupuncture every day but Sunday, starting at $65 for the initial visit and $45 for each subsequent appointment. Inspired by hospital clinics in China, these are semi-private sessions, where areas are separated by drapes if full-body acupuncture is needed. Six Fishes accepts some health insurance plans, which can help incorporate these holistic practices into your overall health regimen at a lower cost.

Mama’s Wellness Joint
1100 Pine St.
As may be evident from its name, Mama’s Wellness Joint specializes in classes and services for mothers-to-be, parents and infants, and families. There’s plenty on the schedule for adults, but it’s classes like Baby Bump Bootcamp, Mama’s Movin’, and Postpartum Rebuild that you’re unlikely to find at other local studios.

Mama’s also frequently hosts workshops focused on babies and children, such as childbirth education classes and infant massage. The classes and workshops are held in a peaceful, elegant studio that feels miles away from the city street it’s located on.

Founded by yogi and doula Paige Chapman, Mama’s mission is to create a space where women and families learn how to care for themselves. A range of massage therapies are available on-site, and the lobby of the shop doubles as a small retail space with natural and handmade products, such as ayurvedic health and beauty products, candles and wearables for babies.

New science helps meditation become a viable treatment option for anxiety and addiction

Illustration by Marika Mirren

Illustration by Marika Mirren

Prescription Meditation

by John Henry Scott

Dr. Michael Baime has been using meditation (sometimes called “mindfulness” or “mindful meditation”) as a form of medical treatment for his patients since the late 1980s. As a general practitioner, Baime remembers being met with skepticism from his colleagues regarding his unconventional courses of treatment, which involve focusing one’s attention to the present moment in order to achieve a psychological benefit.

“They tolerated me—what I was doing,” he said. “But, I think, kind of rolled their eyes.”

Although meditation has been part of the Western purview since the late 18th century, associations with occultism created a stigma surrounding the practice, with many scientists, doctors and academics dismissing its practical merit. Since the turn of the millennium, however, there has been a significant increase in scientific research linking the practice of meditation to real, tangible health benefits, including the treatment of anxiety, depression and addiction.

Baime thinks the use of the term “mindfulness” as opposed to “meditation” is part of an effort to come out from under the stigma surrounding the practice. The two terms can also be used as a point of distinction between the secular, health-driven practice (mindfulness) and the religious practice of seeking spiritual development or enlightenment (meditation).

In 1992, Baime founded the Penn Program for Mindfulness at Penn Medicine to help people suffering from a litany of psychological problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, trauma and loss, while continuing to spearhead scientific research on the subject.

“What I found many people needed was not what I could give them with a prescription or pill,” he said.

Dr. Michael Gawrysiak, a psychology instructor and researcher in the addiction treatment research center at the University of Pennsylvania, has done extensive work with mindfulness as a means of support for people struggling with addiction and substance abuse issues.

According to Gawrysiak, the real struggle in addiction treatment is keeping people sober rather than getting them sober in the first place. Up to 90 percent of people treated for drug and alcohol problems relapse at some point in their lives. To treat addiction is to temper the likelihood of relapse.

“Meditation helps people become more aware of their psychological interior, to recognize emotional cause and effect and increase awareness of triggers which cause a relapse,” said Gawrysiak. “It does this because it’s designed to anchor your focus to the present moment. We’re so busy all the time, we’re thinking about a million things at once. Meditation brings us back to right now, which is the only place we can make real decisions. It allows us to respond to the moment instead of react to it.”

The designation here, between response and reaction, seems to be that “response” connotes a higher level of impulse control brought on by one’s increased understanding of their emotional triggers.

Gawrysiak believes there are several reasons for the recent increase in meditation research.

“As technology progresses and we find ourselves more connected to our obligations, our stress level as a culture rises,” he said. “This leads to a search for new and healthy ways to deal with that stress, something meditation has proven itself to be.”

He also believes that successful research simply gains momentum over time. Once a study is published featuring interesting results regarding the health benefits of meditation, it inspires another. Research on the topic increases and snowballs.

Earlier this year, The New York Times featured a study from the journal Biological Psychiatry that found a link between mindfulness meditation and lowered levels of blood vessel inflammation, a sign of reduced stress. The Journal of the American Medical Association consistently publishes studies on the benefits of mindfulness. Recent findings include a link between meditation and preventing substance abuse relapse and recurrent depression.  

Baime has similar ideas to Gawrysiak as to why mindfulness meditation is being taken more seriously in Western culture. “The science justifies its use for practical reasons,” he said. “It’s an antidote to some of the things that don’t work so well within our culture, such as our stress and our disconnection from ourselves.”

Both Baime and Gawrysiak meditate regularly in their personal lives.

But not everyone who meditates does so for health reasons. Many people still use the practice for spiritual development, and many religions employ meditation as a facet of their customs, most prominently Taoism and Buddhism.

George Heckert is the cofounder and manager of the Philadelphia Meditation Center (PMC) in Havertown, which teaches meditation in the Buddhist tradition. Heckert makes a distinction between the type of meditation practiced at PMC and the courses and programs run by the Penn Program for Mindfulness. Meditation at PMC is not focused on therapeutic benefit. While individuals may experience positive life changes over the course of their practice, PMC members are more focused on spiritual development than therapy.

“It’s about developing a general insight,” Heckert said. “Rather than trying to solve any one problem, it’s more about trying to look at the world in a more balanced way.” Heckert did agree that, by allowing a person to stay in the present moment, meditation could help alleviate anxiety.

“It’s hard to say, though, the exact benefits since you do this and then you can’t picture your life without it,” he said. “I’m not sure what my life would be like if I didn’t meditate.”

Letter From the Publisher: My Right Hand Man is a Woman


Two years ago, almost to the day, I hired Heather Blakeslee, easily my best hiring decision in the last 10 years. Her position initially was not clearly specified -- typical of the loose ship I was running -- but soon we decided she would be COO of the company. Immediately, we began to act more like a business. Her spreadsheets and plans replaced my whims and impulses. She patiently listened (and listens) to my half-baked ideas, nodding her head with a Mona Lisa smile, before informing me, yet again, that we can't make any decisions until we run the numbers.

If you've noticed the dramatic improvement in Grid's editorial during this same period of time, know that it isn't a coincidence. While she's been dotting the i's and crossing the t's on all functions of business, she's also been making Grid's content more sophisticated and political. It looks better, too; in addition to being a wordsmith with good business instincts, she also possesses a strong visual sensibility. (In her spare time, she plays guitar, writes songs for her band, and is learning the cello.)

I doubt she's coming to work today. I think it's more likely she will be curled up in a ball in bed, crying, swearing, scouring the Internet trying to find an article that will make sense out of today's headlines. She will find none.

I know elections and candidates are complex things to analyze and dissect, but there is a bottom line truth that can't be denied: An experienced, competent woman lost to an under-qualified, and potentially dangerous, man. 

It's a bitter pill to swallow, and my heart aches for every woman who thought their moment had arrived. It isn't our elections that are rigged; our society is rigged. And it's rigged against women. Sorry, Heather. 

Alex Mulcahy