TEDxSanta Barbara, a locally organized offshoot of the international TED nonprofit, has added Santa Barbara Spotlight to its annual conference to raise awareness about local social innovation by bringing the leader of a Santa Barbara-area nonprofit to the Red Circle.
Erik Talkin, CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, will be the inaugural Santa Barbara Spotlight speaker during this year’s conference from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the New Vic Theatre, 33 W.Victoria St.
“Just Giving People More Food Does Not End Hunger” is the title of his provocative talk.
He explained exactly what he means by the apparent contradiction during a recent phone interview from the Foodbank headquarters on Hollister Avenue.
“As CEO of a food bank that provides 10 million pounds of nutritious food annually to the people of Santa Barbara County, I have discovered that education and empowerment are just as important ingredients as fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said.
“We need to teach food literacy skills like learning how to budget and how to plan, how to shop in a smart way, how to cook in a smart and healthy way and how to make good use of leftovers. You can still eat healthy if you don’t have much money.”
Citing examples of these skills, Mr. Talkin, 58, pointed out that one of the problems that people with low or no income face is they don’t have adequate cooking facilities like hot plates, microwaves or simple utensils like pots and pans and spoons.
“So most of their diets are processed or fast foods, which are not healthy for them,” he said, pointing out that shopping in a smart way is buying food like fresh produce on the outside aisles of the supermarket rather than inner aisles where less nutritious items are displayed.
“People should spend their money on good food, not junk, and they need to learn how to use fresh produce so it doesn’t rot,” said Mr. Talkin, who believes strongly that educating people about food should begin early.
Like the Foodbank’s Food Literacy in Preschool or FLIP program where community volunteers trained by the Foodbank go into preschools to teach young children about the taste, touch and smell of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The children sample a simple recipe they help make, then follow this with a game or song about the item. Finally, they are given a small bag of the produce to take home and share with their family,” said Mr. Talkin.
In the elementary schools, there is the Kids’ Farmers Market, where stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables from the Foodbank are set up and children can take bags home with them.
“Then, they receive an interactive cooking lesson from a volunteer educator in how to turn the produce into a delicious meal,” said Mr. Talkin.
Teens Love Cooking is an eight-session cooking course that introduces teenagers to a range of simple culinary concepts.
“It is often the first time that children have been trusted with knives in the kitchen or allowed to do more than put something into the microwave,” said Mr. Talkin, who was born in the United States and moved to London at the age of 4 when his father, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, was transferred there.
“I was sent to a very proper English school. I had to wear a blazer and tie and eat awful 1960s/70s British food.This included fish fingers, which we suspected were made with real fingers, and Brussels sprouts that were so over-cooked some of the more talented boys could use their tongues to extrude them through the gaps in their teeth,” recalled Mr. Talkin in his recently published book, “Hunger Into Health.”
After attending University College London in Bloomsbury and co-running The Mighty Pen Production company, he returned to the United States in 1998 with his wife and three children.
“My plan was to become a millionaire Hollywood scriptwriter, which didn’t work out, and neither did work in musical theater. I became executive director of the Community Kitchen of Santa Barbara at Casa Esperanza homeless shelter. Foodbank provided much of the food,” said Mr. Talkin.
In 2008 he became CEO of the organization and since then has become well known around the community not only for the good that Foodbank does but for the hats that have become his signature look.
“Imelda Marcos had her shoes and I have my hats, only not as many — about 15 fedoras, mostly felt. I started wearing them in England because it was cold and drizzly. Here, I wear them for protection from the sun,” he said.
Will he be wearing one of them for his 12-minute presentation on Saturday?
“I’m not going on unless I can wear my hat,” said Mr. Talkin with a laugh.
IF YOU GO
Erik Talkin, CEO of Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, will present a talk, “Just Giving People More Food Does Not End Hunger,” at the TEDx Santa Barbara conference from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the New Vic Theatre, 33 W. Victoria St. Admission is $100. For more information, visit tedxsantabarbara.com.