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Celebrity Chef Carla Hall Works to End Senior Poverty

Bob Edwards and Hall discuss the importance of food at AARP Foundation’s Meal Pack Challenge event

Take on Today Podcast

AARP

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Bob Edwards:

Hello, I'm Bob Edwards with An AARP Take on Today.

Food.

As we grow older, our sometimes difficult relationship with food can become harder to manage.

Everyone knows of America's obesity epidemic. But for some the golden years are tarnished by an inability to afford the basic necessities, including food.

Then there's the paradox that the unhealthiest foods are often cheapest and loaded with calories.

That's where celebrity chef Carla hall and the AARP Foundation come in. Hall gained fame on Bravo's Top Chef competition and on ABC's The Chew.

I caught up with her on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as she was helping AARP Foundation volunteers pack a million meals for older Americans who don't get adequate healthy food.

[CROWD NOISE]

Bob Edwards:

So, tell us where we are and what you're up to.

Carla Hall:

We are at the summer of service meal packing event with AARP. And this has to be my eighth one, I think, in the last four years. And it is one of my favorite events and we're going pack a million meals today with about 3,000 volunteers.

Bob Edwards:

We're on the National Mall.

Carla Hall:

Yes.

Bob Edwards:

In Washington, D.C. There's this humongous tent and lots of busy bees inside volunteers. How many volunteers do you have?

Carla Hall:

Throughout the day, I think they're going to be 3,000 volunteers.

Bob Edwards:

And they are assembling meals?

Carla Hall:

They're assembling meals. So, we're packaging lentils and rice and dehydrated vegetables and salt and they're putting them into bags. And these will be shipped to food pantries and they're there all kinds of ways to help people who are hungry.

Bob Edwards:

And it's quite a scene. There's music on the boombox. People are animated. It's like a big party.

[CROWD NOISE]

Carla Hall:

There's a DJ. The DJ has been there at every event, so all of this music is playing. The people are not only getting into the act of packing, but they get into a rhythm when they pack.

And so, when I go down to the tables, like okay, do you have your rhythm? And there are four things going in the bag and count it off. 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4… Get into a rhythm and then you know the bags keep filling.

Bob Edwards:

Food is pretty much your life.

Carla Hall:

Yes, food is my life. Food is… Food heels, food comforts and then, in this case, we are putting together food for the 9 million older adults who are suffering from food insecurity.

Bob Edwards:

What do you mean by food insecurity?

Carla Hall:

There are people who… Honestly, sometimes because they don't have enough money, they have to make choices. Do I pay for my medicine, or do I buy food? Do I feed my kids, or do I feed myself? So, they don't have enough money for everyday meals and, I think, sometimes we take it for granted and what that person looks like.

Because you don't know if you're sitting next to somebody who is hungry, or who has to choose, you know, between medicine and food every day. I think it hits the older people more because they do have issues with medicine and they are so isolated and they're not getting out.

So, you don't know if you have a neighbor who's older, who's not getting out, and who isn't eating properly. Which means they need more medicine because their health. They need the food for their health and so it's a cyclical problem.

Bob Edwards:

I understand AARP Foundation has packed 41 million meals since 2011. What's today's goal?

Carla Hall:

Today's goal is a million right here in D.C., but this isn't the only place that meal packs are happening. All over the summer, there was a summer of service, so meal packs were happening in Chicago. I was there for that one. Meal packs were happening in Memphis, Tennessee. And they're working with local food pantries. So, it's happening everywhere, but there are a million meals that will happen today in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall.

Bob Edwards:

Tell me what cooking with love means to you.

Carla Hall:

Cooking with love means it's an intention. And it is this thing that I know that my grandmother had when she did the Sunday suppers, every Sunday. We would go to her house after church. It is cooking for somebody and when I know that I am making this food, I want you to enjoy it. And the love is coming through me to you. Because I say, if you're not in a good mood, the only thing you should make is a reservation.

Bob Edwards:

Well, it's also a book, isn't it?

Carla Hall:

It's also a book. So, my first cookbook is “Cooking with Love.” My second cookbook is “Carla's Comfort Foods” and I have my third cookbook coming out October 23rd: “Carla's Soul Food: Every Day in Celebration.”

Bob Edwards:

Some say the best way to manage our diet is to see food simply as fuel.

Carla Hall:

Ah! No, I don't. I can't see food simply as fuel. I think that you have to enjoy what you eat. I think if you enjoy it, and especially when it comes to food that you are culturally connected to, I think that that food just has to be a little healthier sometimes. Sometimes you're going to have celebration foods, but you're not celebrating every day. But don't give those foods up, everything in moderation.

I think that when you realize that food can be joyous. It can be fuel. But the two should go together. My mother would agree with you. My mother eats for fuel. I don't understand her. I don't understand at all.

Bob Edwards:

What happened to you?

Carla Hall:

I know! What happened to me? I start thinking about lunch at breakfast.

Bob Edwards:

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum for African-American History and Culture, which is just right on the mall here, has made you its Culinary Ambassador.

Carla Hall:

Yes, yes. I get to go into the museum and tell everyone what an incredible place the museum is. But, the Sweet Home Cafe is actually a living museum. So there are four stations: there's the Agricultural South, there is the Western Range, there's the Creole Coast and then there's The North. And with these four these four stations, we're showing how African-Americans have influenced the food in these regions.

And so, the food changes. Not only is it a place to come to get sustenance, it's also a place to come to sort of decompress with all of the things that you have seen in the museum. Especially on that ground level, with the 1960s and Emmett Till's casket and everything. But a lot of families come there to celebrate, separate from the museum.

So, the Chef Jerome is an incredible chef, he used to be at the American Indian Museum, and now he is showing his talents at the African-American Museum of History and Culture. And it's an incredible place to go.

Bob Edwards:

So, what dish opens up a new world for visitors there?

Carla Hall:

I think I feel it's The Western Range because, I think, with the meat-centric… And you think about cowboys and how they cooked with the beans and everything. I don't think people think about the influence of African-Americans with that food.

I also don't think coming from the South that I think about oysters and African-American food. But you have… When you go north, you have this oyster pot that they do at the museum that is absolutely incredible and they're made fresh right there.

Bob Edwards:

Before we wrap, colder weather is coming, at least the calendar says so. You once spent four hours in Boston looking for the perfect clam chowder?

Carla Hall:

Yes, I did.

Bob Edwards:

So, what's your verdict?

Carla Hall:

Okay, this just in, based on last week. I spent four hours looking for the perfect chowder in Boston and then I was on the West Coast last week in San Francisco. I have to tell you: Boston, I'm sorry.

Bob Edwards:

A new champion?

Carla Hall:

There's a new champion. I had some of the best clam chowder I have ever had in my life.

Bob Edwards:

Who knows about San Francisco chowder?

Carla Hall:

Who knows about San Francisco chowder? I didn't know! I went to this place called Hog Island Oyster Company and on the west coast, the chowder isn't thickened. So, it was just this incredible broth that was seasoned with thyme. Then you get some of those small oysters that are so sweet and big chunks of potatoes that are just falling apart, but they’re quartered. So, they're Red Bliss B potatoes. So, they're just the small red skinned potatoes and sliced carrots and they have this beautiful bread that is crusty with this delicious butter. I'm going tell you, so good.

Bob Edwards:

Thank you for your passion for food and for people.

Carla Hall:

Well, thank you for interviewing me. This has been an honor, Bob.

Bob Edwards:

That was celebrity chef and author, Carla Hall.

To use your skills and life experience to make a difference, go to createthegood.org and find volunteer opportunities in your community.

[CROWD NOISE, TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

Here's what else you need to know this week.

If you feel almost virtuous when you cut carbs to lose weight, know this: A new study shows that unless you replace those carbs with fruits, veggies, you could be cutting your life span short.

In the very large-scale study of middle-aged Americans, those who swapped carbs with healthy vegetarian options — like whole grains, beans, and healthy fats from things like fruits and avocados — lived longer than those who swapped them with high-fat animal proteins — like say, all-you-can-eat steak.

So just how many carbs can one middle-aged person eat and still go on making long-term plans?

You guessed it: a moderate amount, similar to what’s recommended in basic nutritional guidelines, and totaling about 50 percent of what’s on your plate at any given meal. 

But just remember, not all carbs are created equal. Opt for whole grain options over processed ones. Then try expanding your repertoire of healthy carbs — working in things like quinoa, beans, wild rice, red-skin or sweet potatoes and even fruit and dairy products.  

Your waistband — and life span — will reap the benefits.

[CROWD NOISE, TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

As we close out today's podcast, let's hear some more voices from the September 11 AARP Foundation Meal Pack Event.

Bob Edwards:

And you are?

Janet Mitchell:

Janet Mitchell

Bob Edwards:

Janet Mitchell, why are you here?

Janet Mitchell:

Well this is my third year here. The first year I came I was turning 60 and I wanted to celebrate that by helping other people. And then I told the women on my senior softball team about it. So, each year now a few more have come and this year we have nine here. Because we are fortunate to travel all over the country and do something we love with seniors playing softball. But, we are so aware of how fortunate we are. So, we wanted to be able to help other seniors in need and be aware and not forget that there are seniors in need. So it's important to us. And, I mean, 9/11 is another part of this. You know, it's a day of service, so it's just a perfect combination for us.

Bob Edwards:

Thank you so much.

Janet Mitchell:

Thank you.

Bryce Malone:

Hi, I'm Bryce Malone. This is my third year doing this.

Bob Edwards:

How old are you?

Bryce Malone:

I'm 16, a junior in high school.

Bob Edwards:

So, what do you actually do on this assembly line here?

Bryce Malone:

I do a variety things like put food in the bag, seal it shut, pack the boxes. Things like that.

Bob Edwards:

This is wonderful that you do this. Are you getting credit somewhere for this? Do you get brownie points?

Bryce Malone:

Well, I'm sure it’d look good on a resume, but that's not the underlying reason.  Just do a good thing in the community.

Bob Edwards:

It's a marvelous thing. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Bryce Malone:

No problem.

[CROWD NOISE, TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

That was Janice Mitchell a volunteer and senior softball player and Bryce Malone, age 16 of Woodbridge, Virginia.

Thanks for listening. I'm Bob Edwards.

Bob Edwards and celebrity chef Carla Hall discuss the importance of food and the fight against senior poverty and hunger at AARP Foundation’s Meal Pack Challenge event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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