I signed up for a daily Google Alert on the phrase “TABLE FOR TWO.”  The obvious goal is to track any news about our organization, but there is invariably quite a lot of noise, most often about someone’s personal experience at a restaurant.

Sometimes this daily email would unearth some unexpected things, like a new brand of beer called “Table for Two.”  Unfortunately only a small amount was produced, and by the time I called it had already been sold out.  We plan on placing an order when the next batch is brewed…

The last 1-2 weeks I’ve seen a spike in hits in the lead-up to Valentine’s.  If you are planning on going out but STILL haven’t made a reservation, go through GoodDining and select us as the nonprofit recipient, and up to 6% of the check will be donated (no additional cost to you)!

Acumen Fund and others also got together last year to re-invent this day of romantic dinners, chocolates and flowers, calling it “Generosity Day.”  The goal is to take time and do something nice to those around you.   Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Leave a $5 tip on a $2 cup of coffee.
  • Go out of your way to do something nice for a friend, family member, or colleague.
  • Introduce yourself to someone you see every day but have never spoken to.
  • Pledge to spend at least an hour helping someone with something you’re really good at.

Click here for more details.

Happy Valentine’s!


TABLE FOR TWO Expanding Globally

Just two years ago TABLE FOR TWO operated solely in Japan.  Now there exist programs in 11 countries across Asia, North America and Europe.  I guess it’s no surprise, since there’s nothing “Japanese” about the mission or concept.

But laid out like this (below is our inaugural global newsletter, to be published monthly), I have to admit it’s pretty exciting! – Connecting Hungry Americans with Home Gardeners

I attended a TEDx event yesterday, titled “Changing the Way We Eat.”  There were some great innovations (e.g. crowd-sourcing technology connecting restaurant ingredients to their sources) and animated and entertaining performances (e.g. by an amazing 6th grade teacher in the South Bronx that built an edible wall with his students).  I also saw – for at least the 3rd or 4th time – this Jamie Oliver TED Talk.  It inspires me every time.

But what left the deepest impression on me was the final talk of the day, by Gary Oppenheimer, founder of  Over 50 million Americans live in food insecure homes and many rely on local food pantries.  But the amount of food is often insufficient and we all know that food drives (which supply the pantries) only take non-perishable items such as canned food.

At the same time, over 40 million Americans have home gardens and at harvest time have too much fresh veggies and fruit for them to use.  Much of their produce is thrown away or left to rot, even after sharing with their friends and neighbors. educates and encourages gardeners to donate their excess harvest to local pantries, providing fresh produce that will help to feed the needy in the community.  The gardeners and beneficiaries both know that the food is grown and is benefitting someone else in their own neighborhood.

The beauty of organizations like this is the innovation to create real value (fresh, tasty and healthy produce for the hungry, an improved community bond, and less waste) out of nothing.



Why it’s difficult for those that go on a diet to then keep their weight off

As January rolls around, many of us start the new year with our annual resolutions.  Weight loss and associated behavioral changes are one of the most common resolutions.   Shows like The Biggest Loser present some impressive results in a relatively short span of time, but research shows that in many cases the lost weight is regained soon afterwards.

In addition, a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine (highlighted in a New York Times article) found that weight loss in obese individuals lead to hormonal changes that make it difficult to keep the weight off.  Although further studies are needed, it suggests that there exist physiological hurdles that make it difficult – once we become overweight – to lose the weight.

Of course, there is much left unexplained in obesity and weigh loss research.  It is still unquestioned that controlling your caloric intake and exercising regularly are key to maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight for those that are overweight.  And now there is even more reason to make sure our children eat healthy, as staying healthy – and maintaining a healthy body weight – is much easier than losing the pounds later in life.

TFT Launches in LA!

Happy New Year!  A few hours after sending out our year-end newsletter, it quickly became obsolete as the Sushi Chef Institute in Torrance, CA signed up to become our 25th U.S. partner and our first in the greater LA area!

From the left: TFT USA Co-President Fumi Tosu, Chef Andy Matsuda (named “one of the 100 most respected Japanese” by Newsweek Japan in 2007), and TFT USA LA Chapter Head Hide Kojima

In front of the Sushi Chef Institute with Ms. Setsu Matsuda, a super-enthusiastic TFT supporter!

With a student and a young professional that came out to the launch (we forgot to take a group picture when everyone was there…)

TFT DC Chapter Bounenkai (Year-End Party) at Yosaku

On December 18th, TFT’s DC chapter hosted its annual end-of-the year party to reflect on a year of activities and decide where to go from here.  And, naturally, to celebrate the Japanese bounenkai with delicious food and some karaoke.
We are so happy that our guests could make it in spite of the frigid cold and delays on the metro.
Reminiscing on a year of events and familiarizing others with TFT’s activities.
Yosaku owner Kondo-san takes the stage to welcome our guests and grace us with his sense of humor.
 Garnering suggestions for ways to improve next year.  Among the recommended ideas were “healthy katsudon” more Africa-related events and even a benefit run.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a lovely meal catered by Yosaku.
And what would a TFT event be without our healthy TFT Veggie Roll.
How can you say “no” to a face like that?
 And what would a “bounenkai” be without good ol’ fashioned karaoke?  Certainly not as interesting.


We give big thank you to Kondo-san for making sure everything was perfect for this event!
And many thanks to our guests who ventured out on a chilly December afternoon to join us and lend their suggestions.  Your enthusiasm motivates us to bring even more to the “table” next year.

Mbola Millennium Villages, Day 2: Impact Assessment

On the morning of Day 2, we visited two additional Millennium Village schools that TFT supports.  We enjoyed some more ugali while witnessing the impact of the school meals program.

But an assessment of impact is difficult without some benchmark for comparison, so in the afternoon TFT staff drove a few extra miles to visit a non-project school that did not have an operating school meals program.  At first glance the contrast did not seem as sharp as expected, until we looked at the statistics:

  • Enrollment from grades 1-7: 245 versus 532 for the average MVP school
    • In addition, while there is gender parity (or actually a slightly greater number of girls compared to boys) in the MVP schools, boys outnumbered girls by a non-trivial amount.
  • Attendance: 75% versus over 95% for MVP schools
  • Dropouts: over 60% of children in the “comparison school” dropped out before reaching grade 7.  We don’t have the exact figure for MVP schools as the moment but it is significantly less.

A true comparison school (or “control group”) is difficult for ethical reasons and thus this is not a rigorous analysis.  However, the impact of school meals on educational attainment was indisputable.

Mbola Millennium Villages, Day 1

After a briefing at the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) Office, we visited three schools in the Mbola MVP cluster, where we were welcomed by dance performances, songs, and skits – a surprise for the MVP staff as well.

At each of the schools, we were introduced to the headmasters, teachers, and cooks.  We were able to witness the various interventions being performed by the project, including boreholes for accessing fresh water, a new credit facility for agricultural and other loans, as well as a health center.

And then came lunchtime!  The menu for the day was ugali (a maize meal and the staple food in many parts of East Africa) with a red bean soup.  At this school (Ilolangulu school), they alternate between red beans and dried fish as the source of protein.  The parents also contribute cabbage and other vegetables to supplement the nutritional content of the meals.

It was a great day, reminding us of why we do the work we do.

Dar es Salaam: Days 1 & 2

With two days to spare in Dar es Salaam, we met with a number of experts working in the food and nutrition sectors.  They included staff from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, and an advisor to the government of Tanzania.

Through these discussions, two challenges came to light.  The first was the difficulty – even for large multilateral organizations like the WFP – of funding and managing school meal programs at a national scale.  According to the WFP, approximately one-third of all primary schools in Tanzania currently have operating school meal programs.  It is especially challenging to reach remote regions such as Mbola, the Millennium Village that TFT supports.

The second challenge is to provide a nutritionally balanced school meal within budget constraints, while considering the local culture and preferences.  There are many ways to provide nutritional supplementation to school meals, including the fortification of ingredients, or by adding “sprinkles” to the meal.  Another option is to provide greater diet diversity through school gardens.  There are pros and cons to each, and no one-size-fits-all solution.

Although we were impressed by the quality and nutritional content of the school meals program in Mbola (more on that later), the discussions left us thinking about possible ways for improvement.

How to Get to the Millennium Villages in Tanzania

The school meals program that TFT supports is located in the Tabora region in western Tanzania.  It is arguably the most remote of all the Millennium Villages, making transportation and procurement of goods a significant challenge.

The typical route for those traveling to Tabora is to first fly into Dar es Salaam, the economic capital of Tanzania located on the eastern coast.  One would then take a domestic flight to Mwanza in northern Tanzania, and drive 6-8 hours south to reach the town of Tabora.  This is where the Millennium Villages Project’s office is located.  It is another 36km (on unpaved roads) to the nearest village.

Fortunately for the TFT team, Air Tanzania resumed operations on November 1st (after 4 years of no service), including a direct flight between Dar and Tabora.  The only catch: the flights only operate 3 days a week.  We arrived to Dar on Sunday but had to wait until Wednesday morning for the next flight to Tabora.