2016: A (writing) year in review.

Globally speaking, I’m beyond ready for 2016 to beat a hasty retreat. Seriously.

Professionally, though, I’m still marveling at what a great year it was. Seriously.

I was fortunate to collaborate with a number of longstanding and new clients, broadening and deepening my portfolio of writing about food and wellness. My work fell evenly into two camps: writing for publication and online marketing content. The subjects were inspiring, the teams fun to work with, the finished projects stuff I’m proud of. A few high points:

A visit to one of my top clients. After working together — closely, on lots and lots of projects — for two years, I traveled to connect in person with my colleagues at the Produce Marketing Association. We’ve worked together to promote dozens of global events for growers/suppliers/retailers in the fresh produce and floral industry. It was so neat to meet the PMA team face-to-face. And 2017 looks to hold even greater collaboration.

Giving life to local food coverage. Call me old-fashioned, but I still love reading the local newspaper over my morning coffee. And my recipe file is full of old clippings from newspapers’ food sections. So when editor Amy Wilson asked if I’d regularly contribute to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s weekly food coverage, I jumped at the chance. I got to write about the pleasures of eating breakfast for dinner, shared delicious ways to enjoy summer tomatoes, and declared that making your own butter is just about the best thing ever. Coolest encounter of the year: Running into an Enquirer reader, toting my recipe for herb and spice cashews that she’d cut from the paper, as she was buying the nuts at Dean’s Mediterranean Market. Local food — and local media — for the win!

Tackling a new medium: recipe videos. You know those 1-minute recipe videos you see in your Facebook feed all the time? Turns out, those take about 2 hours to film and are a whole lot of fun to create. Working with Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital, we’re rolling out a series of quick recipe videos.

Supporting local food producers, farmers and retailers. Serving as editor of Edible Ohio Valley remains a passion and pleasure, as we get to tell the stories of people who are working hard to bring beautiful, healthful food to our tables here in Cincinnati. One of my favorite stories to write this year was a feature on farmers’ markets and their importance to our community, economy and our collective health.

Here’s hoping you had a productive and fulfilling 2016, and that 2017 will bring you more of the same!

Save

New work: Christ Hospital wellness site.

My food writing work hits the sweet spot when the subject intersects at healthy and local. So my new collaboration with The Christ Hospital and agency Curiosity Advertising is right in my kitchen, so to speak.

We’re working together to spotlight local food — producers, farmers’ markets, seasonal flavors — and encouraging the Christ Hospital community to cook and eat healthful foods. In addition to a new series of recipe videos — SUPER FUN! — I am writing online content around healthy cooking and eating. My subjects so far include a feature on local winter farmers’ markets, strategies for stocking your pantry to make home cooking easier, and ‘locavore’ New Years Eve party ideas. Take a look at some of the work:

New Work: recipe videos.

I’ve just launched a cool new collaboration with the creative team from Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital. We’re working to develop friendly, approachable stories and videos that encourage people in the Greater Cincinnati area to cook healthfully, love local food and pursue their wellness goals.

First up: a video demonstrating how to make an easy recipe for roasted fall vegetables. Click the image below to see the video!

easy-roasted-vegetables

 

Dynamic content for a dynamic client.

I love those situations when doing great work for one client leads to doing great work for another …

As I was developing online content for a new portfolio website for my super-talented client Evi Abeler, she connected me with designer Cody McBurnett of Loki Loki, who’d designed the logo for her photography business. Cody has a distinctive and delicious visual sensibility. Cody was in the beginning stages of creating a new website for fashion stylist Ronit Abraham, and she asked if I could create the online content to spotlight Ronit and her services. I could, indeed!

Unlike other fashion stylists in NYC, Ronit has a kinder, gentler approach to going through a client’s closet and helping her figure out what to wear. Ronit isn’t all about Ronit … she’s like that friend whose taste you admire, your best shopping companion and your “what should I wear?” fashion guru, all wrapped up in one. It was really fun to work with her to tell her unique story.

Ronit’s website has recently launched (I love the little illustrations):

 

Fast food: Why we need to slow down

We eat in our cars, at our desks, on the go, in front of the TV. We eat drive-through, take-out, delivered, packaged and prepared meals.

We need to slow … down.

Consumer trends around the globe show that over the past three decades people are purchasing more prepared foods at the grocery and eating out more. It’s projected that we’ll spend a record amount at restaurants in 2011. We’re consuming an increasing number of calories and bigger portions. Simultaneously, we’re getting less healthy.

While debates rage over the food industry’s contribution to our growing waistlines and our resulting health problems, the bottom line is this: What we eat, where we eat and how we eat are all 100% under our control. We can choose to eat a fast-food lunch on the go (spending that extra $6 and adding 150 calories to our day). We can throw a frozen meal in the microwave and call it dinner.

Or, we can dedicate an hour of the day to cook and enjoy a meal with our families. We can spend a few minutes in the morning to eat a healthy breakfast. Eating sensibly doesn’t take much time or money, but it does require you to make a conscious decision to do so. Here are some steps you can take:

Respect food. Prepare it with love, enjoy it with mindfulness, use it to your healthy benefit.

Shop your local farmers’ markets. Studies on both coasts have shown that farmers’ market produce is comparably priced to grocery produce—and it’s much fresher, it’s better for the local economy and it’s more sustainable.

Be mindful of what you put in the shopping cart. Why buy salad dressing that’s full of high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives, when you can make your own salad dressing for much less money and better health?

Be careful about coupons. Buy-one-get-one on PopTarts seems like a good deal. But is it? Is that coupon prompting you to buy something you don’t want or need?

Read more about these and other steps you can take toward your own slow-food movement and eating healthier today in my article for SparkPeople.com: Why a Fast-Food Nation Needs a Slow-Food Movement.

Food for Thought: creating clarity in marketing

You remember “pink slime,” right? Earlier this year, this PR fiasco in the food industry revealed a huge communication challenge (or, let’s call it an opportunity) for both brands and consumers. And the lesson goes beyond the food industry.

(A refresher: pink slime was the moniker given to lean finely textured beef, a beef byproduct sanitized with ammonia that was added to ground beef products to reduce fat content.) At its core, the controversy centered on duplicity—the willing withholding of information about a product. What created such outrage is that people simply didn’t know that it was being added to the ground beef or prepared hamburgers that they were purchasing. Why? Because LFTB is pure beef, and USDA regulations did not require it to be labeled separately. Consumers felt duped, and they were outraged.

Grocery Carts lined up

photo by Polycart, used under Creative Commons attribution license

In so many niches, marketers throw around words so much that they become ubiquitous and ultimately, confusing. Like the term ‘natural’ (and the word ‘organic’ before it) it’s lost much of its meaning. The USDA defines ‘natural’ this way:

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Brands often tag products ‘natural’ as a shorthand for ‘healthy,’ ‘safe’ or ‘quality.’ But those words don’t necessarily equate. Pink slime is natural. So is high-fructose corn syrup. So is yogurt loaded with sugar.

B2C brands that deliver highly technical products and services are also guilty of hiding behind complex language. Take this sentence as an example, from an IT provider in my city:

Using virtualization technologies, multiple server operating systems are encapsulated to run across a pool of highly available servers. This enhances average server utilization and availability.

Huh?

Talking over customers’ heads isn’t just disrespectful—it creates confusion that muddies the sell-buy relationship. And customer confusion is bad for branding.

Any brand in any market—whether product or service, big or small, global or local—is wise to learn a lesson from pink slime: Customers crave—and deserve—clarity. In any market where the common language has been corrupted or become jargon-y, brands that cut through the BS with clear, straightforward communication truly stand out. People embrace brands that don’t pull the wool over their eyes.

Look at the industries you serve: Are there opportunities for your brand or your clients to rise above simply through language? Can you decipher complex messages, decode jargon-filled descriptions of products or services? There’s opportunity—and, I’d argue, obligation—in clarity.

Worth Reading

The Proposed Nutrition Label:
Commissioned by The New York Times, Werner Design Werks of Minneapolis created a prototype for a new food label that accounts for nutrition, sustainability, processing and production.

FTC Issues Advice on Eco Labeling:
From nutritionist Marion Nestle, an update on new Federal Trade Commission guidelines for brands using words like ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable.’

Worth Eating

Better Than Store-Bought:
My Better Than Store-Bought recipe series teaches you how to create homemade—and excellent!—versions of common store-bought items. My homemade granola bar recipe rocks.

 

New work: Recipes and blog posts for SparkRecipes.com

I love collaborating with my editors at SparkPeople.com and SparkRecipes.com, and here’s why: Their goal, like mine, is to help people who perhaps don’t love to cook learn to prepare healthy food for themselves and their families. My work with Spark presents an unusual challenge—unlike readers of, say, Edible Ohio Valley magazine (to which I contribute the Cultivators column), Spark-ers aren’t necessarily devoted cooks or foodies. I have to write with Spark members’ unique needs in mind: They want quick, easy recipes for food that tastes great and supports their health and fitness goals.

My work for Spark includes a new series of Power Foods articles that dig deep into the nutritional profiles of common fruits and vegetables and offer simple ways to prepare them.

Why Potatoes Are Good for You—This Power Foods article extols the virtues of the poor potato, so maligned by low-carb diet gurus. Potatoes lend themselves to unhealthful preparations, like deep frying and topping with sour cream and butter. But all the specialty varieties are fantastic when prepared simply.

I also regularly contribute a series of 10 Ways With … articles for DailySpark.com.

10 Ways to Enjoy Tomatoes—This article gives Spark members a variety of quick and easy ways to cook with this summer garden staple.

Another ongoing assignment: Hack the grocery store, with a series of Better Than Store-Bought recipes that let Spark members make homemade versions of supermarket staples, with an emphasis on recipes that are healthier or less expensive.

Fresh no-cook tomato sauce—If you still have access to ripe local tomatoes, either in your backyard garden or at the farmers’ market, then you’ll want to make this. I’ve tried other fresh tomato sauces to toss with pasta, but this one is different: You warm a bit of olive oil and drizzle that over peeled and diced tomatoes. The warm oil gently heats the tomatoes and deepens their flavor.

Chewy-Crunchy Granola Bars—So many store-bought granola bars include high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or preservatives. My version of homemade chewy-crunchy granola bars offers great texture, healthful whole grains and nuts, and tasty dried fruit.

Client love: Sterling Cut Glass

I happened to meet Mike and Leslie Dyas, owners of Sterling Cut Glass, at a memorable party last fall. That wine-infused conversation led to a terrific new collaboration. Since midsummer, I’ve been helping Leslie and her colleagues Linda Sacolick and Greg Grupenhof create blog and newsletter content that connects their small business with their loyal customers and prospects.

Sterling Cut Glass is a Cincinnati stalwart, with a retail store that offers monogrammed crystal stemware, table settings, home accessories and items to commemorate life’s biggest occasions. For generations, Sterling has been the go-to for wedding and baby gifts. But Linda and Leslie felt that the store had been pigeonholed as a place to shop for brides and newborns; in fact, they offer so much more for the home and table.

In short, Sterling Cut Glass helps customers create beautiful, unique dining and entertaining experiences at home, in addition to helping them commemorate life’s most special occasions with memorable gifts.

Linda, Greg and I have collaborated to create content for the Sterling Cut Glass blog and newsletter that offers customers new ideas for decorating and entertaining. Articles have included the hows and whys of pairing wines to specific glasses, new trends in home decorating and ideas for hosting a fun Halloween party.

I love writing about food and cooking—and with my partners at Sterling Cut Glass, I also get to write about special ways to share great food with friends and family.

 

Client love: SparkPeople.com

With more than 12 million members, SparkPeople.com is on a mission to help people live healthier lives. Whether that means losing weight, getting fit or running a marathon, SparkPeople has tools that lead folks toward nutritious food choices and inspire them to exercise.

Since 2010, I’ve been collaborating with the small and mighty team at SparkPeople.com, developing web content about healthy cooking and eating. I’ve written about healthy and creative ways to top that morning bowl of oatmeal, tips for stocking a spice rack, strategies for a disaster-proof Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve written about nutrition-packed foods, CSAs,  container gardens, and more. To date, we’ve teamed up on more than 20 web articles. And our work together is now expanding to include recipes and articles for SparkRecipes.com.

It’s terrific to be a part of the SparkPeople community and to help inspire others to get fit, get active and get healthy.

 

New work: A profile on creative exploration.

One Friday in April—Friday the 13th, to be precise—graphic designer Jennifer Sukis did something a lot of creative people people would long to do: She took off in search of inspiration. Grabbed a notebook, packed some camping gear, said goodbye to friends and walked away (gulp!) from a good job. She set off on a 41-day journey to interview five people who had reinvented themselves, in order to build lives of purpose. She hoped to learn from those folks about how to live in a way that’s true and meaningful and fulfilling.

I interviewed Jennifer just before she hit the road, and crafted a profile about her and her trip for HOWdesign.com. Here’s an excerpt from the story; you can read the full article here.

Her plan was to listen and absorb life lessons—and then turn those words of wisdom into a documentary film and book. Friends and connections contributed nearly $4,000 via Kickstarter to fund Sukis’s trip and project. As she wrote on her Kickstarter page, “I’m fascinated by those who can live in the present, who can take smiling leaps into an abyss and who are motivated enough to create momentum behind their imagination. And because, really, what’s more important than being able to look back and say, ‘Yep, that was a terrifying, exhilarating, incredible adventure, and I’m so thankful I found the courage to be brave.’”

What would it take for you to be that kind of brave? What’s holding you back, in life or in creative pursuits? What’s stopping you—or any of us?