How Women in Afghanistan are Challenging Gender Roles with Bikes

What if you were told you could not ride a bike because you're a woman? What if your younger sister wasn’t allowed to ride? What if every single woman in your family was kept away from bicycles simply because riding them was seen as immoral?

What if you were told you could not ride a bike because you're a woman? What if your younger sister wasn’t allowed to ride? What if every single woman in your family was kept away from bicycles simply because riding them was seen as immoral?

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In 2014, Make a Difference with These Nine Food Resolutions That You Can Actually Accomplish

Nine food resolutions that will help you eat better, live better and be a better steward of your community in 2014.

Here's the thing about resolutions: we make them because we want to do better—be better, even. So it's no surprise that food often becomes the focal point for New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, "Eat better!" isn't a resolution. That is an unrealistic goal that doesn't give you any parameters for success. And when it comes down to it, what does "eat better" really even mean?

Want to eat better, live better and be a better steward of your community in 2014? Then here are nine food resolutions that will help you do just that. This is not a list or rules and regulations; it's a collection of ideas for how you might start to have a better relationship to what you eat. You may be able to do one thing on this list. You might want to do all of them. Simply use it to inspire you to do better tomorrow than you did today. Change is an accumulation of small steps after all.

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Make Room for Discovery: Five Simple Steps For Explorers

This list—on how to be a modern day explorer—was made to open up room for discovery in your lives.

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How a Delicious, Oily Mess, Brought Me Back to Afghanistan

Food is an essential part of travel because it teaches us about a new place.

What is the first thing you do when you land in a new city? Most likely, find something to eat.

Food is an essential part of travel because it teaches us about a new place. It provides a look into a local culture and its traditions, be it lunch at a street cart or dinner in someone’s home, through a meal we learn.

Food brings people together. No matter where we are from, gathering around a meal is something that we all do. We eat and we talk. At home, that’s the recipe for a good dinner party. Abroad it’s a vehicle for bridging a cultural gap.

Last fall I traveled as part of a nonprofit project with Mountain2Mountain to Afghanistan. Before traveling to this part of the world, I had my hang-ups and perceptions. Ask me three words that I would associate with Afghanistan and I would have said, “terrorism,” “war,” and “destruction.”

Ask me for what I think of when I hear mention of Afghanistan today and my brain paints a different picture. The words change from time to time, but food is always one of the things that immediately comes to mind. I am reminded of long meals of kabuli rice and kebab. The never-ending cup of tea that is a given at any meeting. Oily fingers from eating the fried street food bolani, a dish somewhere between a calzone and a turnover.

I remember a meal in the small village of Istalif, north of Kabul. We were seated cross-legged on a toshak in the local restaurant where we had been invited to eat. No menu, just the specialty of the house: chaaynaki. A meat-based stew that’s served in a teapot. Huge pieces of naan, the Afghan flatbread, were brought to the table. Our translator indicated that we should rip the flatbread into small pieces and place it in the turquoise ceramic bowls in front of us. Filled with flatbread pieces, the chaaynaki was poured on top, and you ate the entire oily jumble with your hands. It was messy. It was also one of the best meals I have ever had.

The owner and chef insisted that I take his picture. He wanted his restaurant to be remembered.

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So you’re good at food porn…now what?

Be honest: in the last 24 hours, how many food photos have you taken? How many of them have you shared?

I was thinking of this over the weekend as I pulled out my phone to take yet another picture of my morning mug of tea. Granted the winter sunlight coming through the window was beautiful, and it was a calm quiet moment that I wanted to keep for later, but why wouldn’t just an image in my head suffice?

More than 60 photos per second are uploaded to Instagram, and sure they’re not all of food trucks and Americanos improved by a vintage filter, but food photos make up a large percentage of the millions of photos shared every day.

Why are we so obsessed with sharing our food with the rest of the internet?

Food is social. Eating is not only a way to sustain us; it’s a way to connect with each other. As Epicurus famously said, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink…” We want to share food pictures with our friends, because even if we’re eating alone, passing along an image is second best to having the person right there.

But it’s not just our own food photos that we’re drawn to. In general, we’re in a cultural moment where food reigns. Food & Drink is one of the most popular categories on Pinterest. Primetime television is booked to the max with cooking shows and reality culinary contests. The magazine stand is filled with glossy covers of exquisite meals. It’s not an understatement to say that we’re obsessed with food porn.

This is all well and good (there's nothing wrong with dreaming about food and how to make it better) but our obsession with food porn—be it on social media, in a magazine or on television—comes at a time when we’re fatter and hungrier than ever before. More than one third of U.S. adults are obese, leading to over $148 billion in associated health costs every year. At the same time, one in seven U.S. households don’t have enough food to put on the table. That’s over 17 million people going hungry every day.

Food porn gives us the illusion that all is well on the home front; that hunger and obesity are problems to be dealt with elsewhere. But while we’re busy snapping sexy shots of homemade granola served in a mason jar, there are people starving and dying from diet related issues.

There is a clear discrepancy here, and it’s one that’s essential to discuss.

The benefit of the rise of food photos is that it does have us talking more about what we eat and where it comes from, and that is the first step; the more conversations we have about food, the more aware we are about the food system as a whole. But conversations are just one part of the process. If we’re expecting to turn our awareness about what we eat into a pivotal point for the food movement, then we have to go one step further. Being conscious about what we eat is one thing; taking action to do something about it is another.

Food porn isn’t going to save the planet, but active, engaged individuals are, so take that love of food one step farther and do something with it.

Do a Community Project
There are plenty of ways to work on hunger and health issues in your own community. Find an organization that is working on food issues and see how you can take part. Or think about what the needs of the people around you are and start your own project. Some ideas:
Put surplus food to use—food waste is a big issue, and programs that work with stores and restaurants to distribute surplus food can greatly benefit the people that need it the most.
Teach others how to cook—sometimes one of the greatest barriers to eating good food is knowing what to do with it. Find an organization that works to educate children and families about how to make easy, healthy meals from scratch.

Volunteer at a Local Farm
There are lots of urban and rural farms around the country working hard to deal with issues of food insecurity, and they always need help. In Portland, Zenger Farms was one of the first to accept food stamps for its CSA program. They offer classes for the local community on not only farming, but also cooking. This is one of many programs around the U.S. working hard to better engage the community and provide economically viable local food solutions for all community members, no matter their socio economic situation.

Always Vote With Your Fork
It’s easy even for the most conscious of us to let things slide. Make small commitments that allow you to change your everyday habits. Maybe it’s committing to only eating meat that’s produced locally, or not eating a certain item of food that comes from far away. Whatever it is, there are changes that all of us can make, no matter where we are on the scale of foodie consciousness. We all have to eat everyday, and that’s why voting with our forks can have such an impact. Put that power to good use.

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Beyond the Burqa: 'Streets of Afghanistan' Photo Exhibit and the Struggle for Women's Rights

A documentation of our impressions of Afghanistan that few have the chance to see from the inside.

“Remember that being a woman is different in Afghanistan.”

I was getting yet another opinion on my decision to travel to Afghanistan. The statement was made out of love, wanting to remind me that I should be aware of my surroundings and behavior, that just because I was a strong, independent woman, I should remember to respect local culture. It was also coming from someone who had never traveled to Afghanistan.

These days we can know a lot about the rest of world, without ever leaving our homes, and that gives us the illusion of being informed. Like many of my peers, I too had a certain view of what “women in Afghanistan” meant. Images of burqas and limited rights came to mind. I also knew that on the other side of the world, we often only hear one side of the story. We are limited by what mass media feeds us. So I made an effort to go to Afghanistan with an open mind and open heart.

Before ten days ago, I had never worn a headscarf.

Before ten days ago, I had never really contemplated what my own assumptions about a burqa were.

Before ten days ago, I had taken my personal rights as an American female for granted.

Between 1999, under Taliban rule, and 2010, the number of girls enrolled in schools rose from 4 percent to 79 percent. When it comes to women’s rights, in Afghanistan there are many obstacles, but there's hope. This is a country where recently a woman was beheaded by her mother-in-law for refusing to go into prostitution, but it’s also a country where the youngest member of Parliament is a woman. Assuming that we know what women’s rights means in Afghanistan means closing our minds to what is possible.

Enter just a handful of government offices and you will inevitably find a few of them where a woman is in charge. The female bureaucrats that I have met are strong and efficient, but welcoming. Seeing them in action in a male-dominated society is inspiring. The streets of Kabul may be predominantly filled with men, but there is a real movement here to educate and empower women, both internally from the government, and externally from the support of non-profits.

Kabul is home to women’s shelters, learning centers, even a women-only Internet café. In the heart of city, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs runs the Women’s Garden, a huge enclosed space that includes classrooms for learning English and how to drive, Internet access and a restaurant—a space where women can interact in the safety of each other’s company. We brought the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition to this space, knowing that often, the majority of people out and about in public are men, and although our exhibit at Babur Gardens was shown to many families, we wanted a space where we knew women could interact with the pieces.

The set up was quiet and peaceful. After three days of producing public photo exhibits, it was nice to be in a space where I could freely sit and interact without the stare of a group of men—there’s no denying that being a foreign woman in Kabul draws attention. Women of all ages passed through the garden, either on their way to classes or just passing by with friends. A group of women gathered in the grass for tea. Stoic and serious faces warmed up with a salutary “salam alaikum”—an acknowledgement of our similarities despite our differences. One woman told me that she was happy to see the photos because there are many exhibits in Kabul but it is often hard to go to them as a woman because of security. She was happy to see the beauty of her country portrayed in these images.

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