Cooking Up a Revolution: Making soup as a political action

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BRATTLEBORO — Soup-making is a political act for some area residents who have concocted a recipe to help Democrats regain Congress in 2018.

The group, Southern Vermont Sister District Project, will be serving up samples of `Love More Lentil' soup at a booth on the Brattleboro Commons during Saturday's Strolling of the Heifers event.

Sister District Project is a national group based in Northern California working to channel energy from volunteers in "blue" states to help strategically important and winnable races in "red" or narrowly "blue" districts working alongside other projects such as Code Blue, Flippable, and Swing Left.

Southern Vermont Sister District Project, with 50 volunteers, has been coordinating with the national core group since March, meeting regularly at the Putney Library. As Vermonters, great food is never far from their minds, so they decided to sell subscriptions to soup to raise funds and awareness.

Soup subscribers can choose either a full share (two quarts) for $100 or a half share (one quart) for $50 which can be picked up locally. Subscribers can choose whether their funds go to Sister District Project to, according to its website, "help move our political structures in the direction of sanity, compassion and justice by supporting swing races across the country" or directly to the Southern Vermont group's first "sister" candidate, John Bell, who is in a race for House of Delegates in Virginia District 87, "a race critical to helping Democrats take back control of that state and to bring fairness back to redistricting."

For those supporters who will be on vacation or live out of the area, there is the option of donating all or part of their share to the Putney Food Shelf.

"We are committed to providing a variety of delicious and locally sourced soup with vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free options each week," Southern Vermont Sister District Co-Captain Peg Alden, an anthropology professor at Landmark College, said. "Our original goal was to raise $3,000 and we are already over halfway there with about 40 subscribers and growing."

The Project has enlisted 20 volunteer chefs who McNamara said have or will be undergoing safe food handling protocols to ensure the highest quality and safety for subscribers. Chefs pay for all the ingredients, McNamara said, adding that a future a reimbursement system may be implemented if some wish to cook but can't pay for ingredients.

Three pickup locations are currently planned for after 4pm on the third Sunday of each month on Spruce Street in Brattleboro, in Putney village and at Landmark College, but more locations may be added depending on how many subscribe, McNamara said.

"One of the best things about this project to-date for me has been the wonderful diversity of men and women who are getting involved ... buying subscriptions, "gifting" to the food shelf, volunteering to cook soup or donate their skills in other ways," Alden said.

"We live in the most progressive district in a progressive state, and sometimes it feels like we are in an echo chamber," Tammy McNamara, a veterinarian in East Dummerston who co-captains the Southern Vermont Sister District Project, said. "It's nice to think we can use our energy and creativity to influence national races."

Sister District central currently is focused on seven swing campaigns, funneling information from campaign managers back to locals like the Southern Vermont Sister District Project to determine what kind of volunteer help is needed. According to Sister District's website, all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates are up for election in 2017. Republicans hold 66 of the 100 seats, and every seat counts towards flipping the Virginia legislature blue. In 2015, only 21 Democrats ran against GOP lawmakers. This year, Democrats plan to challenge 45 GOP incumbents — including 17 lawmakers whose districts voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

"Sister District is teaching us how to organize, to phone bank, how to be ready to help. They set up a webinar with John Bell's campaign manager who explained how campaigns work," McNamara said. "We are all volunteers figuring it out as we go along. It's exciting and fun."

McNamara, who has been leading up the local group's phone banking for the Bell campaign said "Campaign contributions from outside play such a dominant role in shaping policy. Republicans have so blatantly manipulated redistricting to favor themselves. Turnout in local elections is ridiculously low. When you take all that into account, you realize that our calls help motivate people to exercise their responsibility to vote in a democracy and influence national policies that affect each and every one of us."

To subscribe or donate a soup subscription, fill out the Sister District Soup order form at bit.ly/SisterDistrictSoup. To volunteer to prepare soup for the Southern Vermont Sister District Soup Project or help in other ways, email SVTsisterdistrict@gmail.com. More information about Sister District Project can be found at www.sisterdistrict.com.

Lissa Weinmann can be contacted at lrweinmann@gmail.com.

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