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Food ambassador addresses girl scouts

A world-renowned Bainbridge Island entrepreneur is the featured speaker at this week’s Peninsula Leadership Luncheon, which is sponsored by the Girl Scouts Totem Council.

“To be invited to speak in front of the Girl Scouts is quite an honor,” said Jerilyn Brusseau. “I hope that by telling my story I can inspire today’s scouts to take a leadership role. I want to give girls the courage to make the world a better place and take advantage of this huge opportunity to become young leaders.”

The luncheon takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 23 at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton.

Brusseau is characterized as a mix of cook, restaurateur, baker, businesswoman, humanitarian and cultural diplomat. A gourmet cook and former restaurateur, she has involved herself in such diverse activities as the quest for peace (PeaceTrees Vietnam (providing landmine clearance, awareness education for children, survivor assistance and tree planting programs for American and Vietnamese) and the quest for the perfect cinnamon roll (she developed the recipe for Cinnabon, a small bakery franchise that has become a fixture at shopping malls worldwide).

Along with running her own culinary consulting business, she has also founded PeaceTable, to create shared culinary experiences and bring people together from different cultures.

“Food is the universal language,” she said. “ It goes underneath our sterotypes and prejudices and allows us to connect as human beings. If we focus on learning each other’s traditions in the kitchen by sharing recipes we will learn something from each other.”

Aside from a similar name, PeaceTable and PeaceTrees share a process. In both cases members of different cultures approach a common goal; preparing a meal or planting a tree. This allows them to set aside their differences and learn about each other’s culture.

Brusseau, who lost a brother in Vietnam, has worked tirelessly to build a bridge to the country that was a former adversary. In ten years PeaceTrees has planted 32,000 trees and cleared landmines and ordnance from more than 200 acres. There are tangible results, she said the 14” saplings planted ten years ago now tower 50 or 60 feet.

The idea that people can solve big problems through small relationships came to Brusseau in 1985, when she was running a restaurant in Edmonds. A group of Russians visited the restaurant, and she found they were not quite as fearsome as the Cold Warmongers would have her believe. A few months later she visited the USSR for the first time, beginning an informal cultural exchange based on food. From this came the phrase “culinary diplomacy.”

While in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) she witnessed an instance that has become the basis of one of her favorite stories. She heard of a Japanese legend, where a little girl who had received radiation burns in the 1945 attacks on Hiroshima believed that if she was able to fold 1000 origami cranes her wish would come true. She completed the task just before her death, at which time she wished for world peace.

“This demonstrates the spirit of hope and possibility,” Brusseau said. “We don’t need to have an enemy. All we need to do is create a feeling of global citizenship and a sense that we are all in this together.”

Brusseau is the recipient of the 2005 Humanitarian and Lifetime Achievement Award fro mthe International Association of Culinary Professionals, for her efforts in improving conditions for underprivileged citizens. She also was recognized by President Bill Clinton for PeaceTrees’ conversion of a former marine base in Quang Tri province into a “Friendship Village” that serves the needs of 775 people.

“We were able to create forests in a place that was a war zone,” she said. “We were able to change what many people thought was an impossible situation. Each one of us has the capacity to be a leader, to make small changes in the world.”

Brusseau said that an important part of acting as a role model includes making healthy food choices. This means reducing fats and sugars, while adding vegetables, fruit, protein and fish.

There is an abundance of choices,” she said. “Choosing healthier foods for our children is part of our responsibility as adults. If the kids go to McDonalds we need to make sure they choose the healthiest option, and make eating there a special occasion rather than a routine one. We need to start making these healthy choices from the time that the children are small.”

Brusseau feels that character building on even the smallest scale will help to make the world a better place.

“All you need is compassion, mentoring, support, and really caring for young people.” She said. “As a result, scouting becomes a vehicle for leadership.”

For more information about the May 23 event go to www.girlscoutstotem.org.

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