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ChopChop Magazine: Inspiring & Educating Children And Families On Cooking Real Food Together For A Healthier Future – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Sally Sampson, Founder And President, ChopChop Magazine

December 5, 2016

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“We don’t hear from the people that are using the magazine that they’re dying for it to be digital. In fact, I will tell you that we had a digital edition that we stopped doing. It cost us more to produce it, because no one ordered it; no one wanted it.” Sally Sampson

“I honestly could not begin to understand why people feel that way. I still read paper books and I love magazines. I just think that there is something really special about print. I have an iPad and I read The New York Times on it; I read little things on it. But I think there is no sensuality to digital. Touching and feeling the paper is amazing. And I think for a child, for the magazine to be theirs, is pretty incredible.” Sally Sampson (on the myth that digital natives have an aversion to print)

The mission of ChopChop is clear and precise: To inspire and teach children and families to cook real food together. The non-profit brand believes strongly that cooking and eating together as a family is a vital step in resolving the obesity and hunger epidemics that are in the world. It’s an absolutely brilliant idea and one that has grown the magazine and its brand into many different areas of need. The magazine is a useful tool for doctors, teachers and anyone who wants to see a change in the eating habits of children and their families.

The founder and president of ChopChop is Sally Sampson, a seasoned writer of cookbooks and many, many articles. Sally had a reason very close to her heart for starting ChopChop and trying to make a difference in the eating habits of children, one of her own children had a chronic illness growing up and Sally felt the need to help and give back in some way by using her considerable talents to further this wonderful and needed mission.

I spoke with Sally recently and we talked about that mission and about the past, present and future of the ChopChop brand, or maybe movement would be a better description. Thanks to Sally’s efforts, doctors are including cooking and the values of good eating habits into their well visits for children, and teachers have a curriculum that they can utilize to further this education of food in the classrooms. It’s a movement that shows no signs of slowing down, as soon there will be another magazine geared toward older adults who also need help in the kitchen when it comes to eating healthier. And the grandest thing about all of these wonderful titles? They’re all in print. Mr. Magazine™ is definitely smiling.

So, without further ado, here is the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows her way around a healthy kitchen, Sally Sampson, founder and president, ChopChop magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

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On her motivation behind ChopChop magazine: My career experience has been as a cookbook writer and a magazine contributor. I wrote different cookbooks and I contributed to a lot of different food magazines and other magazines. And I also had a child with a chronic illness. She needed to be on a very, very low-fat diet, so as a result I learned a lot about obesity. I began to feel that writing cookbooks wasn’t what I wanted to keep doing. I wanted to give back in some way. And I thought that I could use my skills as a cookbook writer to help address obesity by getting doctors to prescribe cooking during well-child visits. So, I don’t know if you have children, but it’s now mandated that you take your kids at certain times and that doctor’s talk about healthy eating and physical activity during these appointments.

On expanding the mission: We’ve expanded the mission to obesity, poor nutrition and hunger. Unfortunately, that covers a huge portion of the population. Poor nutrition is an obesity effect, rich and poor, and hunger affects the poor and we’re focused in our brains on those most at risk, but ChopChop is written to appeal to any children. We hope that the Whole Foods moms pay for it and the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food moms get it for free through their SNAP program.

On whether she sees the niche market of children’s food magazines as growing: Well, it’s definitely grown. We’ve quadrupled in volume since our first year. And we have a bit of a strange business model. We’re a non-profit and we don’t take any ads. So, it really is 39 pages of content. There is one page where we have sponsors.

On any stumbling blocks that she’s had to overcome: If you asked my staff if we had stumbling blocks, they would say yes more than I would. I’m just the sort of person who puts one foot in front of the other and I don’t worry too much. Having had a chronically ill child, I don’t worry too much about anything other than my children being sick.

On the most pleasant moment she’s had throughout this magazine journey: We went to the White House and we interviewed Mrs. Obama; we did sort of a shared 5th anniversary of “Let’s Move” and ChopChop. We both launched within a month of each other and that was really incredible. We brought two kids to the White House and they interviewed her and she was amazing; she gave us way more time than she said she would. She was beyond charming with the kids. That was an amazing experience. We also won the James Beard Award, which was also incredible. So, those things are not insignificant, but I would say that the letters that we get from kids are just really moving and very real.

chop-chop-5On whether anyone has ever told her she was out of her mind for launching a print magazine in a digital age: Oh yes, all of the time. Of course, the people who ask us if we’re out of our minds are not our readers. I think for a child to get this beautiful four-color thing that they can hold and touch, where they see a child who looks like them is important. We show kids of every color, adorable, braces, in wheelchairs; we just featured a child with Down Syndrome. We show real kids, and we don’t put makeup on them; we don’t tell them to smile. So, your grandchildren, and I don’t have grandchildren yet, but my grandchildren someday; the idea is that any child should be able to open the magazine and feel like they can relate.

On the myth that digital natives do not want anything to do with print: I honestly could not begin to understand why people feel that way. I still read paper books and I love magazines. I just think that there is something really special about print. I have an iPad and I read The New York Times on it; I read little things on it. But I think there is no sensuality to digital. Touching and feeling the paper is amazing. And I think for a child, for the magazine to be theirs, is pretty incredible.

On why she thinks it took the magazine industry so long to discover that print is not dead: I think it’s human nature and that people just have a tendency to go to extremes. First it was: no, you can’t eat any fat. Now you can eat fat. It must be the nature of human beings. I don’t know. I never felt like paper was dead and as you said in the beginning, we launched when people thought we were nuts. We launched within a very short time of Gourmet closing. Everybody asked why we were doing paper? But it just seemed like the right thing to do.

On whether she feels now that ChopChop is a movement rather than just a magazine: I do. If you think about it, we’ve got the cooking club; we have the curriculum; we’re not just a magazine. And also, when I started, not only did people ask was I crazy for doing print, but they also asked are you crazy; kid’s cooking? Like, who cares? But you look at it now and everybody sees kid’s cooking as a pipeline to many different things, whether it’s teaching kids about math or teaching them manners or teaching them to be responsible for themselves; really cooking is everything. There’s nothing that you can’t learn in a kitchen.

chop-chop-6On what she would say if this interview were conducted one year from now: I would tell you that we launched a third magazine called “Seasoned.” And that magazine is for older adults. And you would say to me, but you’re focused on kids, and I would say to you, we’re focused on people who need help in the kitchen. “Seasoned” is launching in February, 2017. The AARP Foundation gave us a grant and I believe we’re actually launching in Mississippi as one of four southern states. It’s a smaller magazine and it’s for adults who need to cook from scratch instead of buying junk, and who are downsizing.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I cook a ton. This sounds crazy, but whenever I’m emptying my dishwasher, I’m sort of amazed at how much I cook. I cook all of the time. I don’t eat anything prepared; I make every single thing from scratch.

On what keeps her up at night: Not ChopChop. The direction of the country keeps me up at night, or if my children are having a problem, that concerns me, even though they’re in their 20s. That’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sally Sampson, founder and president, ChopChop magazine.

Samir Husni: Six years ago you founded ChopChop as a bit of an experiment, but since then it has turned into somewhat of a movement. I see that you’re now worldwide and in two languages; you have different editions, one for the woman, infant and child, and one for the schools. If you can, go back six years and tell me what motivated you to begin this ChopChop journey, and then briefly bring me up to date.

chop-chop-7Sally Sampson: My career experience has been as a cookbook writer and a magazine contributor. I wrote different cookbooks and I contributed to a lot of different food magazines and other magazines. And I also had a child with a chronic illness. She needed to be on a very, very low-fat diet, so as a result I learned a lot about obesity. I began to feel that writing cookbooks wasn’t what I wanted to keep doing. I wanted to give back in some way. And I thought that I could use my skills as a cookbook writer to help address obesity by getting doctors to prescribe cooking during well-child visits. So, I don’t know if you have children, but it’s now mandated that you take your kids at certain times and that doctor’s talk about healthy eating and physical activity during these appointments.

And what doctors were telling me was that they were talking about healthy eating all of the time, but they actually had no tools. So, I conceived ChopChop as a tool for doctors, but right after we launched, suddenly other kinds of organizations were coming to me and saying that they wanted it too. After school programs, Indian reservations, food banks; just wherever you could find kids. So, we expanded it from doctors “prescribing” it to anyone that worked with kids.

Samir Husni: So, you started it for a specific reason and now you’re all over the map with it.

Sally Sampson: Well, I wouldn’t say that we’re all over the map. We’ve expanded the mission to obesity, poor nutrition and hunger. Unfortunately, that covers a huge portion of the population. Poor nutrition is an obesity effect, rich and poor, and hunger affects the poor and we’re focused in our brains on those most at risk, but ChopChop is written to appeal to any children. We hope that the Whole Foods moms pay for it and the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food moms get it for free through their SNAP program.

Samir Husni: There are a lot of children’s magazines out there, but you were one of the forerunners when it comes to a food magazine for kids. But there are some imitators; even the Food Network publishes a special one once a year.

Sally Sampson: Yes, and that’s all ads. We have no ads.

Samir Husni: Do you see this niche market as growing?

Sally Sampson: Well, it’s definitely grown. We’ve quadrupled in volume since our first year. And we have a bit of a strange business model. We’re a non-profit and we don’t take any ads. So, it really is 39 pages of content. There is one page where we have sponsors.

The way we operate is you can get a subscription; so let’s say it’s you; you get a subscription for one of your grandchildren at $14.95 per year; done. Then the next step up is you could decide that you want every child in your granddaughter’s class to have a copy of ChopChop, so then you could order a teacher pack. And anyone can order that teacher pack. You pay for that and it’s very heavily discounted. It also comes with curriculum, so the teacher can use ChopChop in the classroom for math, science, social studies; now we’re doing some Spanish language skills, and that’s the next level of sponsorship. And the reason we did teacher packs is because teachers said to us that they were using ChopChop and wanted to continue to do so in the classroom, but that they were really busy, could we create curriculum? So, we’ve been doing that.

Then the next step up is you could be a doctor’s office or anything really, and you could order a case, which could be either 50 copies or 100 copies. Then the next level is a bulk order; we have people who buy 10,000 copies and they distribute them. Above that, we have people that the magazine is customized for, so we do about 12 customized versions. For instance, there are land grant universities that work with the U.S.D.A. and they use their SNAP education funds to pay for ChopChop as educational material. So, the University of Kentucky buys, and it varies from quarter to quarter, so plus or minus 150,000 copies. So, the bulk of our business is bulk. We’re not on newsstands; we do subscriptions, but that’s not the main part of our business. And, unlike other magazines, we don’t give away subscriptions because we’re not trying to get our numbers up to get advertisers.

Samir Husni: The way you operate allows you to stay truly honest to your mission.

chop-chop-4Sally Sampson: Exactly. And I’m very, very strict about that. Everything goes through the mission for us. Does this fulfill our mission? Now, that’s not to say that sometimes we don’t say this or that might be an interesting thing to experiment with, but it would never be against our mission in the first place, if that makes sense.

Samir Husni: Throughout these six years, has it been a stroll through a rose garden for you, or have you had some stumbling blocks that you’ve had to overcome?

Sally Sampson: If you asked my staff if we had stumbling blocks, they would say yes more than I would. I’m just the sort of person who puts one foot in front of the other and I don’t worry too much. Having had a chronically ill child, I don’t worry too much about anything other than my children being sick.

But there are things that have happened, such as we lost a major sponsor about a year ago. I know this may sound Pollyannaish, but it really does seem like when one door closes another door opens. There was a time when money was tight, obviously, but it doesn’t seem to stay that way. I’ve never had to lay anyone off or to make compromises that I didn’t want to make.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you throughout this magazine journey?

Sally Sampson: We went to the White House and we interviewed Mrs. Obama; we did sort of a shared 5th anniversary of “Let’s Move” and ChopChop. We both launched within a month of each other and that was really incredible. We brought two kids to the White House and they interviewed her and she was amazing; she gave us way more time than she said she would. She was beyond charming with the kids. That was an amazing experience.

We also won the James Beard Award, which was also incredible. So, those things are not insignificant, but I would say that the letters that we get from kids are just really moving and very real. For instance, we got a letter recently from a nine-year-old, and they’re always drawn, there are always pictures on them. And the child wrote: I told my mother that I would give her one million dollars if we could just test one recipe. And that’s incredible.

It’s just incredible. We get these very sincere letters from kids and it feels like we’re changing their lives.

Samir Husni: We live in a digital world and yet you launched the magazine in print, and in really, the height of that digital age. And you continue in print six years later. Has anyone approached you and told you that you were out of your mind for launching a print magazine in a digital age?

Sally Sampson: Oh yes, all of the time. Of course, the people who ask us if we’re out of our minds are not our readers. I think for a child to get this beautiful four-color thing that they can hold and touch, where they see a child who looks like them is important. We show kids of every color, adorable, braces, in wheelchairs; we just featured a child with Down Syndrome. We show real kids, and we don’t put makeup on them; we don’t tell them to smile. So, your grandchildren, and I don’t have grandchildren yet, but my grandchildren someday; the idea is that any child should be able to open the magazine and feel like they can relate.

And I think that’s really important. We’ve been very diligent about that. And particularly with low-income kids and all of the Xeroxed copies of things that they receive, they don’t get that glossy and beautiful magazine. And we don’t hear from the people that are using the magazine that they’re dying for it to be digital. In fact, I will tell you that we had a digital edition that we stopped doing. It cost us more to produce it, because no one ordered it; no one wanted it.

That said we have an online cooking club, which you should get all of your grandchildren to join. It’s free. And it’s really more about skills. So, it’s not as if we have no digital presence. This year we’re also going to do an app.

Samir Husni: You’re not the first to tell me that the younger generations crave print and want to have something in their hands. I see it with my own grandchildren. They get their magazines, whether it’s Highlights or Hello for my one-year-old, and they love them. So, why do you think that there’s this myth that because we live in a digital age, the digital natives don’t want anything to do with print? Do you think we’re lumping all of print together in the same pile; the newspapers, magazines and specialty things?

chop-chop-1Sally Sampson: I honestly could not begin to understand why people feel that way. I still read paper books and I love magazines. I just think that there is something really special about print. I have an iPad and I read The New York Times on it; I read little things on it. But I think there is no sensuality to digital. Touching and feeling the paper is amazing. And I think for a child, for the magazine to be theirs, is pretty incredible. That’s the feedback that we get. So, I don’t really know.

Samir Husni: I’m starting to hear more editors in chief and more CEOs say that they’re starting to think print first again. Why do you think it took the magazine industry so long to discover that print is not dead?

Sally Sampson: I think it’s human nature and that people just have a tendency to go to extremes. First it was: no, you can’t eat any fat. Now you can eat fat. It must be the nature of human beings. I don’t know. I never felt like paper was dead and as you said in the beginning, we launched when people thought we were nuts. We launched within a very short time of Gourmet closing. Everybody asked why we were doing paper? But it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Samir Husni: Do you feel now that ChopChop is a movement rather than just a print magazine?

Sally Sampson: I do. If you think about it, we’ve got the cooking club; we have the curriculum; we’re not just a magazine. And also, when I started, not only did people ask was I crazy for doing print, but they also asked are you crazy; kid’s cooking? Like, who cares? But you look at it now and everybody sees kid’s cooking as a pipeline to many different things, whether it’s teaching kids about math or teaching them manners or teaching them to be responsible for themselves; really cooking is everything. There’s nothing that you can’t learn in a kitchen.

You learn cooperation; a respect for other cultures; it’s science. We teach kids about fermentation and we teach them about emulsification, and we teach them how to multiply. We teach them, oh, here’s this dish and it’s eaten in 10 different countries, except in this country they put cumin in it and in that country they put dill in it, and it has a slightly different name, but it shows how people are the same all over the world.

I think about when my children were small, they’re in their early 20s now and we live in Watertown, Mass., which is very Armenian. My kids would bring hummus to school. And Watertown is so diverse, and they were teased for bringing hummus, but now hummus is like ketchup. (Laughs) So, the world changes around food.

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what will you tell me? What are your future expectations for ChopChop?

chop-chop-3Sally Sampson: I would tell you that we launched a third magazine called “Seasoned.” And that magazine is for older adults. And you would say to me, but you’re focused on kids, and I would say to you, we’re focused on people who need help in the kitchen. “Seasoned” is launching in February, 2017. The AARP Foundation gave us a grant and I believe we’re actually launching in Mississippi as one of four southern states. It’s a smaller magazine and it’s for adults who need to cook from scratch instead of buying junk, and who are downsizing. It’s like a cousin to ChopChop. It’s not going to look just like ChopChop, but you will look at it and get it.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home unexpectedly one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; cooking; having a glass of wine; or something else?

Sally Sampson: All of the above except for the wine. I cook a ton. This sounds crazy, but whenever I’m emptying my dishwasher, I’m sort of amazed at how much I cook. I cook all of the time. I don’t eat anything prepared; I make every single thing from scratch.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Sally Sampson: Not ChopChop. The direction of the country keeps me up at night, or if my children are having a problem, that concerns me, even though they’re in their 20s. That’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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