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August 12, 2021 34 mins

It's not just a matter of food. It's a matter of nutrition. If Nutrition is the most powerful determinant of health, then why do over 40 million Americans have trouble putting food on the table? If access to nutritious food is required for optimal growth and development, how do we safeguard our children’s future by addressing hidden hunger in our communities? The good news is that organizations are shifting focus, adopting new policies and programs to promote healthier, more balanced lifestyles, especially for those facing real hunger.

 

On the first Episode of Force Multiplier join Baratunde as he sits with two leaders working across disciplines and sectors to solve nutrition insecurity. Gita Rampersad, Vice President at Feeding America, shares how the country’s largest hunger relief organization is working to provide communities across the country with access to nutritious food. Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District describes how an unexpected partnership between an NBA All-Star family, a passionate Spanish Chef and a committed community delivered 15 million meals to families in need, creating a new model for how cross-sector partnerships can tackle our most pressing issues.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Force Multiplier, a new podcast about leveling up
the impact we can have in the world through our relationships.
I'm barretton Day Thurston and in collaboration with I Heart
Radio and Salesforce dot Org, I sit with leaders from
across the public, private and nonprofit world who are forging
partnerships to tackle some of the toughest challenges facing us today.

(00:27):
Welcome to the show. Into our first episode, I am
glad you are with me, navigating these topics, learning from
these leaders, getting inspired, and changing the world in the
good way, not the bad way. We're taking this one issue,
one solution, and one relationship at a time. So we

(00:48):
used to call it hunger. Then it was food insecurity.
Now it's nutrition insecurity. We're not changing the language just
to make life difficult or annoying. We change our language
as we change our understanding and learn more about the
real challenges of hunger, which is not simply a lack

(01:09):
of calories. Nutrition insecurity is the inability to access adequate
quantities of nutritious foods required for optimal growth and development.
It's a lack of nutrients we need to thrive as people. Now,
quality nutritious food is getting harder to come by. We've

(01:30):
seen the images of the lines at the food banks
in this country, and they don't stop there these challenges.
It's hard to come by good food unless you've got
plenty of resources, and it's complicated by additional factors. Consider
the backdrop of climate change, which makes growing healthy food harder.
Our lettuce is literally weaker now because of that. Consider

(01:53):
the legacy of economic and racial inequality, which makes access
to the healthy foods unevenly to atributed across our society.
Consider the way the economics of our food system have
been established to maximize profit over health, and we start
to understand the perverse incentives that we witness at every

(02:13):
step in the supply chain. We got plenty of food,
we just don't have equal access in terms of quality,
healthy options for everybody. This is urgent and important because
nutrition is the most powerful determinant of our health. Food

(02:34):
is almost literally medicine, with forty five percent of deaths
from heart disease, stroke, or diabetes being linked to poor diet,
with families facing nutrition insecurities at the highest risk of
chronic diseases, and all that further heightened by racial and
equities and healthcare. This is a national security issue, this

(02:54):
is a human rights issue. It's a basic issue of humanity.
The good news is changes coming slowly, with organizations shifting
focus and adopting new policies and programs to promote healthier,
more balanced lifestyles to increase options and opportunities, especially for
those facing real hunger. Now this matters to me because

(03:18):
I grew up with a front row understanding of hunger,
not because I experienced it directly, but because my mother
was amazing and wanted me to fully understand the city
I grew up in and the people I was surrounded by.
We grew up volunteering in my household in soup kitchens
and meal wagons in Washington, d C. My mother and

(03:39):
I would collect leftover food from my after school program,
drive it over in the family station wagon to a
place called Martha's Table, still in operation to this day.
Then I'd ride in the back of McKenna's wagon, the
van that stops and parks all over the city, and
get to distribute food, but more importantly, interact with the

(04:00):
people who needed it. And I saw firsthand, with the
eyes of an eight year old, some of the challenges
involved in access to quality food. I'm talking about waste.
I'm talking about the cruelty of our social service system.
I'm talking about the painful interlinking cycles of food and security,

(04:20):
housing insecurity, and job insecurity, where any one of those
factors makes the other more likely. Food is a complex issue.
It's not as simple as air dropping palettes of food
and hotspots and calling it a day. It's connected to
other critical human needs jobs, housing, transportation, and much more.

(04:44):
Addressing it requires connecting across sectors, collaborating among private, public,
even educational participants working at the national level and the
local level if we're really gonna move of the needle
and effect change. In this episode, I am thrilled to
speak with two women who represent the power of that

(05:07):
collaboration and are among the best leaders we have working
across disciplines and sectors to affect our communities in a
positive way on this critical issue. First, I'm gonna sit
with Dr Kyla Johnson Trammel, Superintendent of the Oakland Unified
School District. Then we're gonna hear from Geta Ramperside, Vice

(05:29):
president at Feeding America, who's working at the national level
in this stellar organization, Nutrition and security is an urgent need.

(05:50):
This is so clear, and understanding and addressing the problem
from our national leaders is a huge part of the solution.
The other part comes from the community leaders, the educators,
the organizers on the ground at the local level, who
are forging the partnerships to scale and multiply the impact
of good. They're the ones who helped bring this home. Literally.

(06:13):
So I sat with one of those leaders, Dr Kayla
Johnson Trammel, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, a
public education school district that operates over eighty elementary, middle
and high schools, twenty eight district authorized charter schools, serves
over fifty thousand students. I sat with the good superintendent
to understand how an unlikely partnership between an NBA All star,

(06:37):
his entrepreneur wife, a passionate and driven chef, and an
entire school district came together to provide fifteen million meals
to the community. Dr Kayla, how are you right now?
I'm well? How are you? I am well? Great to
virtually meet you. Nice to virtually meet you. Two. This

(06:59):
is my first time conversing with a superintendent. What a title?
The kids call me Mama of the district, So I
like that title better. I like that too. We never
have enough time, but you know some of what we're
here to talk about, and I just want to set
it up with my own comments about kind of nutrition
and security and thinking about schools and the roles they play,

(07:23):
because it feels to me like they're one of these
critical venues where we could intervene and make a difference.
The younger we are, the more important it is to
set that direction right early on really can determine our outcomes.
We also expect a lot from our school systems. You
are at the center of that in so many ways.
Want to get into that with you later, but I
want to start off with the Oakland Unified School District

(07:46):
and what seems to be a unique approach to education,
this idea of calling yourself a community schools model and
educating and caring for the whole student. Can you explain
what's different about o u s D, this community model
and this whole student approach. Yeah, I'd love to. And
first of all, I always like to say it's kind

(08:06):
of like fashion, where nothing is really new and things
just come back and vogue, and I feel like it's
important to give a nod and a shout out to
schooling and other parts of the world where the community
is at the center. And when we think about all
the things that need to be in place for kids
to learn, we know their communities have to be healthy. Physically,

(08:28):
we know kids have to be fed. You can't learn
when you're hungry. Then you think about all the social,
emotional learning components and wellness. All of these pieces have
to be in place for all kids to really live
out their fullest potential. So that's really the essence what
our vision and mission is all about. And the boldness

(08:50):
and broadness of it means we can't do it by
ourselves as a school system. So you're going beyond grades
and test scores, well beyond absolutely. If all those pieces
are flowing well, we'll see greater acceleration in terms of
kids really being able to think and being active, productive

(09:12):
and effective citizens in our workplace and in our communities.
You speak in my language. You mentioned fashion, and I
think there is a fashionable term that gets thrown around
a lot, which is equity. Sometimes it's a part of
a whole cohort diversity and equity, you know, featuring inclusion. Right,
that's right, but I've heard you say the term operationalized equity.

(09:37):
What does that mean to you? Yeah? For me, operationalizing
equity is about what are the concrete things you do
to put it in action to make a difference. So
it's everything from mindset and changing the mindset both for
yourself and your organization, to really thinking about how you're
using your resources differently to really move the needle and

(10:00):
transform outcomes for the most vulnerable. What are some of
the needs? If you could give me a list of
what some of the whole student needs that you're able
to identify from your position as a school at district administrator,
what are those? By thirty I believe the minority will
be the majority in terms of our student population and

(10:21):
our national population. Yet in our school district, the majority
of our educators are predominantly white. So one need is
getting serious around how we continue to prepare our educators
to support and teach a diverse population. That's one need

(10:41):
to Public education in the United States is always underfunded,
and so when we think about operationalizing equity, the greater
need you serve, I believe, the more dollars you should
get per pupil three, really continuing to think differently around
what it means to be educated in the me for century,
it is far beyond a grade. Being able to graduate

(11:04):
from Stanford and Harvard is great, but that doesn't necessarily
mean that that is going to prepare you for the
vast changing world. And so this notion of preparing kids
for work, making sure that kids are life learners because
their job market might change. So those are all examples
of a lot of the needs that we have and

(11:25):
the continued need around just developing the whole child in
terms of the social emotional component and that being a
through line of education. I want to move to nutrition
and how that's sometimes hard to meet need gets met
in your school system, and to start what happens when
it doesn't, what happens for a student whose nutritional needs

(11:48):
are not being met, you know, I think first, if
you think from a humorous standpoint, you know that Snickers
commercial where people turn into the worst versions of themselves
when they're hungry, you get angry. Yeah, exactly, that's the same,
particularly for little kids and adolescence. And so it's kind
of the bottom part of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. When

(12:12):
we think about what you need to have in order
to concentrate and focus. And so we in Oakland, like
many urban school districts, about our kids qualified for free
and reduced lunch. I think a lot of people don't
realize how many families are hungry in our country because
a lot of times they're working families, and so families know, Okay,

(12:33):
my kid's going to go to school and get a
meal to two meals every single day. And so with
the pandemic happening, I remember hearing about some schools were
up to families were unemployed, restaurants were down, there was
no work, and so that need to make sure that
those kids had meals really signaled to nine one one call.

(12:56):
What's the process for making sure these students get food
and not just random food but nutritionus food. So that
is a lot of what we're doing now, really paying
attention to the quality of the meals. And so with
our partnership with Eat, Learn and Play, during the pandemic,
we were able to serve up to thirteen thousand meals

(13:19):
per week and over the course of the year and
a half about fifteen million meals. I want to understand
the collaboration involved in rising to this fifteen million meals distributed.
Who is Eat Learned Play and explain to some of
our listeners what role they've played in this nutrition security
operation you've helped spin up. So before the inception of

(13:43):
Eat Learned Play, the curries have always just been so
generous and dedicated to the Oakland community. And we're talking
Step and you're talking Step and Aisha, I mean stuff
has shown up to schools assemblies just very genuine Ayisha
has cooked for the food service workers. And then with

(14:05):
the Foundation really in the words you know eat, We
know kids need to have healthy, nutritious food in order
to learn, and we're focusing a lot on literacy and
then the importance of play, making sure that kids are
staying healthy and getting exercise and that that's also a
part of their educational diet as well. So I think

(14:28):
the relationship and seeing the commonalities between their vision and
our vision is a school district. They really were the
connectors the Foundation. They were the ones that were able
to bring in the world Central Kitchen and other partners
after again hearing the why, seeing how compelling it is
to solve this bold, ambitious challenge that we were up

(14:52):
against and saying okay, we see what it is you need.
This is where we can come in and support. And
then World Central Kitchen. Some of us are familiar with
Chef Jose Andres who flies in post disaster all over
the world and activates chefs on the ground with their
role Ben in the Oakland Unified School District. Successful experiment here,

(15:14):
so really connecting the restaurants and really being able to
bring a lot of the local restaurants into the operation.
They can actually help and get funding in order to
provide the food for the operation where our capacity was
just maxed out, and so being able to develop the

(15:35):
infrastructure in order to do that and to figure out
how that partnered with what our everyday food service workers
were able to do in terms of being the face
connecting with the students of the school district. So it
really was a pretty complex operation. What other parties were
involved in pulling this off. There's the school district, there's

(15:57):
Eat Learned play in. The foundation is World Central Kitchen,
but I'm sure there were a few other entities. Can
you kind of run off a list of all the
partners in this? Oh my god, I don't think we
have enough time on the podcast. I'd say, you know,
just for starters, sales forces just continue to just be
an amazing partner for us in so many different places
and really again not just in terms of funding, but

(16:21):
really helping us think smartly in terms of infrastructure. I'm
a huge believer that technology is a tool to help
bring greater efficiency so that humans can really do what
humans can do, and technology can't to spend time making
those connections, but lots of local partners on the ground.

(16:42):
NUMI Foundation has been another important partner for US community
based organizations. School sites that were the center for the
food distributions are restaurants, are local farmers who were providing
the produce. So really, I mean, when you think about
how an economy he works, it's really a teeny example

(17:02):
of that. When you think of all the folks involved,
you help spin up a tiny economy, you know that's
having a pretty massive impact. And I want to ask
you this question about that impact, because you have a
lot of different factors that have led to this success.
What would you say is the force multiplier what gave
you the biggest bang for the book, the most leverage

(17:26):
in terms of making this program work, Having a compelling
vision and the equal amount of conviction I think to
dream beyond what you see. People have to have this
sense in their gut of like, we can do this
even though we may not know exactly how, and we

(17:46):
see we feel how important, like the moral imperative around
feeding kids, no one's against that. We've got kids that
are hungry, and really being able to paint this compelling urgency.
I've observed a lot of people who want to help.
We'll show up with a bag of money, right, and
hope to just launch that at the problem, or a

(18:08):
pile of code. Right, let's just throw an app at it, right,
there's an app for that. It's kind of the mantra
that comes out of the Bay Area a lot and
tries to solve problems. And what you're reminding me of
is it's people, it's vision, it's conviction, it's all this
partnership and it's intelligently putting this stuff together. But it's
not simply code or dollars that's going to get this
stuff done. Absolutely, and to me, under partnership, it's communication.

(18:32):
When you execute something and it doesn't go according to plan,
how do you work through the conflict, the tension, how
do you work through the challenge? You know, kind of
reflecting on that and figuring out how you continue to
refine it. There is someone listening to this who wants
to lend their expertise to their own community. They're hearing this,

(18:55):
they're getting inspired, They're fired up and ready to go.
What advice would you give that person on where and
how to start? The first piece of advice I would
give is what my grandmother always told me growing up,
which was, you know, maybe you have two ears and
one mouthful a reason listening. Start with your local school.

(19:17):
It may just be volunteering to really figure out what
lights your passion and fire in terms of where you
want to help, to figure out the best relationship between
what you have to give and what that particular school needs.
It may not be money. It maybe time. It may
be access to a resource, but listening and taking the

(19:38):
time to build relationships so that we could better optimize
everyone's support. I have observed that we put a lot
of burden on our school system. We want them to
do all kinds of people's jobs. You've got to be
a public health official, law enforcement operator, a politician, a
budget master. Do you get frustrated by what I consider

(20:02):
to be sort of unfair expectations and more to the point,
how do you manage what I proceed to be a
growing set of expectations on our education system to do
far more than educate. Frustration absolutely just at the enormity
of the challenge and the task. These are human beings
and people's children that I'm speaking as a mom. They're

(20:25):
the most precious and dear thing to anybody. But I
think first it really starts with not putting superhero expectations
on yourself. I often spent a lot of the first
year reminding people that I'm not a superhero, and if
you expect me individually to solve all of these problems,

(20:45):
you're going to be disappointed. We have got to figure
out a way to do this as a collective, and
so I think that that needs to continue to be
the mantra. Right from federal policy, state policy, businesses, taxpayer,
everybody has the responsibility to make sure that the kids

(21:06):
are good. So if you have to set boundaries and
really be clear about what you can do and where
you need the help to get to the level of
ambitious transformation, I want to make you a T shirt
or a sweatshirt that says I am a superintendent not
a superhero. Oh. I love that you've renewed your contract

(21:28):
in this role at a time when many people who serve,
especially in the public, are running away from those jobs.
You'll end up being the longest serving superintendent. I believe
in O U. S D. Why are you doubling down?
Why are you sticking it out? I get a lot
of joy out of what I do. I love a
lot of the people that I work with. I love

(21:50):
deep problem solving. I love kids. Kids just give me energy.
It's like free comedy seven children, and they keep it real.
So there's no doubt every day, whether it's a success
or a failure, that what I'm doing is valuable. I'd
love to know have you tried to create a culture

(22:13):
where mistakes are acceptable? You know, not just in yourself
and how you handle it, but among your staff and
in the wider school district culture. I am trying. It
is a hard culture to disrupt, particularly in the political
sphere where you're on a school cycle where people do
expect solve all the problems in a year. It's definitely challenging,

(22:37):
but I believe it does start with leadership. Most mistakes
you can bounce back from, and I think a lot
of what we're wrestling with internally is capacity building to
help them say, I know this is what I'm supposed
to do, but I actually need some help thinking through
how to do that without seeming that you are incompetent.

(22:57):
And I think that's the struggle in terms of organ
zational leadership that we're going to need to just meet
a lot of the complex problems that we have. I'll
give the mic to you. The themes that we've been discussing, collaboration, nutrition, kids, health,
and the role of technology in enabling all that so
that we have a strong democracy. Is there anything else

(23:19):
you want to add? We need more bold leadership. It's
just so important when we think about the challenges of
education and the environment, equity and diversity and inclusion, what's
needed in the private sector and the public sector. It's
just everything. How we're going to come out of COVID.
So much of what we're going to need is bold leadership.

(23:42):
So you know, don't be afraid to lead, you know,
from whatever seat you don't have to be head of
an organization. We need people to really lead into their
agency to transform the world that we want to live in.
Dr Kyla thank you for your bold and bodacious leadership.
I really appreciate this time we've had together. Me too, Yes,

(24:03):
thank you for the conversation. H you're listening to a
podcast called Force Multiplier, Action meets Impact. Now you've probably
grown to expect ads inside your podcast. But we're gonna

(24:26):
do something a little bit different to walk the walk.
We're gonna take a quick break and hear from one
of the organizations featured in this episode. Be right back.
If you came across the child struggling with hunger, how
would you recognize him? By their clothes, their age, the
way they speak. Would you recognize a thirteen year old

(24:48):
boy who gets into fights at school not because he's
a boy, but because he's hungry? Or two year old
girl who cries all night not because she's said, but
because she went to bed without HI have to eat?
Or maybe a nine year old boy who hopes that
for an advice and not for fun, just so we
can have dinner. Or a fifteen year old girl who

(25:11):
goes for walks over lunch so her friends won't know
she doesn't have anything to eat. I am the one
in seven American children who struggle with hunger. Kids you
passed by every day but never knew were hungry. I
am child hunger in America. Hunger can be hard to recognize.
Learn why I am Hunger in America dot Org brought

(25:33):
to you by Feeding America two hundred food banks strong.
Hey you, it's Baritone Day, host of the podcast you're
listening to right now. When I was a kid, my
mom told me to come up with a system we
could live under after democracy had failed. Yeah, my mom
was intent. I haven't finished that assignment, but I did
make a podcast. It's called how does Citizen? With Baritone Day.

(25:56):
It reimagines citizen as a verb and reminds us how
to wield our collective power. Find seasons one and two
and whatever podcasts app using right now? And season three
all about tech, drops in October. Learn more at how
does Citizen dot com? About forty two or forty three

(26:18):
million people in this country don't have enough to eat
and don't have the resources they need to put food
on their families tables every day of the week, and
that's unacceptable for US. Geeta Rampersade is the vice president
of Feeding America, leading national healthcare partnerships, health and nutrition
programs for the second largest charity organization in the US

(26:41):
committed to ending hunger in America. So Feeding America is
a national organization with headquarters in Chicago and Washington, d C.
We have close to two hundred food banks, I want
to say a hundred and nine that serve every single
county in this country and some of them reach across

(27:01):
state lines to provide communities with access to food that
they ordinarily wouldn't be able to reach. And so they're
all working independently. They are all their own experts, I
will say. So our goal at the national office is
to really provide the support that they need. They are
the true leaders in this space. We believe that food

(27:23):
insecurity is a solvable social determinant of health and also
that access to food just isn't good enough. Why is
it that black households experienced food insecurity is such a
higher rate than others. Why is it that they have
to rely more heavily on the charitable food system to
get through the week with food on their tables. Others
may access our services once or twice a month, and

(27:46):
we see that marginalized populations are accessing our resources at
a much higher rate. And these are basic necessities. But
this is also not just coincidence. These are policies and
practices that have been said up in this country for
some people to fail, and it's up to us to
see not only that people are fed, but that these

(28:08):
and other populations can heal. One thing that I think
is truly innovative and unique to the work that we
do is the fact that we are engaged in so
many cross sector partnerships. Oftentimes, our food banks feel that
they bear the weight of the world on their shoulders,

(28:30):
and particularly now during this pandemic, but cross sector partnerships
have emerged that have really started to make our workflow improve.
So right now I'm privileged to be working with some
of our health care partners on connecting food banks to
local healthcare organizations via health systems, health plans, health centers,

(28:50):
community health and our goal is to really do this
deeper dive, beginning with data, but also bringing in the
wisdom of the community and hearing listening to the community's
voice on what it is, What are your needs, what
is it that's stopping you from being able to access
healthy food options in your community, and how is it

(29:11):
that we can work together with you alongside you to
make those changes. It's really refreshing to see healthcare organizations
stepping up and wanting to partner with us as really
equal partners. For example, one of the unlikely allies I
never would have expected through a role at a hunger
relief organization is the partnership that my team at Feeding

(29:35):
America has with the Centers for Disease Control. They're offering
not just a hand, but a seat at the table.
But these partnerships don't just stop at healthcare or actually
being given the opportunity to work closely with affordable housing
partners with a project that's going to allow food banks
and affordable housing partners to collaborate to improve access to

(29:57):
nutritious foods for people living in a hoordable housing. Beyond housing,
we've also had the privilege of working with organizations that
are addressing social isolation. We've seen during this pandemic that
there are many people that are homebound, so we're working
with organizations to be able to address things like transportation challenges.
But the innovation that I'm seeing coming out of some

(30:20):
of these partnerships is really stimulating. It keeps me motivated
and I really am optimistic about being able to be
transformative when it comes to reimagining the charitable food experience
for people facing hunger. I would love to be able
to give advice to other executives who are deciding whether

(30:43):
or not they can contribute their time and skills. I'd say,
do it. Don't be afraid, just do it, but be authentic.
Don't do it for a photo op, don't do it
for a ribbon cutting. Do it because you really do
want to see change in your community or in somebody
else's community, and get to know the people that are
in the community. You know, get out of your ivory tower,

(31:06):
join the fun, and be part of the progress firsthand.
Like I am, if we don't listen to our communities,
we will never be able to achieve success. In order
to do that, you have to kind of leave behind
some of your routine and take a risk. Encourage everybody
to take the time to listen to people's lived experiences

(31:27):
they want to share, and that may inspire you to
really get out and roll your sleeves up and like
I said, join the fun. We just heard from two
incredibly bold leaders who recognize that relationships offer a more
effective way through big problems than acting alone. Feeding America

(31:51):
has these partnerships with affordable housing groups, community health centers,
even the CDC. They connect national policy making to community
members on the ground. And the way Geeta phrase feeding
America's relationship with the communities they serve says a lot
to me. They ask, how can we work with you?
Alongside you? That's such an important dose of humility and

(32:13):
respect and a sign of how much the organization's values
gets relationship with the people it serves. Dr Kyla in
Oakland insists she's not a superhero, but I'm pretty sure
she's demonstrated some superpowers in her ability to coordinate groups
as varied at school, food service workers, restaurant owners, and
celebrities invested in Oakland, all in service of a collective

(32:36):
mission to support the whole student. Now, establishing relationships solve
a problem, that's one very important step. But nurturing them
and sustaining them through difficulties when things don't work out,
that's a whole another ball game. So I especially appreciate
Dr Kyla's comments about the value of communication and the
acknowledgement that we're all human and we have limits. Begin

(33:00):
of limits, It's time for this human to wrap things
up Thank you so much for listening. This is Force Multiplier.

(33:26):
Do you want to dig in more on today's guests
and the work they're doing, or maybe you want to
understand what action you can take in your community. Either way,
go to Salesforce dot org slash force multiplier. That's one word,
force multiplier. Force Multiplier is a production of I Heart
Radio and Salesforce dot Org. Hosted by me Barritton day Thurston.

(33:46):
It's executive produced by Elizabeth Stewart, produced by Van Chian,
and engineered, edited and mixed by James Foster. Join us
next time for more stories of how we can change
the world, one relationship at a time. Listen to Force
Multiplier on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever
you get your podcast
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