In the summer of 2014, while speaking to a college friend, I cynically stated that as a professional cook all I do is “make dinner for rich people.” He said, “You’ve been saying this for years.”
I then went on to detail the ways that I rationalize that frustration—how I can move the money that I earn from that cooking to small family farms and the people I employ. And that that frustration deflates with the unending joy I derive from cooking for people who are interested and excited by food. But at the end of the day all those positives don’t fully eliminate my feelings of ick.
So instead of abdicating my own responsibility by only apologizing for my choices and relative affluence, it is time to start learning about hunger, how to combat it and then find ways to share those action items- and above all to do this without denying any of the pleasure of food.
In this relatively short time, I’ve decided to focus on two branches of the larger umbrella of hunger activism—food insecurity and food waste.
Food Insecurity #FeedMore
Used as a term to differentiate between those suffering from extreme poverty and hunger and those who regularly have to choose between paying for rent, bills, and food.
I admit that the complexity of solving the most intense hunger and poverty issues in our country make me feel like Marie Antoinette and just as ineffectual. But by focusing on how to make food just a bit easier to get for those teetering on the edge, I think we can make a real difference in low to middle income populations and curb the long-lasting sociological issues associated with not knowing where your next meal will come from.
Food Waste #WasteLess
The Food Waste Reduction Alliance estimates that 25-40% (or 40 million pounds) of the food in the United States will never be trashed. The USDA estimates that nearly 50 million people in the US are food insecure. Creating awareness and better systems for putting that food into mouths instead of landfills would make huge strides toward being sure that our population does not suffer the myriad effects of hunger.
This waste happens in large systematic ways—slightly damaged food disallowed from being sold in grocery stores and thrown away instead, truckloads of cherries pitched because a single fruit fly larvae was found in one of the boxes, expiration dates that don’t reflect the actual safety of the food resulting in dumpsters of yogurt in the alleys behind grocery stores.
It also happens in small, personal ways—buying 2 lbs. of asparagus and throwing away half of it because it wasted away in the back of the fridge, broccoli florets in our mouths but the stems ending up in the trash, making more food than we need and then pitching the leftovers instead of taking them to work for lunch.
What I Do
Wasting less food. Buying what I need, using as much of it as possible, and sharing my knowledge base as a chef to help other to do the same.
Supporting the people who are dedicating their lives to solving the institutionalized problems with food distribution and hunger. For every seat at a farm dinner I cook to celebrate food, I will donate $5 to a local food bank or hunger advocacy non-profit. In Chicago this will be the Greater Chicago Food Depository. In Leelanau Co it will be the Father Fred Foundation.
Remember to be thankful for the food on my plate and the fellowship that I find when sharing a meal while keeping those who don’t have regular access to food in my mind.