Learning to navigate an unfamiliar city - Washington D.C. - was the first challenge of many in my summer Haney Fellowship. Slowly, I began to understand that many of the streets were named for states. I wandered across Ohio Drive, my own New Jersey Avenue, and my personal favorite, Wisconsin Avenue. As the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. serves as a unifying place for each of our states to have a voice in their own governance: a seat at the table. These individual streets are woven together to create the capital. Throughout my time in D.C., this unifying sentiment present as I walked each state’s street reinforced what I was learning: all of us as individuals and as communities have a part in coming together to solve pertinent problems like hunger, just as the states do in D.C to solve problems of a complex society, 50 states coming together to create one capital.
This summer, I spent my time working with the nonprofit organization D.C. Central Kitchen. As the nation’s first and leading community kitchen, D.C. Central Kitchen recovers food that would otherwise be wasted and transforms it into sustaining meals to be given to the hungry.
In this past year, D.C. Central Kitchen provided 3.2 million nutritious meals to local shelters, nonprofits, and public schools from food that would have otherwise been wasted.They also target the root cause of hunger by finding pathways out of poverty through numerous different programs. Their primary mission, as they like to say, is to “fight the cycle of hunger and poverty.” In this past year, D.C. Central Kitchen provided 3.2 million nutritious meals to local shelters, nonprofits, and public schools from food that would have otherwise been wasted. D.C. Central Kitchen also has a subproject with which I spent most of my time working, The Campus Kitchen Project. The goal of TCKP is to scale the operations of D.C. Central Kitchen by following the D.C. Central Kitchen food recovery model but on college campuses, taking food waste from school cafeterias and turning it into meals for outreach centers in their own communities. During my time with D.C. Central Kitchen, I was able to speak with the CEO, Mike Curtain, and I asked him why D.C. Central Kitchen choose food as a tool with which to fight poverty. And he answered with a simple response: “Food is a unifier.” Those four words strongly resonated with me. From the King Arthur to the Last Supper, people unite at a table, over a meal. He then explained, once we have used this unifying tool, once we all sit down together at a table, we have the space to be able to discuss other more difficult conversations about poverty. Just as our states unite in Washington, so should we use food to unite others in the fight to end poverty.
I spent my time with D.C. Central Kitchen in many different ways. The first was by attending a conference for all those involved with the Campus Kitchen Program. We spent a week learning about food insecurity, nutrition, sustainability, value-added products and other relevant information.
To be able to learn from remarkable people about such a fascinating and impactful topic was transformative.The statistics that most stuck with me were that in America 40% of produce is wasted each year and that 1 in 6 people do not know where their next meal is coming from. In monetary terms, last year American homes wasted $144 billion dollars by throwing away usable food. To be able to learn from remarkable people about such a fascinating and impactful topic was transformative. We had a speaker from the multinational corporation Patagonia who spoke to their company's unique sustainability initiatives and their goal of being a leader to other companies. Even my conversations with people working with their own Campus Kitchens were learning experiences. I made the most friends and had the best conversations there at lunch, only reaffirming the D.C. Central Kitchen mission of coming together and learning at table.
We spent time learning about food safety. I discovered the complicated nuances of how to safely handle food from the very basics of hand washing to complex topics such as foodborne pathogens. We also studied more specific topics like the correct temperatures at which to hold food at to avoid the growth of such foodborne pathogens. We looked at the potential dire consequences of disregarding proper food safety practices where, for example, pregnant women ate contaminated food and it led to their needing induced labor and consequential disabilities for their children. This culminated in taking the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification, an intensive exam which tests this knowledge of the proper way to avoid foodborne illnesses. I passed the certification, which is valid for five years.
I finally put my new knowledge to the test and spent time working in the DC Central Kitchen main kitchen where their largest scale food preparation is housed. Two things struck me while I was there. The first was the scale. I spent more than two hours one day just cutting their seemingly endless recovered carrots. I couldn’t possibly imagine all that produce going to waste.
One of the things that most drew me to Campus Kitchen was their job training program that hires formerly incarcerated people to work in their kitchens, where they would otherwise not be likely to find a job and would end up in poverty.At another point I was labeling trays of potato salad with “50 servings” and putting them onto an industrial cart. Not only were the trays so heavy I could barely hold them, but I must have labeled and carried around fifteen trays. That would be 750 servings of food. It then made sense to me why they would scale their project with Campus Kitchens, by trying to extend to more institutions and cities, but not necessarily at the same huge size. The second thing that was so remarkable were the people I worked alongside. The other volunteers were amazing people whom I loved getting to know, but the people who worked full time in the kitchen were extraordinary. One of the things that most drew me to Campus Kitchen was their job training program that hires formerly incarcerated people to work in their kitchens, where they would otherwise not be likely to find a job and would end up in poverty, and teach them skills in the kitchen. It is thus one more way in which they fight the cycle of hunger and poverty. Last year they cited an 87% job placement rate among graduates from their Culinary Job Training program, with 85% retaining jobs one year post-graduation. They also cite a 96% reduction rate in recidivism rates among DC Central Kitchen graduates with histories of incarceration, compared to the national average. All the people I worked with in this program were so hardworking, nice, and most of all fun. I absolutely loved spending time with them and laughing with them in the kitchen.
I then began doing a lot of research. I contacted the other Campus Kitchen high schools to get information about how their Campus Kitchens worked to assist in my final goal of my Haney Fellowship: creating a report for the Portsmouth Abbey administration on the feasibility of creating a Campus Kitchen at the school. I wanted to contact high schools because though I learned so much from the people I met in DC, they were mainly at huge schools with abundant resources that a high school could not replicate. I spent a lot of this time speaking to the faculty advisor Patty Tobin at Gonzaga College High School, a Jesuit high school in D.C, over the phone and with emails. I even visited their school while I was in D.C. She was so kind and helpful and being able to talk to her and learn from her was a valuable experience.
I look forward to continued work with the administration about the possibility of bringing a Campus Kitchen to Portsmouth Abbey.As the conclusion of my Haney fellowship, I finally created the feasibility report for a Portsmouth Abbey Campus Kitchen. I look forward to continued work with the administration about the possibility of bringing a Campus Kitchen to Portsmouth Abbey.
My time in D.C. and my whole experience with my Haney Fellowship was exciting and challenging. I cannot thank Mr. Haney, his family, Ms. Brzys, and of course Portsmouth Abbey for giving me this opportunity. It was a time of profound realization about both the realities of hunger and the wastefulness of our society. However, it put me on an exciting track towards the belief in a future solution. And of course, I absolutely loved D.C.; it is an amazing city where an exciting past and present converge. I am so grateful for this eye-opening and life changing experience and I cannot think of a better way to spend a summer.