In times of tragedy, discord or disruption, there is often no more powerful message between neighbors than a shared casserole, a baked banana bread or a well-timed gift of cookies. But a new breed of food entrepreneurs are taking their empathy and altruism global, using food as a catalyst for projects that are changing the world. The idea of being a good neighbor just got a little bigger.
Beth Howard, Ms. American Pie
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Beth Howard traveled with more than 60 volunteers to hand out free apple pie in front of the town’s square. Howard, who had been teaching people to make pie for the past decade, had been selling pies out of a stand in front of her home inside the historic American Gothic house in Elton, Iowa, as she grieved the sudden death of her husband. Howard’s memoir, “Making Piece,” chronicled how pie helped her heal.
Now, after the release of her second book, “Ms. American Pie,” Howard is set to take her belief that pie can solve anything global through her World Piece Project. “The idea of pie is not distinctly American,” she said. “Empanadas, samosas — all cultures have some form of filled dough, and everywhere this universal, simple, comforting food is meant to be shared.” Howard will be flying around the world and talking to the world’s best pie makers about nostalgia, love and the feeling of time spent caring for others’ happiness.
Adam Aronovitz and Alissa Bilfield of the Cookbook Project
Adam Aronovitz was working in Boston’s public schools when he got a firsthand look of the effect of diet on children’s ability to learn. If no one at home knew how to cook, he posited, how could children be expected to eat healthy foods? He and co-founder Alissa Bilfield started the nonprofit Cookbook Project to combat the root causes of culinary illiteracy, starting by training school staff with online courses so that they would become food literacy educators, with the goal of teaching children the ways of the kitchen.
“We have a pretty lofty goal,” Aronovitz said. “We want every child to have access to food literacy.” The program, which is seeing its first successes in Boston, where 56 staff at four schools are now trained, is going global. “We see the same issues cropping up with kids abroad,” Aronovitz said. “Even in Hanoi, kids are saying their favorite foods are pizza and friend chicken.”
John Tucker of Dave’s Killer Bread
John Tucker was president of Eugene, Oregon-based So Delicious, a dairy-free food company, when he got the chance to join Dave’s Killer Bread, an Oregon company known for its social activism and GMO-free, whole grain breads. Now, along with a new campaign to take the brand national, Tucker is creating a network of Second Chance employers and sharing knowledge from the company’s years of experience working with former inmates.
One out of every three employees at Dave’s Killer Bread spent time incarcerated in the American penal system. “Former inmates want to be successful in life and are looking for someone who will give them a chance,” Tucker said. The company is currently creating a playbook to share with a network of other businesses, detailing the best practices it has developed to help inmates make the transition back to society. He hopes the playbook will help potential Second Chance employers get past the stigma and presumed risk of hiring former inmates and to allow these businesses to see them as people with potential. “There really is greatness in all of us, and though some of us are called leaders, all of us need to learn how to be leaders in life,” Tucker said.
Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate
Defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie was knee-deep in a grueling murder case defending a client pleading an insanity defense when he realized something had to change. “I had given the law and the courtroom some great years of my life, but I knew it was time to move on,” Askinosie said.
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In the five years thereafter, the Missouri-based entrepreneur traveled to Ecuador, Honduras, the Philippines and Tanzania, developing the direct trade relationships that would form the backbone of his company, Askinosie Chocolate.
Today, Askinosie, the only chocolate company in the world doing direct trade with every cocoa-producing continent, employs 15 people, including two of his children. He returns profits to these same farmers in a program he calls “A Stake in the Outcome.” His company feeds 1,600 students in Tanzania with no need for donations. Closer to home, the company’s Chocolate University works in collaboration with Drury University to teach underprivileged children in Springfield, Missouri, about the wider world and the business of producing artisanal chocolate. “Our hope is they will all, in their own way, experience this adventure as a catalyst for their future,” Askinosie said. “We hope it gives them a dimension and a catalyst to whatever career they choose.”
Jennie Dundas and Alexis Gallivan of Blue Marble Ice Cream
For Jennie Dundas and Alexis Gallivan, ice cream tastes even better if the practice of creating it helps the world. In 2007, they launched Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, New York, using cream sourced from pasture-raised cows. They developed a line of what they call elemental flavors, selecting ingredients carefully and making classic flavors in addition to offbeat varieties such as Mexican Chocolate and Pumpkin.
But when a woman from Rwanda contacted them about starting something similar in her community, they saw the potential for how ice cream could change the world. They created Blue Marble Dreams, a nonprofit that builds ice cream shops with women in areas recovering from conflict or natural disaster. Rwandans, still recovering from the 1994 genocide, were having trouble reclaiming their happiness or even feeling like they deserved it, Gallivan said. “They wanted to make a place where people could hang their problems at the door.” In 2010, Blue Marble opened its first shop with Ingoma Nshya, a cooperative of women drummers in Butare, Rwanda.
A second outpost will open in Haiti this summer. “Most people there [in Rwanda] had never had anything cold in their mouths before,” Galilvan said. “They’ve really fallen in love with it.”
José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen
World-famous chef José Andrés, whose seminal D.C. restaurant Jaleo helped usher in the Age of Tapas in the United States, visited Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated that country and knew he had to find a way to help. So he launched the World Central Kitchen, based on his experience working with a similar nonprofit, the D.C. Central Kitchen.
“He loved the model of helping people help themselves,” says Kevin Holst, communications director. Today, the World Central Kitchen operates eight projects in three countries, all focused on smart solutions to end poverty and hunger. For Palmiste Tampe, a rural mountain village in Haiti, that means installing a community kitchen and garden attached to the school, which is providing fresh vegetables to the town for the first time. The project has increased school enrollment 135 percent.
“With our model, we aren’t just giving rice and leaving,” Holst said. “If you give rice to people who are hungry, the people who were growing rice are out of business.”
Main photo: Beth Howard is embarking on a round-the-world journey, extending the theme of making and sharing pie with others to make the world a better, happier place. Credit: Copyright 2014 Race Point Publishing