Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Mike Curtin, Chief Executive Officer of DC Central Kitchen, who was one of the speakers at the 2015 Food Tank Summit in partnership with The George Washington University.
Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?
Mike Curtin (MC): Waste is wrong. Whether it’s food, productive minds and bodies, Kitchen space, or community resources. We must rethink our traditional approaches to “charity” so that we that use existing resources more wisely and create lasting, positive change in our community.
(FT): How are you contributing to building a better food system?
(MC): DC Central Kitchen uses food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. We recover food that would’ve otherwise been wasted from local farms, wholesalers, restaurants, and supermarkets and turn it into 5,000 healthy meals every day that are sent to social service agencies all over the City.
But we know that food alone will never end hunger. We also empower men and women to find jobs and break the cycle of poverty through our nationally-recognized 14-week culinary job training program. Since its inception in 1989, the Culinary Job Training Program has changed the lives of nearly 1,400 men and women.
Our social enterprise programs, which allow us to diversify our revenue streams, hire graduates of our job training program at living wages, increase purchasing from local farms, and expand our mission include: catering; providing locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals at 10 DC schools; and delivering healthy produce and snacks to 68 corner stores in areas of DC that otherwise would not have access to nutritious, affordable food. The Founder of the World Social Enterprise Forum called DC Central Kitchen, “one of the 10 greatest social enterprises in the world.”
The Campus Kitchens Project implements the DC Central Kitchen model on 42 college campuses around the country and fosters a new generation of community-minded adults through mutually beneficial partnerships among students, social service agencies, businesses and schools. Since 2001, Campus Kitchens around the country have recovered 3,697,255 and prepared 2,225,249 meals, while implementing innovative education and outreach programs in their communities.
(FT): What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization’s goals?
(MC): Assumptions. People assume you can’t use recovered food to make balanced, healthy meals. People think you can’t train men and women with histories of incarceration, homelessness, addiction, and chronic unemployment for meaningful careers or empower them to break the cycle of poverty themselves. People don’t realize that “nonprofits” are having a tangible economic impact on their communities. People assume men, women, and children from certain neighborhoods and backgrounds won’t eat healthy food. DC Central Kitchen, and other nonprofits around the country, prove these assumptions wrong every day. But it takes time, resources, energy, and meaningful partnerships with a variety of community partners to make that possible.
(FT): Who is your food hero and why?
(MC): The Grateful Dead, or more specifically, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter who wrote the song St. Stephen and in it penned out a philosophy that has inspired DC Central Kitchen and informs our work today…
“Did he run or did he try
Answers a plenty in the by and by
Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills
One man gathers what another man spills.”
There is the very easy reference to gathering using what others may see as “spilt” or wasted to make change in our community. More importantly, however, the song talks about having the courage to try, to force the conversation and to push for change; to do what others say is not possible. I hope that we never run from what’s hard, but run towards it and always try for what is better.
(FT): In 140 characters or less what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system?
(MC): Use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.