Sharing nutritious food is not a hand-out at Wholesome Wave: it’s recognizing someone’s common humanity.
On Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg, co-founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave Michel Nischan tells about his commitment to join people around the table in sharing nutritious food. “My mom said one of the greatest ways you can show that you respect and care for another human being is to feed them,” Nischan tells Food Tank.
As a chef, Nischan realized that feeding others requires sourcing real food, taken directly off the farm and put into the hands of those who need it. In preparing for a new restaurant, however, Nischan learned the industrial food system can complicate this model. “I went out to find farmers, and I found farmers, but none of them grew speciality crops,” says Nichan. “So that journey lasted me through the first decade of my career. What happened to the way my grandparents farmed? This lifestyle I grew up taking for granted actually was extinct. So this was my first advocacy: how do we undo this.” But his second call to a healthy and innovative culinary style arrived in 1995, when his son Chris was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “And that started my quest in cooking for well-being,” says Nischan.
To ensure low-income communities have equal access to healthy and healing food, Nischan co-founded Wholesome Wave in 2007, which includes the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program, empowering doctors to write families prescriptions for produce, and the Double Value Coupon Program, doubling the power of federal benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “We took a restaurateur’s approach and said, ‘let’s just run a two-for-one fruit and vegetable sale.’” says Nischan. “I remember going to markets in the early days when we had no money for outreach, wondering is this really going to work. And within a few months, it just exploded.”
Farmers saw the effects of sharing nutritious food not only on their revenues, but also on the community. Nischan says sharing food is also key to helping policymakers understand their communities and each citizen’s common humanity. “There is a lack of civic awareness in our civic leaders,” says Nischan. “They’ve never said, ‘Let me get to the root cause of [poverty]. Why don’t I get together with one of these families at their dinner table one night[…] and really sit down with them at their family table and understand what they’re facing and why it’s this way.’”
As co-founder of the Chef Action Network, a non-profit that equips chefs with the tools they need to change the food system, Nischan also believes chefs are powerful leaders, spreading the urge to feed others to policymakers. “There’s an onus on those of us who know how to feed, to gather others around us who don’t know how to feed, and infect them with the wonders of the act.”
To learn more about how sharing in nutritious food may help people understand each other’s common humanity, listen to the full podcast episode. You can listen to “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” on Apple iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you consume your podcasts. While you’re listening, subscribe, rate, and review the show; it would mean the world to us to have your feedback.
Photo courtesy of Michel Nischan.