The kitchen is a place often overlooked and underutilized in food systems change. Through collective experiences-cooking, learning, eating, sharing in the kitchen, we can address justice and inequity. By nourishing others, we are also nourished, and this leads to transformation inside and outside the kitchen. I am a chef and a nutritionist working to prevent the loss of the wisdom and stories behind food and eating, and how they are woven into caring for ourselves, our communities and the land.
Cooking food together is a powerful tool for personal and community healing. I work with cooks to revolutionize school lunch, collaborate with and train community organizers to use cooking as a tool for organizational change, and develop cooking based trainings in an Agricultural food hub for folks on SNAP, farmers, teachers and civic leaders. With a Doctor, I help current and future health professionals understand in their bodies and spirits that food is medicine. Together, we explore the symbiotic role of cooking in human, community and environmental health.
We all have a food story. The memories, experiences, tastes and people that formed who we are and what we know in relationship with food. These stories inspire and inform the process of building a culinary revolution among the inequities of social and institutional racism. For me, food is deeply intertwined with my Jewish identity through the story of my immigrant grandparents. It is both symbolic and literal in its connection to “Tikkun Olam”, the ‘repair of the world’, a foundation of Judaism. The pursuit of justice exists in my genes. Understanding someone’s context is critical before healing can happen. I trust that our stories hold us up, lead us to and through our struggles, and feed us. I am working on cultural humility, where my heritage, and identity is linked with, and dependent on others’, and together we create the possibility, and the reality of a healthy and just food system. It is at this messy, and delicious intersection-of food, culture, community and health that I believe change happens.
This work is never done.
My fellow food system activists recognize that food and cooking are about community and health and sustaining ourselves and our planet. Whether chef, or teacher or farmer or cleaner, they take advantage of their place in the food system to take a stand or change a mind, while also highlighting the deliciousness that comes from and through their own hands. We can help people who eat, choose to invest in this system and recognize the important role of a real, good meal in building and sustaining one another.
“We all do better when we all do better” said our late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone. This theme, of sharing the burden of improving lives by being in the struggle together is fundamental. The more we share our tools, ideas, and ourselves, the more each of us benefits, and we’re likely go on to improve others’ lives too. Such is the way that change works.
Jenny Breen is a professional chef, professor, and consultant working at the intersection of food, health, sustainable agriculture, and justice. She has spent over half of her career in the food and farming community, building networks, and honing the tools necessary to procure and prepare healthy food to help families, institutional teams, students, and professionals transform their work and lives with simple, accessible, experiential learning.