For years, I’ve spent time volunteering at food banks within the Feeding America network, namely the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Since I was little, my parents have instilled the values of what Feeding America does in me. When the world fell upside down due to COVID-19, I thought a lot about that. Last May, I was a confused high school senior filled with angst, forced to come-of-age in a brave new world nobody was ready for; today, I’ve shared over two thousand homemade meals with strangers and built a network empowering others to do the same. Sharing food has given me strength in this year of despair and restored my hope that my children will blossom in a far better world one day.
When the pandemic upended life as we knew it, our food system was no exception. Los Angeles County has seen one the most significant rises in food-insecure people, with 1 in 5 members of our community struggling to put food on the table. (These are often neighbors with a facade of security: a roof over their heads, sometimes a car to drive, but an absence of reliable, healthy food.) Simultaneously, around 40 percent of America’s food goes to waste.
The kitchen, which was once my safe haven, became a chasm of pessimism. Inspired by all that the Feeding America network does, I did something about it: I began raising money, buying surplus from local farmers, and bringing a dozen prepared meals at a time to those around me who could use it. I separated my ingredients while I cooked, ordered insulated bags, packaged every meal neatly in a to-go box, organized cutlery packets, and went out to distribute home-cooked meals. After months of isolation, I shared my first meal, roasted Chicken on Rice Pilaf in Venice, California. From a distance, a man said, “this is one of my favorite meals, thank you.” And, even through masks, the smile our eyes shared when I said “mine, too,” brought more connection than I’d felt in months.
I contemplated what would be next as the summer came to an end, and I unnervingly prepared to leave for college. At 2 AM, a crazy idea to drive around America, utilizing food to restore bonds, came to mind. I asked my friend, an epidemiologist, “How can I do this?” We came up with a procedure to stay healthy: constant testing, double-masking, and more (it worked). I took a gap year and planned.
I set out on the road alone, on September 1, 2020, with a car full of cooking equipment. I drove to dozens of family farms, bought surplus produce, found nearby kitchens to prepare meals, and distributed 1,000 meals to communities around America. In the 20,000 miles I drove, I zigzagged through 35 states imagining an equitable food system: one where we are fed to thrive. Inspired by all these incredible organizations, I wanted to make my own mark. Heartfelt connection over BBQ in Texas, pasta in Pennsylvania, braised beef in Wisconsin, chicken in Kentucky, and so much more empowered us all to feel hope. When we share food, we share life, and that should be something everybody strives to achieve.