Davis Projects for Peace winners bring fresh food to Portland streets

Emily MacGibeny '16 (left) and Azul Tellez '15 are putting their Davis Prize for Peace grant to good use by bringing healthy meals and cooking classes to an impoverished section of Portland, Ore.
Emily MacGibeny '16 (left) and Azul Tellez '15 are putting their Davis Prize for Peace grant to good use by bringing healthy meals and cooking classes to an impoverished section of Portland, Ore.

Two winners of a Davis Projects for Peace grant are dishing up fresh, healthy food as an alternative to fast food and convenience stores.

Environmental studies majors Azul Tellez ’15 and Emily MacGibeny ’16 won the $10,000 for their project, Dishing Up Portland, a food cart that will bring healthy food to the impoverished eastern section of Portland, Ore. In a neighborhood with an abundance of high calorie fast food restaurants and convenience stores – and a dearth of fresh produce suppliers – Dishing Up Portland will offer wholesome meals made with fresh ingredients. The students will also teach customers about healthy cooking and eating.

The USDA classifies east Portland as a “food desert,” defined as an area where people have limited access to a variety of healthy food choices.  Health issues like obesity and diabetes are more common in food deserts than in areas where healthier eating options are prevalent.

Tellez grew up in southeast Portland, unaware that a food desert existed within a few miles of her home. She became interested in the topic at Connecticut College, where she and MacGibeny are both scholars in the College's Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment. Together, they applied to the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program to help them introduce more wholesome and healthy options to the city.

“East Portland is a quintessential food desert,” Tellez and MacGibeny wrote in their project proposal. “There are fast food restaurants and car dealerships on every block, but grocers and farmers markets are few and far between. The lack of access to healthy food and the knowledge of how to cook with it represent a societal injustice in which communities of lower economic status are deprived of the right to healthy lifestyles.”

Their project seeks to promote peace and security through nourishment. “If we can help people realize that buying produce from local farms or markets is worthwhile, it can influence them to rework their budgets and incorporate healthy lifestyles,” Tellez said.

Dishing Up Portland will buy fresh ingredients from local farms. Tellez and MacGibeny will lead free weekly classes preparing the meals and teaching residents how to cook them. The meals will be served from the cart at street fairs, festivals, outside shopping areas and more.

The Davis grant is funding the following:

  • purchasing, branding and maintaining the food cart
  • fresh ingredients from local farmers and suppliers
  • weekly cooking classes at Portland's All Saints Episcopal Church
  • recipe cards to include with all meals
  • educational materials like farmers market maps and benefits of local produce

Tellez and MacGibeny are not seeking profit. Since many residents of east Portland live below the poverty line, the meals will be offered on a “pay as you can” basis. All sales will go toward purchasing new ingredients.

At Connecticut College, Tellez and MacGibeny drew inspiration from Anthropology Professor Jeffrey Cole, who is corresponding with the students throughout their project.

“Azul and Emily are putting the liberal arts into action, taking inspiration from their coursework and independent research to address the social justice issue of food access,” said Cole. “The innovative food cart is bound to raise awareness about the grave injustice of food insecurity. Never in the history of the U.S. has there been so much food available, and of such variety and quality, yet residents of poor communities lack ready access to nutritious and fresh food, with serious consequences to health and happiness.”

On the Connecticut College campus, Tellez and MacGibeny are both involved in food justice and sustainability issues. Tellez is a former manager of the College's Sprout! organic garden. MacGibeny has also worked at the garden and for the Office of Sustainability.

June 23, 2014