Editor’s Note: Midwest Fellow S.K. Piper‘s two-year stint has come to an end, and we are happy to announce that she will be remaining with Bon Appétit Management Company as our sustainability manager at Denison University.
Please welcome the new BAMCO Foundation Midwest Fellow and the BAMCO blog’s newest contributor, Alyse Festenstein!
As I child I waited all week for Sunday evening dinners at my grandmother’s house. She was like a magician in the kitchen — skillfully maneuvering around her apartment kitchenette, whipping up dishes as if out of thin air. Through her Pepto-Bismol colored borscht, pickled beef tongue, and lots of schmaltz, she introduced me to the flavors of our Eastern European roots and Jewish culture. While I have to admit I never did get used to the flavor (or idea) of the tongue, the food and stories shared around the table kept me sated with a connection to my history. The Sunday ritual firmly grounded me in a network of people, places, and an identity. These dinners were my first lessons about the power of good food to build connections between people.
As a college freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, I joined the student farm on a whim. Food and flavor were a foundational component of my upbringing, but growing up in the suburbs I had never given much thought to growing food or the agricultural system that produced it. It only took a couple of days at the Burning Kumquat Student-Run Farm (the BK) to awaken a deep curiosity about the food system. From lessons in pest management and soil health to selling produce at the city farmers’ market and learning about the agribusiness giants in our own backyard, the BK showed me that eating and growing food are political acts. Sharing a meal, caring for the soil, and learning about food issues bring people from all sorts of backgrounds together in to help change a broken, unjust system.
During my years at Washington University, I organized events to inspire appreciation of food, build community, and raise awareness about the impact of agriculture on people and the environment. This work pushed me to explore further. Through my studies in anthropology and economics, I focused on the impact of of Western models of economic development on agricultural practices and communities. I spent my summers interning with a farmers’ market in a neighborhood with little access to fresh produce, volunteering on a small goat dairy, and working with The Healthy Schools Campaign for food justice in Chicago’s public schools and communities.
I have always admired Bon Appétit for its commitment to use its purchasing power to push the food industry towards sustainability, and I could not be more excited to join the team as the Midwest Fellow. I see it as incredible opportunity to connect students with the stories and people behind their food and help them engage with the most critical issues in our agricultural system.