The Fortune Society Creates Community With Each Meal: Meet Yadira

The Fortune Society Creates Community With Each Meal: Meet Yadira

09/26/2018

Meals are one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Locally grown vegetables share secrets about the people who cultivate them, generations-old recipes preserve family memories, and dishes reserved for special occasions maintain the sanctity of tradition.

We all need food in order to thrive and, as Fortune’s Community Chef Yadira Garcia notes, access to that food should be a fundamental right.

“It’s very important to take away the stigma and oppression around food, [increase] access to quality food and, therefore, the nutrition that we have access to because…no matter what you want to do in life or what your goals are, if you are not healthy or you don’t feel well, you can’t get there.”

 

Yadira is a food justice advocate who understands the deep connection food has with successful community reentry for individuals with justice involvement. Weekly, she works in Fortune’s Castle Gardens housing development in West Harlem, sharing healthy recipes and samples. Through partnerships with local farms, Fortune also offers free produce to community residents, which Yadira incorporates in her work. 

Though Yadira is there to share her culinary knowledge with participants, her approach does not follow a traditional student-to-teacher format. Instead, she emphasizes community over formality and respects the food traditions that have sustained cultures for centuries.

“It’s not like I’m going to transpose on you what this community needs to be healthy or going to come with you as a chef because I went to culinary school. I’m always like, ‘Mama, you know more than me.’ My grandmas and my aunties out here in this crowd, I’m like ‘share, share, share,’” she notes, “The first culinary school that I’m really a graduate of is my grandmother and my mom’s kitchen.”

 

Though surrounded by community-centered wisdom, Yadira also acknowledges the injustices that hinder such knowledge from thriving. As recent as 2015, reports estimate that 1.25 million New Yorkers are food insecure. Many neighborhoods lack consistent access to healthy options, particularly those considered economically disadvantaged. Furthermore, with immigration laws a contentious topic in recent political discourse, many individuals are increasingly hesitant to apply for needed benefits like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

“We see people that are…scared to re-signup for benefits or self-report because they think that information might be used to persecute them. I have personally come up against that here in Fortune.”

 

Unsurprisingly, such food shortages lead to a severe lack of nutrition within individual daily diets, as well as a fear of stepping outside of culinary comfort zones:

“A lot of times, people don’t want to experiment with things they don’t know because they don’t want to risk wasting the product. ‘My kids eat this this way. I’m going to make it that way and that is what it is.’”

 

Through her work, Yadira addresses these complex fears and systemic hurdles. Conducting culturally relevant demonstrations in English and Spanish, each week she shows how healthy and expensive do not need to go hand in hand. Additionally, her work dismantles the difficulties individuals with justice involvement, in particular, have with accessing healthy food options,

“…things like food insecurity also makes people commit small crimes in order to get access to fresh food sometimes. They’re affected by the nutrition they have in their bodies, which, a lot of times, affects our behaviors and lifestyles. Then, it causes chronic and lifestyle issues and diseases, which also affect the access to the kind of jobs that we can get and do, so we’re relegated to certain jobs and access in our community.”

 

At Fortune, Yadira crafts meals that transform. The community is her primary passion, but she hopes other culinary leaders will join her in the mission to make all meals a fulfilling experience.

“Most chefs or people that I meet that are on the culinary path are on the path of trying to become a culinary star or restaurant or greatness. One of my personal missions with my career is to get more people to move back into their community with this skillset.”

 

Through her unwavering commitment to food justice, Yadira will undoubtedly inspire new generations of community chefs to impact New York and beyond.

Yadira Garcia, Community Chef at The Fortune Society

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*Written by Root Stitches LLC

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