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.
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.
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).
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:
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,
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.
Through her unwavering commitment to food justice, Yadira will undoubtedly inspire new generations of community chefs to impact New York and beyond.
*Written by Root Stitches LLC