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Classes & food cart: "Accessible food" for Southeast Portland

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Kathleen Randall from Lents, and Alfredo Zavala from Mt. Scott-Arleta, cut vegetables during a Dishing up Portland cooking class held in Woodstocks All Saints Episcopal Church kitchen. Although their summertime project was held in the Woodstock neighborhood, as well as some other Southeast Portland locations, the idea originated some time back – in New London, Connecticut, with two Connecticut College students.

“It started two years ago, when I was in a philosophy class,” recalled college junior Azul Tellez, who grew up in Southeast Portland.

“I was thinking about ‘food deserts’, and how to combat them. I thought that cooking was really important, but the most important thing is access to food.

“As college students, my partner in this project and I feel that teaching cooking is something that we can tangibly do in the community to help alleviate the problem. So, we wanted to hold cooking classes,” Tellez told THE BEE. “We also thought that a ‘food cart’ would help us get food into the community.”

They obtained a $10,000 grant from HYPERLINK "www.davisprojectsforpeace.org/" Davis 100 Projects for Peace, said Tellez. “As a junior in college I need to do a summer internship or project; so this fulfills that educational obligation. And, I couldn’t think of a better place to have this project than here in Southeast Portland this summer.”

Her partner, Connecticut College senior Emily MacGibey, who is from Baltimore, Maryland, chimed in that when the pair arrived in Portland, they purchased a food cart. “We repainted it, and are calling ourselves ‘Dishing Up Portland’.

“We take the cart to different places every week, to different community events,” MacGibey said. “This is so we reach a large audience of people, offering food on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ basis.”

Because they were planning the project while still in Connecticut, they were looking for a church – with a certified commercial kitchen – large enough in which to hold the class. “And, having a certified kitchen was also important for qualificating to have the food cart,” Tellez said. “We’re very happy to be here at Woodstock’s All Saints Episcopal Church.”

At their July 2nd cooking class they were demonstrating preparing “Soul Food” for their students.

“We’re making vegan cornbread with blue cornmeal,” MacGibey explained. “We’re also making ‘Hoppin' John’, a dish of black-eyed peas and greens. Tonight we’re using kale from Adelante Mujeres Farms.”

Their project ended with a cooking class on July 30. Although they’ve faced some obstacles during the project, it was well worth doing, Tellez and MacGibeny agreed.

“One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that educating people about healthy and sustainable food choices is not as easy as ‘telling them what’s right’," MacGibeny said. “I have been surprised at how difficult it is to get people who would really benefit from becoming interested in cooking, eating local, and sustainability, actually interested in doing it.”

Although they had a hard time “getting the ball rolling”, MacGibeny remarked that they already see the snowball effect that a project like this can have, as more and more people become interested in and aware of it.

They leave a legacy of education, outreach – and their website – behind, as they head back to school. Check it out at dishingupportland.wordpress.com.