An apron with my name

I want an apron with my name on it.

I stopped working full time in January. I can’t quite bring myself to call it “retired.” But that’s really what it is. One of the nice things about it (there are tons of nice things about it) is I can choose where I want to spend my time and one of my favorite places has become The Nashville Food Project. It satisfies my need to do something involving food and my passion for social justice, particularly these days.

Katie, the catering manager, and a volunteer, Jake. Please note that Jake has his name on his apron.

The Food Project provides healthy nutritious meals for anyone who needs them. It has a beautiful commercial kitchen that receives bounteous donations from a healthy number of food donors plus uses the produce it grows in its own gardens (more like mini-farms). They have an army of volunteers directed by their small, amazingly cheerful and endlessly patient staff.

I started in the “make 20 gallons of fruit salad” station. The fruit salad is part of almost every meal The Project serves. It involves whatever donated fruit is around on any particular day — strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, apples and melons. So many melons. After washing up and donning plastic gloves, I got a knife, a cutting board and commenced to spend two hours cutting fruit. Oh, so much cutting. It got me to wondering would anyone consume all this fruit salad?

As it happens, it’s the number one most requested item. If you are a person of privilege, you regard fresh fruit as the tired but necessary road to a virtuous diet. If you are not and you might get a can of peaches every once in awhile, a fresh fruit salad is a damn miracle.

This is the kind of beautiful produce The Food project works with every day.

After a few weeks of chopping fruit, I noticed a group of volunteers at another station making something more decidedly sophisticated than fruit salad. I wandered over to watch them stuff couscous salad into endive leaves. “What are ya’ll doing?” I said. “We volunteer for the catering program,” they said entirely in unison. I’m lying. But that was the gist of it.

Catering? I would like to be an unpaid caterer. Truly I would. So I just kind of wedged myself in there and haven’t let go since.

The catering arm of The Food Project is just genius. They take donated food, make it fancy and charge other nonprofits a modest fee for their luncheons, banquets and such. It totally goes against all the catering norms where the food is consistent and predictable. For the Food Project, every catering job is different because there’s no telling what kind of product they’ll have around on any given day. There are no standardized recipes. It’s a what the hell, swing for the fences affair every time. So much fun.

Which brings me to the apron. I hadn’t been volunteering very long before I noticed that some of the aprons volunteers were wearing had names on them. Mine didn’t. I always got the anonymous apron. What’s up with that? Turns out when you volunteer a certain number of hours within a certain time period you get you’re own apron and you can take a Sharpie and write your name on it.

In the world of food I used to think I wanted expensive ingredients, fancy equipment and perfection in the kitchen. Turns out all I wanted all along was an apron with my name on it.

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