Emily Torgrimson, executive director of Eat for Equity, harnesses the power of sharing a meal by encouraging and supporting sustainable community feasts.
Torgrimson was born in Minnesota, but at age three her family relocated to a refugee camp in the Philippines, where her parents worked as social workers. There she made friends from all over the world before moving to Hong Kong. Living abroad taught Torgrimson to be curious about other cultures, especially food.
As a college student at Boston University, she lived at a cooperative for undergraduate women on financial aid. Three times a semester, each resident was responsible for preparing a meal for 30 people.
After Hurricane Katrina hit, Torgrimson used her cooking skills to host a dinner to raise money for relief efforts. She prepared a pot of Jambalaya and invited everyone she knew; 100 people attended. She realized that food could be a form of social justice, and in 2006, Eat for Equity was born.
Torgrimson brought the nonprofit to Minneapolis in 2007, and the crowds increased with each meal. Eat for Equity has outgrown homes and now hosts events in locations like bridges, lakes, farms, and festivals, relying almost exclusively on volunteers to make the food.
Rustic menus are based on what is seasonal and abundant. It tends to be vegetable-forward and consists of foods that are easy for volunteers to prepare.
“The events that are most dynamic and diverse are those that feature a range of leaders and chefs,” says Torgrimson. “For example, with our Welcome Table series, each course is designed by a different cook, to reflect their family heritage and immigration story.”
Eat for Equity has raised $250,399 for Youthlink, Young Dance, and other local organizations that support relief and development efforts as well as inequities in health, the environment, education and opportunity.
For seven years, Torgrimson has been building a benefit corporation based on catering. Mecca Bos is the executive chef, and her menu focuses on locally sourced and organic food purchased from women-owned, minority-owned, and cooperatively owned businesses. It hosts cooking parties, during which people prepare feasts ahead of a wedding, baby shower, health crisis, or for a fundraiser.
“Something special happens when groups gather to prepare a meal,” Bos says. “When you get people working on a project with their hands, whether it is peeling carrots or prepping collard greens, you can go into a bit of a Zen state and start to talk without the pressure or anxiety of the face-to-face. Interesting conversations emerge.”
Adds Torgrimson: “We’ll help you figure out how to make a dinner for 150 people or how to make it fun instead of stressful. We want everybody to feel like they can bring their communities together around a celebration or cause.”
Rather than just breaking bread together, participants feel pride in preparing the food they share with one another. “I push back against the notion that cooking is only for professionals,” Bos says.