Never doubt two scrappy twenty-somethings can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has…Or something like that. One year ago, Noelle (Tyler) Tolson and Becca Dickerson, stumbled upon a simple call to action. Local nonprofit, Lost n Found Youth, needed an essential commodity – food.
After a realizing they didn’t have the time needed to volunteer for Lost n Found, which serves homeless LGBTQ youth in Atlanta, Noelle approached Becca with a creative way to provide support. “Noelle told me and a friend that we should cook food once a week. It would be an easy way for us to contribute to Lost n Found that fit our personal schedules and budget.”
It just so happened that two out of the trio were vegan, with Becca making the switch shortly after. In a not so radical move rooted in their ethical core, the crew created RADDISH, a co-operative that cooks weekly plant-based meals for Lost n Found.
While the debate on veganism is palpable for some, consider this. Food pantry behemoths like Atlanta Community Food Bank trickling all the way down to homegrown nonprofits serving homeless communities like Lost n Found Youth, rely almost completely on non-perishables. That’s the rule, not the exception. So the thought of a freshly cooked meal made up of produce and whole foods doesn’t sound so offensive. Especially considering 40% of households with limited food choices have at least one diabetic family member.
“There’s such a big stigma around being vegan,” stated Becca. “People think you need to have a lot of money or be really good in the kitchen. It’s so much cheaper to eat vegan if you find the right places to get your produce and are smart about what you buy. People assume all vegans are buying fake meat and cheese, which yes, is expensive. We actually don’t use any of that in our food because of the cost and because it goes against the message we are trying to send which is: you can get everything you need from a plant-based, whole foods diet.”
“Even if people can afford to buy groceries, oftentimes they are forced to buy it from a gas station because it is the only food store in their area. There is nothing you really need to eat that’s in a gas station as far as getting nutrition. I’ve thought about how to appropriately make produce available to these communities without overstepping. Accessibility to quality food is an issue for many people and at the end of the day it’s about getting the nutrition that you need and getting the most out of the food you eat.”
Over the past year, RADDISH has been cooking a weekly meal for Lost n Found with growing numbers of repeat volunteers. After attending one of their cooks one thing is for sure if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Oh, and eat before you come (seriously y’all, the aromas of the kitchen had us salivating like a dog on a hot day).
While RADDISH has effectively delivered weekly meals over the last year, the initiative is undergoing a few modifications. Their co-founder Noelle recently set off to Europe for two years and while that big change could scramble many, especially a grassroots organization, for Becca and the four food coordinators now working with RADDISH, there’s no sign of slowing down.
“As we got more people interested, we needed more organization. We started picking a particular night to cook and implemented a menu rotation. On average we have between 10 to 15 people, not including our four coordinators. Not everyone comes each week but we do have regulars and people who show up every week, which is awesome.”
“We are currently in the process of starting a second branch of RADDISH in the Sandy Springs area. We have a good bit of people who live up there and want to be involved but it’s a long trip for them to come to South Atlanta where we cook. Over time, we would love to have multiple branches. We hope that people in other states can see our guidelines and start the same kind of cook night. The point would be to spread this type of food and all the rhetoric that comes with it across the country.”
“We want people to be motivated by seeing us do this and understand that it’s not that difficult to get a few people together to cook or donate food. It doesn’t have to be a big catering production. We also have a linear operation meaning we don’t have a president, secretary, treasurer, etc. All the coordinators have the same level of responsibility and are expected to do an equal amount of work, which makes the day to day operations much easier.”
“I also want to take what I’ve learned about veganism directly to the youth as well. Having a cooking class at Lost n Found, teaching people how to shop on a budget, and/or teaching easy food to make that doesn’t require you to be a master chef.”
“Whether or not you’re volunteering with RADDISH or motivated to do something on your own terms, I encourage people to do a little research and look into organizations around them. There are always groups in need, shelters in particular. We saw a need and decided to see what would happen. You can do that too. It’s so important to give back to people who don’t have what you have and it’s as easy as finding a group and seeing what they need.”
RADDISH holds their weekly cooks on Wednesdays. Join in on the action by joining their Facebook group.