Serving Social Impact
Millennial values drive a purpose-obsessed foodservice boom
In her mid-20s, Rose McAdoo was working at a high-end wedding cake shop in New York, creating works of edible art that earned her a gold medal at the New York Cake Show. Last fall, she took her decorating skills through the intimidating gates of Rikers Island, where she taught a “storytelling through cake” workshop to female inmates.
It’s an ongoing series she’s created for prisons. It was entirely her idea, and she had to craft a proposal and pitch it as enthusiastically as another cake artist might pitch for a long-term brand sponsorship.
“I felt a conventional path wasn’t broad enough to encompass all my creative goals and interests,” she explains. “There’s a lot to get involved in, in the world, and food is such an accessible way to do that.”
McAdoo was first inspired to use food as a social justice conduit by an English-teaching and farming program for asylum seekers that Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm offers. Through working on that program, she realized that combining food with social justice was her wheelhouse and that she could create her perfect fit around her expertise and her interests.
Though not all millennials have found their exact purpose, many prioritize that discovery above a conventional path. Some work in foodservice, and those who are likeminded in other fields prefer to support food businesses that have a greater purpose.
A nationwide boom in restaurants and pop-up eateries with a social justice tie-in proves the appeal. In Lexington, Ky., DV8 Kitchen hires and provides a support system for people in substance abuse recovery. NOLA Vegan Café, in New Orleans, provides jobs and training to youth aging out of the foster system. Memphis-based food hall Global Café specializes in refugee cuisine concepts, and it’s operated by refugee entrepreneurs on a profit-sharing business model. And in Richmond, Va., restaurateurs Michele Jones and Jason Alley decided in 2018 to dedicate all proceeds from their joint venture Comfort to regional charities.
Not all of these ventures are fully owned or staffed by millennials, but the community support that enables them to thrive is a product of the much-discussed millennial “social justice” value system.
Besides social reform, the other area where foodservice pros often direct their purpose is sustainability and eco-friendly production. Just northwest of Kansas City, Mo., millennial former chef and certified nutritionist Natasha Bailey runs marketing for sheep dairy operation Green Dirt Farms. It supplies approximately 30 western Missouri restaurants and helps other farms update their facilities to be animal welfare-approved. Green Dirt Farms is also a Good Food Awards winner three years in a row.
“We teach other farmers practices that will keep them sustainable,” Bailey says. “Then we broaden our production by using their milk.”
She continues: “We believe that by building up the soil and putting nutrients back in, that when we produce our products, we’re putting good things out into the world. A lot of millennials [diners] look for that when they spend their money.”