Rethink Food is not only addressing New York City’s hunger issue, but it’s doing it while empowering women and minorities. Over 75% of the more than 45 restaurants and food businesses it partners with are women- or minority-owned or led.
“Our work to bridge the gap between food that goes to waste and food-insecure communities is organized around two pillars,” says a spokesperson for Rethink Food. “Equity — by partnering with restaurants and food businesses of which the majority are women or minority-owned/led. And sustainability — by building a network of partners throughout the food ecosystem to convert more excess food into nutritious, culturally celebrated meals for communities.”
Over the past decade, there’s been a shift in people needing food assistance. The New York City Mayor’s Office of Food Policy reported that 1.2 million New Yorkers were experiencing food instability in 2022.
Since Rethink Food launched in 2017, more than $50 million has been put into local restaurants and small businesses –– of which $35 million has been invested into NYC eateries.
A 2023 report developed with McKinsey & Company also found that these partnerships promote diversity while giving businesses and those in need a boost. Additionally, the study dissected the economic, social, and environmental impact of the groundbreaking work Rethink Food is doing to demonstrate how investing in locally-owned businesses can lead to bolstering a more sustainable food system.
To become a certified partner with Rethink Food, associates are required to commit to making a minimum of 50,000 meals annually. In turn, they receive a $250,000 grant to cover costs. Rethink Food liaisons then donate surplus food items to be prepped at its commissary kitchen, after which it’s delivered on trucks to hungry citizens. The solutions-driven nonprofit also works with restaurants by weaving fundraising into dining experiences. A small surcharge is placed on meals at participating restaurants to fund Rethink Food’s initiatives.
‘Telling Our Story Through Food’
One of those minority-led businesses Rethink Food has linked with is Collective Fare. Founded by LaToya M. Meaders and Chef Femi Rodney Frazer, the agri-food and hospitality services company fully focuses on community wellness in New York City.
Born in the Bronx but growing up between Staten Island and Charleston, South Carolina, Meaders says she went to school in New York but spent the summers, harvest seasons, and winters in Charleston, which gave her a unique perspective on life and food.
“We’re telling our story through food — both through the Southern lens and a broader, diasporic lens. But now it’s also about creating something that’s sustainable and able to reshape a community,” Meaders said in a rethinkfood.org blog post. “Because we believe that restaurants have that power. And we want to be an example to other restaurants, so they too understand that they have the power to create change.”
As a Rethink Certified Partner, Collective Fare has produced and distributed more than 347,000 meals. Viewing the craft of creating food as an art form, Meaders says it’s “a way for us to help people understand where they come from. And also to show people that all of our food is connected. Every single one of us, I don’t care what race, creed, color, what country you come from, through food, there are basic elements of this life that we all share.”
Zaab Zaab Talay in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg is also a Rethink Food Certified Partner. Bryan Chunton and Pei Wei own the popular Thai eatery, and they’ve prepared more than 73,000 meals for those in need through Rethink Food. Whipping up tasty dishes such as red snapper fried with garlic and cumin and salt-encrusted tilapia stuffed with pandan leaves — a common Southeast Asia flavoring — and lemongrass, the Zaab Zaab Talay staff makes the meals for Rethink Food with the same attention and care they do during daily restaurant operations. Zaab Zaab Talay is one of the many minority-owned restaurants dedicated to Rethink Food’s mission of serving food with deliciousness and dignity.
Kinky Taco Truck is another collaboration Rethink Food has done with a minority-spearheaded enterprise. The Black-owned Brooklyn-based business describes its cuisine as a “soulful infusion” that combines African American and Cajun flavors with community spirit as a core ingredient. Its menu was put together by Food Network Chopped champion Airis Johnson.
“To us, access to quality and healthy food is a right and not a privilege and lives at the root of good health and quality of life,” says owner Akeelah Abdullah. “Partnering with Rethink Food aligns with our mission to remain active in our underserved communities. We strive to remain true to our roots in the Brooklyn area, with a focus on East New York and surrounding neighborhoods where there is a need for more quality food offerings.”
Rethink Food Partners With Food Pantries
Rethink Food also works with food pantries such as NeON Nutrition Kitchens, which helps people transition from the justice system back into society, and Union Pool in Brooklyn. “We are incredibly proud to partner with Union Pool, who since February 2022 has distributed over 6,000 delicious meals powered by Rethink Food’s restaurant partners to their neighbors in Brooklyn,” a spokesperson said on rethink.org.
“Union Pool has always had a history of supporting the community and mutual aid,” Suzanne Cub, a Union Pool manager, said in a video. “The lines get longer and longer every week. Each bag is meant to sustain a family of two to four for about three to five days. The work is never done. ”
Hungry Monk is another organization that’s paired with Rethink Food since 2020 to hand out more than 150,000 meals to Ridgewood, Queens, and Bushwick, Brooklyn.
As a testament to the work it’s doing to change the Big Apple’s hunger crisis, March 27 was declared Rethink Food Day by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams, with Kate MacKenzie, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy.
“We work with city, state, and federal governments to advocate for systemic change,” Rethink Food’s website states. “Across all our work, we build and strengthen bonds, creating a network that is responsive, hyperlocal, and ready to meet the needs of our communities.”