The Taste Project – A Delicious Way to Fight Hunger

My graduate school class this summer is focused on Food Insecurity.  I wish everyone could take this class to have a better appreciation for how much food we waste both in our homes and in the retail food industry, and the number of people right here in Texas who don’t have enough to eat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.  It is essential to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort. In contrast, food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.

One of every six Americans, equating to over fifty-four million people including eighteen million children- faces the reality that they may not be able to provide for their next meal.  Food insecurity affects eight-hundred million people globally, including seventeen million households in every county in America.

In Texas, fourteen percent, or one in seven Texans, experience food insecurity. That is 1.4 million Texas households and over four million individuals. Texas is one of just fifteen states with higher food insecurity than the national average. Experts in many fields have called upon organizations to find new ways to address this serious, sometimes invisible issue. One World Everybody Eats (OWEE) is a response to this call.

OWEE is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to increasing food security and building community through its pay-what-you-can non-profit restaurant model.

OWEE cafes create spaces where people of all ages come together, eat a nutritious, chef-prepared meal in dignity, and form strong bonds to foster an interconnected community. OWEE community cafes serve four-thousand meals each day or over 1.4 million meals a year in both non-profit and for-profit restaurant settings. Currently, sixty community cafes operate in the United States, and over fifty others are in the planning stages in six countries. Texas has two cafes – one in Fort Worth, called the Taste Project, and the second in El Paso, called the Mustard Seed Cafe. In 2018, OWEE founder, Denis Cerreta, accepted the 2017 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award on behalf of the network of community cafes.

 

In Tarrant County, thirty-six percent of the food insecure population live above the poverty level and receive no government help.

Since I am studying the community cafe concept,  I wanted to experience first-hand the Taste Project’s atmosphere, food, and concept. Located at 1200 S. Main Street in the near Southwide district, the cafe is perfectly positioned near a bus stop and across the street from the JPS Health System offering a chance for hospital employees to eat something other than hospital-cafeteria food. Our first time to venture out to a restaurant since the pandemic shut down in March, we appreciated the cafe’s precautions for safety concerns by reducing the number of guests in the cafe through a reservation-only system. Additionally, many of the tables were removed allowing for a generous distance – definitely more than a six-feet separation.

We were immediately greeted by our server, who wore a mask and presented us with paper menus.  Their mission and purpose are printed on the back of the menu so I took the time to read it after I decided on my lunch.

Taste Project’s mission is to feed, educate, and serve our community so they may “…taste and see the Lord is good.”  Psalm 34:8.

We believe everyone should have access to healthy nutritional food.  Our vision is to see the Fort Worth community become the solution to the challenges the community faces as it relates to hunger.

The Taste Project, a non-profit restaurant, focuses on healthy, quality meals made from fresh ingredients. Our menu has no prices. This is a give and take concept. We ask guests to do one of the following:

1) pay what you can afford,

2) pay what you would typically pay, or

3) pay what you would typically pay, plus a little extra.

I took a minute to walk around the historic building, once a printing press,  taking in the loveliness of the space – stacks of crisp white china waiting for food to be lovingly served, friendly staff, and a clean, bright, and airy space to enjoy your meal.

Our meal did not disappoint. It was beautifully presented and tasted delicious. I ordered shrimp tacos, Mr. Bee ordered a cheeseburger, and Miss Bee chose the Elote Bowl. The menu is changed seasonally to keep the costs down in order to cook with readily available ingredients.

The restaurant was founded by Chef Jeff Williams.  Jeff has always had a burden for feeding people.  Jeff grew up in a family of four, and both his parents worked hard to put food on the table.  He remembers the times when food was scarce and his parents would skip meals to make sure he and his sister were full.

Jeff understands first-hand the stress his parents encountered to put food on the table in tough times.  And it’s a familiar story of many of our neighbors in need.  Soup kitchens are good, but not everyone feels good about going there.

That’s why, in 2012, Jeff and his wife Julie founded Taste Project, a sustainable solution to ensure none of our neighbors go hungry.  But Jeff also wanted a place that eliminated the stress and fear his parents faced.  A friendly place that feels like you’ve just come home.  And a place where you can get more than just a meal, but also hope. Here’s a video message from Jeff:

If you have a heart for volunteering and giving back check out their website, specifically their “How you can help” page here.  Most of the staff are volunteers so this is perfect for people who love to be around food!  My professor and her family volunteer often in the kitchen helping with food and meal preparation.

You can also purchase a Meal Token. When you purchase a Taste Project Meal Token, you can enjoy a meal of your choice at Taste while committing to support the only sustainable solution to end hunger in Fort Worth, or simply pass it on to someone as a gift.

Our check arrived. You’ll notice there are no prices or suggested payments. You simply pay what you can. Sixty percent of the guests who dine at the Taste Project are in need, with twenty-five percent paying a $1 or less.

Currently, the cafe is only serving during the lunch hour. They stopped their breakfast service during the pandemic, shut down for a brief time, and are currently operating their 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. lunch service.  So, next time you are wondering “where will I go for lunch today” think about Taste Project and be a part of the solution to fight hunger.

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