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VOL. 43 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 8, 2019

Nashville Food Projects offers rare opportunity for public purchase

By Catherine Mayhew

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Photo by Michelle Morrow |The Ledger
Katie Duiven, who manages catering and events at The Nashville Food Project, prepares wraps for an event.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Aunt Edna’s creamed onions? Check. There’s Uncle Floyd’s cornbread dressing, and occupying that center spot of glory on the table are Grandma Flo’s homemade yeast rolls. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them.

But something’s missing. How about a heaping helping of gratitude?

This year, The Nashville Food Project is launching its inaugural Thanksgiving sides program through its catering department.

It features healthy, organic, mouth-watering sides, a salad and desserts with all the proceeds going back into the nonprofit’s programs to provide nutritious meals to the food insecure in Nashville.

The Food Project is a massive undertaking, including two commercial kitchens, acres of vegetable and fruit gardens and a fleet of delivery trucks to fan out across Nashville for meal delivery.

The Thanksgiving menu includes mashed butternut squash casserole, artisan macaroni and cheese, honey balsamic Brussels sprouts, a kale salad with a choice of autumn vinaigrettes, pumpkin bread loaf and sweet potato scones. Every dish has the catering department’s unique spin on add-ins and powerful flavors.

Where is all this bounty coming from? So glad you asked.

Waste not

The facts are these: One in six people in Nashville does not have enough access to food that maintains a healthy lifestyle, and 40% of food in the city goes to waste.

Put those two things together and you have The Food Project’s mission. The nonprofit partners with agencies that serve children, families, seniors and other food insecure populations and delivers abundant and healthy meals.

The from-scratch meals The Project makes in its commercial kitchen is either recovered, donated or grown in their own robust gardens.

“We have different grocery stores, restaurants and farms we work with,” says David Frease, procurement and sustainability manager. “We have set days to pick up. Whole Foods is every Monday and Tuesday in the morning. Wednesday, we go to Creation Gardens, a wholesaler that provides restaurants with mostly organic produce. We also go to Cul2vate. They’re part of the Ellington Agricultural Center. They donate everything they grow to charities and nonprofits. “

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Produce and other product that is about to go out of date is donated as well as fruits and vegetables from local growers that don’t meet the conventional standards for appearance.

An army of volunteers led by The Project’s professional kitchen staff produce gallons of salads, multiple pans of grain-based and other casseroles, sheet pans of roasted vegetables and homemade desserts to be distributed throughout the community by another set of volunteers.

‘Wish we could buy it’

The catering program grew organically out of the programs already in place.

“Catering was something we were informally already doing with partners we share meals with regularly,” says Katie Duiven, catering and events manager. “If one of our partners had an event, they’d reach out to us (to cater it).”

Then and now, The Project mainly works with nonprofits to cater workshops, volunteer events, board and staff retreats, and fundraisers.

The challenge is to create inventive menus from ingredients that happen to get donated. There are no standardized recipes because every week brings new and varied ingredients.

The Thanksgiving menu came about because so many people who attended a Project-catered event wanted to have access to the same kinds of food on an individual basis.

“We’ve had lots of feedback from individuals (at our events) saying, ‘Your food is amazing,’” Duiven says. ‘We wish we could buy it.’ This is a way we can make food for people who don’t have a way to eat our food otherwise.

“We’ve seen a surprising number of people who don’t want to cook at the holidays,” she says. “If cooking is not your thing it can be really nice to have things that are ready made. It’s typical around Thanksgiving that the sides aren’t the healthiest.

“We’re going to try to offer healthier alternatives - kale, sweet potatoes and butternut squash with our unique take.”

The spirit of Thanksgiving is an ideal The Food Project celebrates on a daily basis.

“I think Thanksgiving is a time The Food Project loves because our whole mission is about gathering around food,” Duiven adds. “The holidays are a time when that happens so it’s a way to breathe more life into the food we are making because we know that food will be on those tables where people are gathering.”

To Order

Visit https://www.thenashvillefoodproject.org and find “Get Involved” on the right top of the site. Scroll down to Thanksgiving 2019 for the online ordering form.

You can order your Thanksgiving sides, salad and desserts separately or take advantage of the “Make It A Feast” option to receive a discount.

All Thanksgiving sales will be done by pre-order online through Sunday, Nov. 17. Dishes will be ready and available for pickup at The Nashville Food Project’s headquarters, 5904 California Ave., Tuesday, Nov. 26, or Wednesday, Nov. 27. You will select your desired pickup day during checkout.

Questions: Catering manager Katie Duiven

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