December 27, 2013

Sustainable food and pay-what-you-can diningThese days, chefs and restaurateurs are findings all sorts of way to combine crafting delicious meals with serving their local communities. Things like farm-to-table, sustainable food sourcing practices have been key to that effort, bringing things like environmental consciousness and humane treatment of animals to the dining industry.

But, as several people in the restaurant business are discovering, there are so many other ways that the places where we eat can add something extra to their surrounding communities. One example that is growing in popularity across the country often combines local, sustainable farming with the growing trend of “pay-what-you-can” dining.

Feeding the needy … for whatever they can afford to pay
Pay-what-you-can diners have become a trend that is being seen from coast to coast. Cafe Gratitude, in Los Angeles, is a vegan restaurant that caters to some of Hollywood’s most famous denizens, as well as the less privileged who live in the area. In El Paso, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Colo., smaller cafes have opened that serve less fortunate locals. Even Panera Bread, a major national chain, has experimented with pay-what-you-can dining.

Cafes in Colorado and Texas
If you’re a graduate of a Colorado cooking program or Texas culinary courses, you might want to turn your skills to a worthy cause. Luckily, you have some options.

In Colorado Springs, Lyn Harwell opened Seeds Community Cafe to help feed the 31,000 households in the area that rely on food stamps, as well as anyone else who might need a good, nutritious meal for a low price. And he’s doing it by following the pay-what-you-can playbook borrowed from a local nonprofit group, the One World Everybody Eats Foundation.

“The idea is to pay forward to help everyone have a nutritious meal,” Leslie Wirpsa, co-executive director for Seeds Community Cafe, told The Gazette. “Pay what you can or pay more to support the community. If you can’t pay, we ask that you volunteer in exchange for the meal. Do things like clear tables, wash dishes or prep food.”

In El Paso, three local women have used the same concept to open the Mustard Seed Community Cafe.

“We’re three friends who got together and really feel like it’s a calling we each have, to minister to people who may be in need of an extra hand and specifically feeding them,” Patsy Burdick, one of the founders told the El Paso Times. “It could be someone who maybe lost their job and can’t make ends meet or a single mom who can’t make ends meet.”