Chef Jason Alley on Growing up with Food Insecurity + Why #NoKidHungry Matters More Than Ever

Jason AlleyAs we continue to celebrate Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Month, Share Our Strength supporter chef Jason Alley, co-owner of Comfort, which just marked its 13th year in business, and Pasture restaurants in Richmond, Virginia, discusses his experiences with childhood hunger, why school breakfast and lunch should be available to all students, and the worst thing you can donate to a food bank.

You faced food insecurity regularly as a child. How did that affect your everyday life?

It creates massive stress. I grew up in southwest Virginia around the Appalachian Mountains, and we were certainly not alone in being poor in that area. There’s a lot of poverty. Food was always scarce. Growing up rural was nice because we had plenty of friends that hunted, and my grandmother had a garden, but that didn’t always make the cut. So food was always first and foremost on our minds all the time, like, how are we gonna make this happen? How are we going to get everybody fed?

Can you remember some of the toughest periods?

There were many times when I moved to Florida with my mom when there were weeks and weeks in which it was literally school lunch and white rice at home. That would just be it for extended periods of time.

As a child, how did you sit through school and succeed when you’re so undernourished?

I didn’t really succeed. I was unmotivated to be at school. Think about if you’re sitting at your desk and you had to skip breakfast, and now it’s lunchtime. You bottom out. You find yourself dozing off at your desk. You get hangry and cranky. Now, imagine that being a habitual thing. To think anyone is going to be successful under those circumstances is just unreasonable.

The free breakfast and lunch programs that a lot of schools have gone to are crucial in setting the stage for success for these kids. Our kids are starting public middle school for the first time this year, and their school has free breakfast and free lunch for every kid in the school.

When it’s available to everyone, I would imagine there is less of a stigma.

When I was a kid I had my little free lunch card. You’re going through puberty, kids are already starting to get bullied, you don’t have the cool clothes, and now, oh yeah, here’s your poor kid card. Have a great day! That’s just an added stressor. I think it is really progressive for a school to alleviate that stress. You know what? It’s free for everybody. Nobody pays, nobody gets singled out.

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Were there other resources to help you and your family?

We benefited from local food banks and a lot of church food closets. There were plenty of days where we would have been even hungrier had that not been available.

I feel like it’s hard for some people to take that step and go to food pantries, as if there were shame in it.

We’re a shaming culture. We’re really good at it. If you’re hungry and you need help, there’s nothing wrong with that. It sucks to feel as though you have to ask for charity, but it’s more important to look at the positives it brings. It makes everybody feel good. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s working at or going to a food pantry or food bank that is going to be looking down their nose at you. It’s a shared experience. If you can accept the help for what it is, which is help and generosity, and you can use that to get yourself moving forward, then everything is working how it’s supposed to work.

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September is Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Month

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Every year, the restaurant industry unites in an extraordinary showing of solidarity to prove feeding people for a living is more than a profession; it’s a passion. It is a community that understands the power of food in America, where one in five kids struggles with hunger. An end to childhood hunger is within our reach, and the food service industry is leading the way. September is Dine Out for No Kid Hungry Month. Find a restaurant and make a reservation to join us* as we support No Kid Hungry in a most delicious way.



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#ProducePlayoff Benefit for #NoKidHungry at Betony: Dish, Drink + Behind-the-Scenes Pics

Produce_Playoff_0126Betony general manager Eamon Rockey and chef Bryce Shuman joined forces with No Kid Hungry on Tuesday, August 25th, at the 2015 Produce Playoff to help end childhood hunger in America. The event was an epic culinary throwdown featuring the season’s best bounty, which the chefs and wine and spirits experts, including Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park), Eli Kaimeh (Per Se), James Kent (The NoMad), Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske (Contra), and Rebecca Isbell (Betony), Jeff Taylor (Betony) and Thomas Pastuszak (The NoMad), personally selected in the #ProducePlayoff draft several days ago. Curious to see what Kevin Denton made with all those carrots? How about what chef Stone created with that lovely baby lettuce? Did the chefs all play nicely together in the kitchen? Check out our slideshow of pictures shot by New York photographer Simon Lewis for a look at how the delicious evening unfolded in the front of the house, in the kitchen, and, randomly, in the middle of 57th Street.

With a menu of Greenmarket-driven food and drink, live music, and words of inspiration and enlightenment from Debbie Shore, founder of No Kid Hungry, the 2015 Produce Playoff is a shining example of the magic that can happen when talented culinary professionals unite. Co-host Rockey noted, “The more talented people there are rallying together behind the same cause, the greater the impact and the more powerful the momentum.” Shuman said of his and Betony’s support for the organization, “No Kid Hungry seriously strikes a chord with me, having a daughter, and they maintain goals that are small enough to achieve and big enough to matter.”

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OpenTable Goes to Washington: Supporting #NoKidHungry on Capitol Hill

Connecting with friends and family around a great meal is one our favorite activities. However, for millions of people across the country (and globe), finding the next meal isn’t as simple as clicking “Reserve Now.” Today, 48.8 million Americans live with food insecurity. 16.2 million of them are children. For the first time in over 50 years, 51% of children in America’s public schools come from families below the poverty line and struggle with hunger on a daily basis. And hunger affects more than just the appetite. Consequences of hunger can include inability to concentrate, lack of energy or motivation, poor academic performance, behavioral problems and more likelihood to get sick. We believe childhood hunger is a solvable problem — and organizations like Share Our Strength are here to find a solution.

Last week, Scott Jampol, senior vice president of marketing at OpenTable, and I were honored to attend Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Summit in Washington, D.C., to engage, learn, and share with fellow No Kid Hungry supporters. We returned to San Francisco energized and inspired by our learnings — and more committed than ever to helping end childhood hunger in America.


On Monday, April 13, more than 200 No Kid Hungry corporate and foundation partners, chefs, culinary volunteers, government representatives, and community leaders gathered in the nation’s capital to outline strategies and opportunities to advance our shared cause. A variety of esteemed speakers — from Share Our Strength founders Billy and Debbie Shore, to Share Our Strength (and former OpenTable) board member and Union Square Hospitality Group restaurateur Danny Meyer, and coach Larry Clark, founder of Life Skills for Youth. Later, supporters, including area OpenTable team members Joe Ryan, Megan Scott, Carley Thomas, Thomas Bateman, Scott Calvert, Julia Sway, and Courtney Sylvester, capped off the day by sipping and supping at Taste of the Nation, D.C., joining more than 100 of the area’s best chefs, restaurateurs, and mixologists, including chefs Bryan Voltaggio (Family Meal) and Art Smith (Art and Soul), as well as local master mixologist Gina Chersevani gathered to share their strength with No Kid Hungry. After the event, chefs, and sponsors celebrated a successful evening at Mike Isabella’s Graffiato, where toasts were held over wood-fired pizzas and delicious No Kid Hungry cocktails.

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