2017 DANA RIZER
MANAGING DIRECTOR, GROCERYSHIPS
It’s tempting to say that we need a place like GroceryShips now more than ever, but the truth in their mission statement is simple: “every life is equally important.” This has always been true, and always will be. What’s most exciting about Dana’s work at GroceryShips is how they are approaching food equality, “a macro issue on a micro level.” Their innovation is succeeding, and we encourage you to check out how they’re making it happen at groceryships.org.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
From the time I was little, cooking was a major passion and hobby. I still remember waking up early on Saturday mornings before my parents were awake to make myself breakfast. I wasn’t particularly skilled – for years, my hash browns were usually a little burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. But I loved digging into those self-made meals while binging on Saturday morning cartoons. Family meals were also a sacred time in our house. My mom’s side of the family is hardcore Italian – my Grandfather was a butcher and my Grandmother was an incredible cook. Together, they’d spend most of every day figuring out what to feed my parents and I. Even my Grandma’s simplest meals – like a bowl of lentils and ditalini pasta – was a highlight in my day.
My real turning point came while I was studying abroad in Spain in college. When I arrived in Alicante, I was already a junior, and up to that point, I thought I was going to be a writer or an English teacher. While there, I realized I was spending all my time in the outdoor food markets, walking through the endless aisles of produce, fish mongers and meat counters. The happiest moment of each day was buying a loaf of warm walnut bread and some cheese to take home for lunch. It was there that it hit me: I was obsessed! And I knew from there on out that food had to be a key focus in my life.
How did you get your current good food job?
I found my current food job through magic, destiny and chance. My fiancee and I had just moved from New York City to Los Angeles (like so many others have done in recent years). Our first week in town, we reconnected with my fiancee’s old friend and martial arts teacher for dinner. His girlfriend turned out to be a food blogger and advocate, and she had just been to an event where she met the founder of this new organization called Groceryships. Learning about my background in food and yoga, she suggested I reach out. They were looking for a volunteer yoga teacher, and I was looking to be of service while I adjusted to this new town. After meeting Executive Director Sam Polk, we both realized there was a lot more I could offer. I began working on the program’s curriculum with him, and from there, the role – and the organization – continued to grow. It hasn’t stopped.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Everything I have done up to this moment – from pursuing a Master’s in Food Studies and a chef’s certification from the Natural Gourmet Institute, to long nights sweating as a line cook in NYC, to managing restaurants and events, to facilitating yoga teacher trainings for several years in Costa Rica – has made me oddly prepared me for my role as Managing Director at Groceryships. In designing Groceryships’ curriculum, we brought in themes from basic nutrition and food systems to help families understand the myriad issues that go into trying to make healthy choices, all of which was drawn directly from my graduate studies and holistic culinary training. But Groceryships’ classes are taught in a support group setting, which meant that all the time I spent learning about managing group dynamics, sacred space, and reflective listening through my yoga life also had a home in the program. It’s really satisfying to look back on all the years I spent pursuing different passions, and seeing that they actually interrelated more than I could have ever guessed.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
For a while, my greatest obstacle was my own self doubt. I spent years feeling called to pursue food, yoga and health, but at first, I couldn’t quite get them to overlap. I’d teach a yoga class in the morning, then work all night managing a restaurant, then teach a workshop on nutrition and health on the weekends. To me, they all went together. But for a while, each role remained in its separate sphere. Still, I knew I didn’t feel completely focusing on just one aspect, whether it was cooking, or movement, or health. So, I kept plugging away at all of these disparate jobs because they satisfied me. They each nourished me in different ways, and I didn’t want to live without any of them. I think my own stubborn selfishness helped me persevere. I just wanted to have my cake and eat it too.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
One lesson that stays with me to this day comes from my brief time cooking in restaurants. (I was a terrible line cook – completely stressed and overwhelmed by the speed and the intensity of the job. Some people love the adrenaline. I felt like I was on the verge of a heart attack for the entirety of each twelve hour shift). Anyway, one night, in the midst of an early dinner rush, I was frantically trying to get a grilled quail dish onto a plate and out to the dining room along with some other appetizers. Panicked about time and not wanting to get yelled at by the chef, I put this too-rare little bird on the plate and shipped it out. Before the server could take the plate, Chef caught it and brought it back to me. Instead of drilling me a new one, he said simply, “Good things can’t be rushed. Don’t sacrifice your integrity.” Boom.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
To me the greatest opportunity that exists right now is to get involved in food advocacy. Food is something that impacts all aspects of our existence, no matter who you are or where you come from. And there are so many ways to be an advocate/activist: joining a food policy task force, working at a restaurant with a strong social or environmental mission, or using art/storytelling to educate folks about issues in food. Whatever path you choose, there’s a lot we can all do to positively impact our food system and society.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Food and travel.