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Jessica Olah
Artist
2340 Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
September 08, 2015

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I primarily consider myself an artist and an illustrator, and over the last few years, the subject of my work in both of those fields has shifted from fashion and body image to food and how we, as individuals, relate to it. This particular project, 2,340 PB&J Sandwiches, came about after an office conversation about bringing bagged lunches to school as a child reminded me that my mother had made me sandwiches every day, from Kindergarten until 12th grade. I am about the same age that my mother was when she started making those for me, but I don't have any children of my own yet. I was struck by the dedication and love that she showed by making me lunch every day. As a way to appreciate that, as well as have a better understanding of what it is like to make the same thing day in, day out for 13 years, I wanted to make the same number of sandwiches she had made.

The next question was: what to do with all of the sandwiches? I didn't want to waste that much food, so I thought about who might be able to benefit from receiving a sandwich. A soup kitchen or homeless shelter came to mind, and after a little research, I decided on The Bowery Mission, which provides meals for the hungry and homeless, and accepts donations 24 hours a day.

How did you get your current good food job?

Once I had the idea for this project, I started talking it over with a few friends of mine, working out the details. At about the same time, I had a meeting with the women behind HATE Creative, a not-for profit collaboration of artists with the beautiful desire to appropriate the word 'hate', and re-purpose it to spread love. While there, I mentioned the idea I had to make the 2,340 PB&J's to Tate, one of the co-founders, and she immediately wanted to be a part of the project. That was when we really started moving this forward.

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job? 

In every way, my mother has been my inspiration for this job. She was the one who first gave me the tools to be an artist. She literally gave me paint and canvas, and figuratively gave me the confidence and desire to pursue art as a career. The sandwiches wouldn't have happened without her either. My time in undergrad, studying art at UC Berkeley, prepared me by teaching me that art could be what I wanted, and didn't have to fit some academic idea of what art is. Living in places that value good food, like the Bay Area in California, and Brooklyn, has taught me of the importance of local, high quality ingredients. Part of what is important to me about this project is providing good food to the people I'll be feeding. Growing up, I ate a pretty sugary sandwich. Now, I'm going to be making sandwiches with locally made grape jelly from Beth's Farm Kitchen, organic peanut butter from Once Again, and bread made locally in NYC (and benefiting the community) by Hot Bread Kitchen.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

The greatest obstacle is the one we're facing right now, which is that making a project like this happen, while not hugely expensive, requires a bigger budget than I have at the moment. That is why I've started fundraising through IndieGogo to make 2,340 PB&J Sandwiches a reality. So far, I've been encouraged by the support I've received from friends and family. I'm hoping that enough people will hear about this project and be inspired to donate.

Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate? 

A woman I worked for taught me that in order to get things done that require other people's participation, you have to clearly ask for what you want, and give a deadline. I was a lot less direct in asking for things before she taught me that. It has helped me in many areas of my life, not just at work.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

I think there is a lot of opportunity to educate people in "food deserts" - urban areas and rural towns without access to good quality, healthy food - about the benefits of eating well. Giving them access to better food through urban farming or better grocery stores is only part of the solution. Teaching them about how food can benefit the body and improve health and quality of life is another part. I hope to see more of this happening, and to participate in it as well.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

I would love to be compensated in more opportunities to work on meaningful art projects that also have some sort of social impact.

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