Laura's story reminds us that although an interest in food can take root at a young age, it might not poke its head out of the ground until you're situated on a completely different career path. Maybe it was serendipity that a google search yielded the exact type of company she wanted to work for - Food Forward is a nonprofit that rescues fresh, local produce that would otherwise go to waste, and connects it with people in need - but we believe that identifying your goal is simply the first step in achieving it.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I only recently discovered I wanted to work in food - it was probably within the past five years - but I can trace my obsessive interest in food back to when I was very little. My grandmother had stacks and stacks of magazines like Good Housekeeping and I would go through them to cut out pictures of food and meals. I then pasted these photos in a scrapbook to look at over and over and over. Looking at all of the beautifully prepared meals was comforting and enjoyable. As I got older and lived in larger cities, I began cooking and experimenting with the food I was preparing and eating. Planning what I would have for dinner was one of my favorite things to think about and I loved it even more when I was cooking for friends. I began to experience how large of a role food played in community, in culture, and in enjoyment, and I wanted that to be part of my career.
How did you get your current good food job?
I moved across the country to Los Angeles from Chicago, after leaving my previous career in music marketing, knowing that I wanted to work at a nonprofit that had something to do with food. I most likely did a search on the internet for those two words - food and nonprofit - and discovered Food Forward. I had assumed that working at a food nonprofit meant working in a food bank, so produce recovery was a revelation to me. Growing up, we had apple and pear trees on our property and I vividly remember my mom (who was sustainable before it was cool) making sure every apple went to use. The idea that an organization was doing this on a large scale - rescuing fresh produce for those who don't have the access so many of us are fortunate to have - was exciting and innovative. I began volunteering with Food Forward and was fortunate enough to be hired as their Volunteer Manager not long after. Due to my experience in communications and a growing need at the organization, my role evolved to include overseeing our communications as well.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
When I began as the Volunteer Manager at Food Forward, I had little experience managing volunteers, however I quickly realized that skills I gained in my music marketing career translated to my work in nonprofit. Growing relationships and building networks are crucial in our work as a community-powered organization, as is the ability to provide opportunities that people are excited to take part in. I also love (really!) to put new systems and organizational methods into place, which sounds boring but has helped to structure our volunteer and community outreach.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
I was entirely new to the nonprofit world when I started at Food Forward so the learning curve was steep. I had to get familiar with the issues we were working to address, like food insecurity and food waste, and learn how the heck to recruit and engage hundreds of volunteers each month. That knowledge sometimes came from lessons learned, which can be the way a growing nonprofit, well, grows. Food Forward is not even ten years into its journey, and while our work continues to expand at a fast rate, we are generally learning as we go. That can be challenging, but it's also exciting. It means that there are always opportunities to explore, partnerships to form, and more produce to rescue!
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
I have always admired my long-time friend/former boss for her ability to be a "connector." She seems to know everyone and is always the person who says, "Let me connect you with my friend who is doing what you are doing," no matter what you are doing. Her drive to create more human connections through shared interests and passions has always inspired me. The fact that I am able to do the same thing at Food Forward - connecting people with ways they can participate, learn, and contribute - is endlessly rewarding.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Experiencing food as culture. I feel so fortunate to live in a city that allows me to partially experience a place I may never actually visit just by trying its cuisine. Sharing a meal is simple but there is the opportunity for it to open up so many doors when it comes to history, culture, and life story.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?