Nearly half of our country’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Histories of abuse are common and life on the streets is hard. Those lucky enough to get a meal are likely not eating well, and many are going completely without.
That’s why for nearly a year now, RADDISH: Radical Dishes Co-Operative has been quietly supplying Atlanta’s homeless LGBTQ youth with healthy, vegan meals on a weekly basis. Founded in September 2016 by friends Tyler Tolson and Becca Dickerson in partnership with local housing nonprofit Lost-n-Found Youth, RADDISH describes itself as a grassroots effort to support those suffering from systemic oppression.
The group, now joined by head coordinators Jack Van Remmen and Xan Nichols, meets weekly to prepare, cook and deliver meals with the goal of providing “compassionate and sustainable food for all.” Last month, they hosted their first Letters to Prisoners Night, dedicated to reaching out and making connections with incarcerated populations.
Creative Loafing caught up with the organizers of RADDISH via email to get more insight into their mission.
What spurred the founding of RADDISH?
Tyler: After learning about Lost-n-Found Youth's conception, I wanted to be involved due to personal connections with homelessness and LGBTQ+ issues, but was constantly working and overwhelmed with schoolwork. I was frustrated with being unable to dedicate more than three hours a week, and preferred making a direct impact that was still meaningful. After learning about LNFY's need for more food donations in August, I proposed the idea of RADDISH to close friends. Since I take a radically leftist political position, my veganism being a part of that, it felt ethically integral to incorporate into our framework. In short, we wanted to provide meals compassionately, in every facet imagined. A part of this compassion was maintaining a non-hierarchical structure where everyone involved had as much of a hand in what we are building as anyone else, as well as being open and accessible to anyone interested in involvement.
How did you connect with Lost-N-Found Youth?
"Homeless people are in extreme need of highly nutritious meals every opportunity they have, because they may not know when their next meal is."
Becca: We started specifically with LNFY because in August of 2016 the organization sent out an email describing their decline in food donations, and how that is a distressing situation for the youth at the center. In addition to fewer donations we discovered that the majority of their meals came from pre-packaged non-perishables that are typically heated in the microwave (because the center does not have a fully functional kitchen). This is extremely upsetting information because of the large number of homeless LGBTQ+ in the Southeast that come through LNFY. Homeless people are in extreme need of highly nutritious meals every opportunity they have, because they may not know when their next meal is. We aim to provide this dense nutrition in our vegan cooking every week and so far have successfully donated every week since our inception in September of 2016.
How do you understand veganism's connection to social justice?
Jack: Sustainable and healthy food should not be and does not need to be a choice. The inequity faced by all marginalized communities is the true plight of social justice. We want to feed everyone. We want to further this kind of discussion and our menu/vegan diet is our mechanism.
Veganism and ethical food consumption are often considered high-end and inaccessible. How does RADDISH work to disrupt those misunderstandings?
Becca: I consider myself to be a strong advocate of affordable and quality produce. I have spent a lot of time over the past few years comparing receipts from various grocery stores and experimenting with vegan cuisine, and with RADDISH one of my main jobs is to grocery shop for our weekly cooks. I get 90 percent of our ingredients from the Dekalb Farmer's Market in Decatur, and the other 10 percent usually comes from Kroger, using my Plus Card, of course! The Dekalb Farmer's Market provides fresh produce for an extremely fair price, and they maintain a non-GMO policy. RADDISH's menus rarely involve meat or cheese substitutions, partially to show how easy and cheap it can be to live a vegan lifestyle! We aim to spend no more than $40 a week, total, to feed 20-30 people, which at the most ends up costing $2 per person.
How did your weekly cooking events develop into organizing the Letters to Prisoners Nights?
"I think a lot of people want to disconnect veganism from an ethical conversation surrounding radical politics."
Tyler: I think a lot of people want to disconnect veganism from an ethical conversation surrounding radical politics, so prison abolition and veganism seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Prison abolition, being a part of our picture, has just as much to do with the social issues around poverty and mental illness that our hunger relief organization attempts to directly assist. A compassionate action, such as direct human-to-human contact with a person our system wants to dispose of, quite similarly to how our current system/society regularly treats our homeless community, isn't dismantling the prison system but is important to us in how it is providing a form of relief to prisoners.
What's next for RADDISH?
Jack: We are currently working to increase the number of healthy, sustainable meals we can produce each week so that we may expand our reach to additional marginalized groups.
Becca: One of our founding members, Tyler Tolson, is leaving the country this summer to begin grad school in the Czech Republic. We are so sad to be losing such a crucial member, but proud of her for pursuing her career in her favorite country! Moving forward we will be looking for additional members ready to take on a few RADDISH responsibilities and serve the homeless youth in Atlanta. Eventually we hope to expand to other shelters/organizations in the city, upon a larger base of members and coordinators.
How can others in the community help?
Becca: As a group we try to provide as many outlets to donate as possible. The most common way to help is coming to our weekly cooking nights, Wednesdays beginning at 7:30 p.m. We have also received food donations typically consisting of produce and dry goods, and we have a Fundly account available to donate any amount of money online. Every cent of donations goes directly to feeding the youth at LNFY. And thanks to our fabulous members, RADDISH currently has no additional expenses beyond the food we cook! However we can always use items like olive oil, spices, foil catering trays and aluminum foil.