Many moons ago, we showcased the work of Culinary Corps, an NGO launched by a young chef named Christine Carroll who was moved by her experience in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Her vision is summed up in the tagline for the organization: “Good Food. Doing Good.”
For some, it may be difficult to imagine a group of chefs going into a community to attempt to change the situation: empower young people, prepare incredible food for those without, assist in reviving the native cuisine – but this is the kind of work that Culinary Corps does. For one of the participating chefs, the experience looked like this:
I realize now that there are opportunities for greatness everywhere. That in a small amount of time, a few people can make a great impact on many.
Mick, June 2007
More recently, Whole Foods Market launched its Whole Journeys itineraries for “active foodies” – those individuals who really want to discover source markets for the products and produce that wend their way to the shelves of Whole Foods Markets and desire to recreate (biking, hiking, rafting, what have you) and connect with the local culture.
In looking at Culinary Corps and Whole Journeys, I started to wonder: “What could we create if we crossed these itineraries?”
Chefs in Source Markets
When we think of source markets, we think raw materials; and, in the case of agricultural production, we are talking about raw fruits & vegetables, herbs, seeds, nuts, coffee, meats, and countless other products. How often, however, do you think of bringing a group of chefs to these markets to interact with farmers and producers, to share recipes with them, to, in essence, show them and share with them what the fruits of their labors can become?
It is one thing to go into a destination and stand beside women and men to learn the recipes of the local cuisine, to discover the manner in which locals mix and match the flavors of their respective destinations to feed their families. It is entirely different to celebrate that with folks who can truly appreciate it and add nuances and alternative approaches – perhaps introducing more nutritional ways to prepare the foods, new recipes that bring out the hidden flavors in the food, and options for reducing the amount of labor and consumption of combustibles – wood, coal, gas – all items that either cost money, time, and/or the environment on some level.
Bringing chef-voluntourists to source markets opens up potentialities for reciprocity, expanded learning, and unique interaction. Why aren’t we doing more of it?
Mixing Whole Journeys’ Travelers and Culinary Corps’ Chefs
On the other side of this potential cooperation is the exposure of Whole Journeys’ travelers to Culinary Corps’ chefs, and vice versa. Whole Journeys is attracting foodies, people who really do enjoy food. Such a group can be both inspiring and inspired via interaction with chefs.
When a host community becomes the backdrop for the interaction between voluntourist-chefs and voluntourist-foodies, the possibilities multiply significantly. Although Culinary Corps experiences are not set up like some of the other programs across the globe, say World Vets, for example, it is not out of the realm of consideration to see what might happen, as it does with World Vets, when those who have a passion for something [in this case, Whole Journeys’ foodies] are connected with those who operate within the space professionally [Culinary Corps’ chefs] (i.e., in the case of World Vets, veterinarians working with non-trained, passionate animal lovers to spay & neuter dogs, for example, in Cancun).
The connection between professionally-trained individuals and impassioned-for-the-cause volunteers has definitely worked in other models – look no further than Operation Smile and other medical missions, as well as Earthwatch (a researcher and a group of inspired, environment-loving volunteers). Could it work for Whole Journeys and Culinary Corps?
Here at the VolunTourism Institute, one of the items on our list is to explore, at least theoretically, what might occur if voluntourism operations begin to collaborate and cooperate with other voluntourism operations, or other NGOs, or even the private or public sectors, for that matter. We have so many new outfits springing up across the globe. Individuals are moved by their voluntourism experiences and feel moved to build on them, to the point of creating new NGOs or new companies to support the host communities with which they come into contact. Admirable though this may be, it leads to a great deal of diffusion (of resources) and confusion (for those attempting to select a voluntourism program).
Exploring new ways to cooperate and collaborate may help us to address diffusion and confusion simultaneously, and to strengthen the overall outcomes of these voluntourism programs for host communities and participants alike. A cooperation between Whole Journeys and Culinary Corps, for example, could lead to a brand new approach to cause marketing – a Cause Marketing 3.0, if you will. Consumers will move beyond purchasing goods and services to generate benefits for socio-environmental groups – PERSONALLY as participants; under these circumstances, Whole Foods Market consumers would become participants (voluntourists) in directly supporting socio-environmental causes and the communities as a whole.
At the very least, it may spark some new thinking for those who are operating these programs. And that cannot be such a bad thing, after all.