JWU Denver alum Megan Bradley '07 has dedicated her culinary career to helping families affected by hunger. Here she tells us the very personal reasons behind her tireless work for the Colorado chapter of No Kid Hungry.
While attending Johnson & Wales, I worked in fine dining where there was a marked contrast between the student lifestyle and that of our customers.
After graduating with a BS in culinary nutrition, I moved to the Hamptons in Long Island to assist a personal chef at a family estate.
I pulled up to this mansion in a rusted '96 Pontiac Sunfire. I didn’t know homes like that existed; I guess if I’d had cable television I would have known. We shopped at beautiful farm markets that sold produce in all different colors and heirloom varieties. I thought, “Why doesn’t everyone have access to this produce?” I understand that high-end cheeses and wine have a price difference, but why do things grown in the earth?
During my senior year, two transformative things happened. First, my mother passed away from heart disease that was preventable because it was nutrition-related. She died on Christmas day, after I had prepared dinner for our family and she’d told me how proud she was to see how much I’d learned about food and cooking. Meanwhile, I was interning at a free care clinic that served a lot of drug addicts and low-income families. I wondered, “How do you talk about nutrition when their basic needs like housing are not being taken care of?” Seeing the disparity between that level of poverty and the Hamptons degree of affluence within one year affected me.
It’s not to say that restaurant work isn’t art. But as people who are passionate about food we cannot ignore there are people going hungry. Now I fight childhood hunger everyday by teaching kids and their families how to shop and cook on a tight budget. During my first four years at Share our Strength, no one knew my background. Our family of 7 grew up on a tight budget, which meant that sometimes food was limited. One day our cooking class was being filmed and the interviewer asked why I do this work. I said, “That mother in class is my mother trying to do better for me.” Eventually I spoke about my past and this weight lifted — it was a secret I’d kept my entire life.
Access to healthy food is a human right. We need to teach skills + change policy.”
My mother and father were great parents. They were college-educated and hardworking, but there were medical bills and a job loss. People talk about generational poverty and situational poverty: We were always teetering between poverty and middle class, and it’s easy for something to topple you into poverty when it’s situational. But if I’m ashamed of my past then I’m ashamed of our participants — and why should we allow ourselves to be stigmatized? Access to healthy food is a human right. We need to teach skills and change policy. We can’t just put out the fires; we have to wonder why the fires started in the first place.
As a student, I had big dreams of working in fancy restaurants and having a cooking show. But not many people can go into the community and do what I do. In one class where we made whole grain English muffin pizza, this girl always cut hers in half to bring the other half home. When I asked her why, she said, “This is for my brother’s dinner.”
The hunger that is happening is real — it’s hurting people and even I can forget it exists. By empowering families with the necessary skills to cook healthy on a budget, we are ensuring they don’t have to experience hunger like I did or millions of children do every day. If I can teach one family to do that then I have made a difference. (As told to Denise Dowling)
Looking to share your skills? Bradley suggests the following organizations as resources:
Megan Bradley ’07 is a senior program manager at Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters, based in Denver, Colorado.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of JWU Magazine.