Keeping it Humble: Empowering Youth through Food in Roanoke, Virginia

Humble Eats taps into creative and innovative opportunities to educate and empower our youth, highlighting the history, essential ties, and entrepreneurial potential of food and equitable food access.”

— Xavier Duckett, Founder of Humble Eats

Having access to healthy, locally-grown food is something many of us take for granted. But structural inequalities in our society mean that many people are missing out.

In the US city of Roanoke, Virginia, many inner-city youth face barriers to accessing fresh, nutritious food. Factors like a lack of food education, the limited availability of fresh produce, and the prevalence of fast food outlets combine to create the conditions in which eating healthily is not the norm but the exception.  

The Demographics of a Good Diet

Time and again, the research shows that low-income, minority communities suffer most from poor access to healthy food, and Roanoke’s demographics reflect this. 

More than 25% of the Roanoke Valley’s residents live in the two major urban centers of Roanoke and Salem. But very little fresh food is produced in these urban areas, meaning that standardized processed and fast-food diets are commonplace.

Skyline of Downtown Roanoke
Skyline of Downtown Roanoke

Roanoke’s poverty rate sits at 12.8%, more than one percent higher than the national average, while the Northwest Roanoke Community reports an obesity rate of 40%. 

Although Roanoke’s residents have access to exercise and other pathways to healthier lifestyles, Northwest Roanoke is a food desert; and its residents’ limited access to nutritional fresh food hinders their healthier lifestyles. 

Driven by their devotion to the Roanoke community, The Humble Hustle and its partners have set out to combat this through the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund project: Humble Eats.

Who & How Humble Eats Helps

The Humble Eats project serves inner-city youth from Northwest Roanoke’s underserved communities. 

Often made up of ethnic minorities or people of color, these communities have limited or no access to resources and are otherwise disenfranchised. Growing up in these communities means being at a socioeconomic or educational disadvantage from the get go.

But Humble Eats offers an innovative solution, rooted in sustainability, education and enterprise.  

Young People in the Humble Hustle and Humble Eats Program.
Young participants in the Humble Hustle and Humble Eats Program.

Humble Eats is tackling the problem of food equity head-on by teaching inner-city youths about fresh produce and ingredients. The multifaceted project is made up of several interactive and hands-on experiences, including a visit to a local farm and butcher. It also draws on experiential learning to train these young people to cook nutritional meals safely.

But lessons don’t stop at the classroom—the project provides students with food vouchers for local LEAP markets so they can recreate these recipes for their families back home. 

The Project’s Humble Origins

Humble Eats builds on an initiative launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, when The Humble Hustle partnered with a local business, The Village Grill.

Together, they provided 500 meals for all students and families in the Imagine Me Mentoring Program in Roanoke City Schools. 

But this is Humble Eat’s first venture into long-term, sustainable education and enterprise-oriented work.

The Humble Eats project unites a number of key players in the Roanoke community, including Nathanial Sloan, the head chef of Bloom Restaurant and a strong advocate of Slow Food values. He is a longstanding partner of the Humble Hustle, a previous participant in the Slow Food Negroni Week, and the natural choice for a collaborator with Humble Eats. 

Bloom Restaurant, Roanoke, is one of the partners of Humble Eats and serves as a venue for the project
Bloom Restaurant, Roanoke, is one of the partners of Humble Eats and a venue for the project

Sloan believes in widening the avenues available for young people to explore culinary careers while learning about food processing, the farm-to-table process, the history of food and much more. His restaurant will serve as the site for hands-on educational activities, together with the LEAP community center.

Empowering Youth through Education and Enterprise

Slow Food and Humble Eats share the belief that education is essential for securing long-term change. That’s why Humble Eats also involves more practical, hands-on elements, empowering young people through education and enterprise.

The project’s participants learn about marketing, branding, photography and promotion; sales and fundraising, and food production for retail. Completing a course with Humble Eats means laying the foundations for future careers as restaurateurs and entrepreneurs.

The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund

The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund incubator grants will go toward purchasing food, providing transportation, paying the facilitators and covering the costs of venues and vouchers. 

The grant allows Humble Eats to pilot this program for inner-city youth, and provide a structure whereby students can progress from learning to cook a basic meal for themselves to being able to cater for their whole family and even pursue a career in cuisine. 

So what does the future hold for Humble Eats?

When asked about his future vision, Xavier described his idea of transforming Humble Eats into a culinary program. He talked about partnering with the city school district in Roanoke to make sure students could gain credits by investing time in arts and culinary courses like Humble Eats.

By delivering engaging, educational experiences in a different way, and showing first-hand the benefits of enterprise and sustainability, it’s easy to see Xavier’s vision becoming reality. 

Xavier Duckett, Founder of Humble Eats, with two young participants
Xavier Duckett, Founder of Humble Eats, with two young participants

Securing Sustainability through Food & Drink

The transformative work of Humble Eats is made possible by the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund. Since 2013, Slow Food, Campari and Imbibe have been harnessing the power of food, drink and hospitality to promote sustainability, education, equity and diversity. 

The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund supports local community-led projects and magnifies networks that are transforming the global food and beverage systems. The partnership envisions a world where everyone can enjoy food and beverage that is good for them, good for the people who grow it, and good for the planet.

Be the Change, Join Slow Food 

Slow Food recognizes the importance of schools and canteens in food education. But modernization in school menus has not kept up with our nutritional knowledge. That’s why we spearhead a range of international school canteen projects that redress this imbalance through delicious healthy food, protecting childrens’ health and nourishing them with knowledge.

Has Humble Eats inspired you? Check out the education and advocacy work of Slow Food. Slow Food cultivates an international network of local chapters made of more than 1 million members and across 150 countries that host educational events and advocacy campaigns, and build solidarity through partnerships. 

Join our grassroots movement today. 

See what your local Slow Food chapter is doing in the US

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