Q & A: Jay Guben on a new fresh food program for West Philly
Jay Guben, 76, is the founder of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and a director at Fresh Start Foods, a nonprofit that is planning to launch a program in West Philly in March. The program will provide healthy prepared meals for students and the community while offering culinary-skills training for unemployed adults. In this edited conversation, he talks about access to fresh food and social change.
City Paper: Can you summarize the Fresh Start Foods initiative, and specifically, what it's going to bring to the neighborhood?
Jay Guben: Our belief is that to change the dynamics and culture in a neighborhood, many groups and many different individuals have to come together. As a start, Fresh Start Foods, Drexel and the People's Emergency Center have formed an alliance to do some work, which includes training unemployed people and developing a business that would serve meals to schools and catering. [We plan to] open a healthy store on Lancaster Avenue near 39th Street.
CP: Why did you decide to put the center in West Philadelphia? What void do you see it filling?
JG: There's a population need in terms of what's accessible, especially in poorer neighborhoods. The area around where we're planning doesn't have the kind of food service that — if you lived at 24th and Pennsylvania Avenue — you would have. So, what we believe is that there's a community need, and that we could serve the community by coming here and doing this work.
CP: Where will the meals that are prepared on-site be served?
JG: The plan for distribution is to be as broad as we can. The hope is that this kind of initiative will change people's eating patterns, will change the issues of diabetes and [being] overweight, and will change your health pattern, because you'll be having a better diet that will be a help to you. So we've talked about ... you can buy meals in the store, meals going to schools, meals going to homes and meals going to a variety of different places.
CP: How exactly are Drexel and People's Emergency Center involved?
JG: The initial food-preparation training site will be [at Drexel]. People's Emergency Center is the agency that will run the program, and Drexel and Fresh Start Foods are just offering the technical assistance and training and education, but it's under the direction of the People's Emergency Center.
CP: Will you be specifically marketing the program toward people who live in West Philadelphia?
JG: Yes. Our ideal recruit is somebody who kind of is feeling in a dead-end position and needs to kind of move out. What we wanted it to do is kind of be a career boost. CP: Would it be for somebody who maybe wanted to get into the restaurant industry? JG: What we imagine is that it might be somebody who has dropped out of school, and this could help them build a career. If they were interested in food as a career, that would be great.