An Interview with The Brownsville Community Culinary Center’s Lucas Denton
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test the endurance of the global community, dangling the tensions of social isolation, economic woe and terrifying illness before the world’s billions. But while the juggling of day-to-day crisis management becomes routine for many, vulnerable communities continue to suffer extraordinary pressures as long-standing social inequities are exacerbated — from access to adequate healthcare and housing to food.
The situation in Brownsville, New York, a community devastated by the COVID-19 outbreak and a notorious food desert, is no different. Enter The Brownsville Community Culinary Center (BCCC): Danish culinary entrepreneur Claus Meyer’s NYC-based food initiative marrying New Nordic culinary thinking with New York-based inspirations to provide one of the Big Apple’s most disenfranchised communities with healthy eating options and culinary industry opportunities.
“The coronavirus has thrown into stark relief the conditions that Brownville residents were already experiencing, which radically magnified the vulnerability of the community to this pandemic,” notes Lucas Denton, co-founder and content director at The BCCC.
The search for solution, Lucas says, led to a unique collaborative effort between The BCCC and health food initiative Collective Fare to bring “healthy, delicious meals to food-secure individuals and people suffering from diet-related illnesses at low or no cost in Brownsville and beyond.”
Denmark in New York caught up with Lucas Denton via email to learn how The BCCC’s mission has evolved and adapted to the climate of crisis while ramping up support for the Brownsville community in need.
This interview forms part of a new series of COVID-19 Culture Conversations, through which Denmark in New York engages key local partners on how to rise to the occasion in a time of crisis. The series spotlights innovative initiatives and crisis response in New York and Denmark amid the global pandemic.
Denmark in New York: The BCCC has been a cultural anchor at the heart of the Brownsville community, providing healthy food options and key career training. At what point did you realize that a pivot towards Collective Fare would be necessary for BCCC and the Brownsville community?
Lucas Denton: Rather than a “pivot,” we view our work with Collective Fare as a partnership. In mid-2019, it became clear that for the long-term stability of the organization, and in order to sustainably continue to provide the same quality of goods and services to Brownsville residents, hybridizing the model, creating a nonprofit/social impact for-profit model would be our best course of action.
Furthermore, we knew that we could count on Collective Fare to deliver- it is owned by The BCCC’s former Chef Educator Chef Rodney Frazer and The BCCC’s former Director of Catering Latoya Meaders, both of whom displayed extraordinary skill in their positions at The BCCC.
Additionally, many Collective Fare staff are BCCC alumni who are also Brownsville residents. The new configuration would allow for those BCCC participants who would benefit most from staying in the neighborhood to work the opportunity to do so at a living wage and in conditions that would support their growth as professionals.
Tell us a little bit about the Collective Fare initiative and The BCCC’s role within it.
Lucas Denton: Collective Fare is a social enterprise company. Their goal is to provide healthy meals of a high quality in a neighborhood where food access is limited to the degree that there is an epidemic of diet-related illness, and to provide living-wage employment opportunities in a neighborhood with the highest rate of youth unemployment in New York City.
During the coronavirus response, Collective Fare has pivoted to partner with a number of organizations to produce free, delicious, healthy meals to the most vulnerable throughout the neighborhood, producing and distributing upwards of 2000 freshly prepared meals a day.
The BCCC is offering its full support of this initiative, helping to steward resources and logistical support toward Collective Fare with the goal of expanding the reach of their efforts.
How has The BCCC’s mission changed amid the current COVID-19 crisis?
Lucas Denton: The BCCC is currently leaning more into the public health element of its mission to bring world-class culinary resources to the Brownsville community. Moving forward, until the future of both education itself and the restaurant industry become clear, The BCCC will work to get healthy, delicious meals to food-secure individuals and people suffering from diet-related illnesses at low or no cost in Brownsville and beyond.
We’re also reviewing the highest-priority services for Brownsville residents moving forward, so we can utilize our space effectively to meet the emerging needs in the community as we move forward through the pandemic and the economic collapse.
What are the biggest challenges facing Brownsvillians as they navigate this crisis?
Lucas Denton: The biggest challenges Brownsville face now are resultant from the same forces that created the conditions that led to the issues The BCCC was designed to address- institutional racism and poverty. The coronavirus has thrown into stark relief the conditions that Brownville residents were already experiencing, which radically magnified the vulnerability of the community to this pandemic.
The BCCC remains resolute in its commitment to address both the localized effects of the systems and work to rid these systems of their exploitative, oppressive character. In this effort, The BCCC can use as much support as possible; the effect of the virus on philanthropy is yet to be determined, and we’re doing everything we can to garner support now to carry our efforts into the future- please reach out if you’d like to get involved.
How has the community responded to The BCCC/Collective Fare effort?
Lucas Denton: Brownsville has embraced it. We’d like to think it’s because they like us, and maybe they do, but we’re betting it’s because we’re here, working in solidarity to address these issues with every ounce of passion and professionalism we can muster. A lot of gates are down, even those of other nonprofits. Ours are not.
Emilie Haaber Lynggaard is the Strategic Communications and Press Intern at Denmark In New York.