Food + Drink

10 Ways to Use Cooking to Give Back + Do Good

Julia Turshen is not only known for her creative ideas for reinventing leftovers, as she demonstrates in her newest cookbook Now & Again, but also for being an involved activist. “If you enjoy cooking, you probably already care about people,” writes Julia. “Food is a bridge to community and invites us to get involved.”


Now & Again has been nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for the Best Cookbooks! The Goodreads Choice Awards are the only book awards selected by readers. Vote for Julia Turshen here.


Now & Again by Julia Turshen

Here she shares ten ideas on things anyone can do to give back and do good. “I hope something on it grabs you and you give it a go, or maybe this list will inspire even more ideas,” she writes. “Food is about people and people are community. We’re all in this life and this world together, and food is a tangible, wonderful way to connect and share.”

10 Ways to Use Cooking to Give Back + Do Good

1. Teach

Show someone who doesn’t know how to cook how to scramble eggs, make chicken soup, and roast vegetables. You will be teaching that person how to fish instead of just giving him or her fish. Feel free to throw a fish dish into the lesson or to suit the list of recipes to whatever your novice cook likes; just keep it easy and approachable. You will be helping someone to feed him- or herself and hopefully one or two family members or friends forever. It could be anyone: a college student, your own child, or even a friend’s child. This simple act makes an enormous, empowering difference and has a true butterfly effect.

10 Ways to Use Cooking to Give Back + Do Good

2. Show up

If someone in your community is grieving or going through a difficult time of any kind (recovering from an illness, for example), drop off a comforting, homemade meal that’s easy to heat and eat and include instructions on how to heat it. This also goes for anyone in your community with a new child (whether it’s a newborn, a foster child in need of a temporary home, or a newly adopted kid going through a huge transition).


Enter for a chance to win a copy of Now & Again plus a 10-piece POP container set from OXO! Head to the bottom of this post for more details.


3. Educate

Spend some time helping your local food bank and/or your local food pantry distribute food. Take a moment to share a recipe with the person receiving the food. This could be a brief verbal description (“hey, if you mix this rice with some of those frozen peas and an egg, you’ll have a quick and easy fried rice”) or consider making little recipe cards for some of the most commonly distributed items. Pairing a bit of inspiration with the ingredients goes a long way. Check out the Town of Rochester Food Pantry’s Facebook page for some fun and easy videos that Grace and I made for our local food pantry and feel free to use them for yours.

4. Organize

Organize a community potluck and ask everyone you invite to bring someone new. Connect people. Do this in your home or at a local community or recreation center.

5. Bake + Share

Bake something simple (I’m talking about you, Applesauce Cake with Cream Cheese + Honey Frosting) and take it to your local firehouse, police station, public library, emergency room, and/or the teachers’ room at your public school and thank whoever you’re giving it to for their service.

10 Ways to Use Cooking to Give Back + Do Good

6. Bake + Sell

Have a bake sale and give all of the proceeds to an organization that helps support something you believe in. A few ideas include Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

7. Support

Support food businesses that have social impact woven into their missions. A few great examples include Hot Bread Kitchen in Manhattan, which employs and trains women facing economic insecurity; Ovenly bakery in Brooklyn, which partners with Getting Out Staying Out and the Ansob Center for Refugees to provide jobs for young men who have been in the criminal justice system and for refugees, respectively; and La Cocina in San Francisco, which helps cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs, specifically women from communities of color and immigrant communities. And if you don’t live in New York or San Francisco, worry not. You can order products—they make great gifts—from all of these folks on their websites.

8. Buy

Buy cookbooks written by and featuring writers of color. It’s an easy and tangible way to support more inclusive storytelling, plus you’ll discover many amazing recipes. Here are a few recommendations. If you don’t have one of Dr. Jessica B. Harris’s many books, check one out (it’s hard to choose from her collection, but I would suggest starting with The Welcome Table and also her memoir, My Soul Looks Back). A couple more to consider for your shelf are Grand-baby Cakes by Jocelyn Delk Adams and The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day, two of the best baking books. Also, The Up South Cookbook by Nicole Taylor, Cooking Solo by Klancy Miller, Senegal by Pierre Thiam, The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook by Preeti Mistry, The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin, Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, Season by Nik Sharma, and The Saffron Tales by Yasmin Khan.

10 Ways to Use Cooking to Give Back + Do Good

9. Vote

Make sure everyone who comes to your house to eat a meal is registered to vote. Help them register if they’re not. Host a dinner party on an election day (whether it’s national or local), invite your neighbors over, and make it an event. It helps to have something on the calendar as both a reminder and an incentive. h

10. Ask

Whether you’re cooking a meal at home or going out to a restaurant, choose a dish from a culture you don’t know much about and read about it and ask questions. I have devoted my whole life to food, and I learn something new every single day, which is why I love what I do and never get bored. That we all have so much we can learn is a huge, beautiful gift.

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You can find Now & Again here

Julia Turshen

Julia Turshen

Julia Turshen is a writer. She lives in upstate New York.
Julia Turshen

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