Andrew McDowell ’05, founder of With Love Market and Cafe, spoke at Occidental College Oct. 6. His presentation was the first in a series of activities planned throughout October for Food Justice Month, which highlights the struggles and rights of food workers and consumers. With Love opened six months ago and is located on Vermont Avenue, south of Koreatown. It is a combined grocery store, cafe, community garden and gathering space. With Love aims to provide the community with healthy food, jobs and education.
In his address, McDowell recounted his personal experiences at Occidental as well as the story of With Love’s founding. During his time at Occidental, McDowell did not know that he would begin a food justice career, and was unsure of what he wanted to do after college. He admitted that he was almost expelled in his first year for conduct violations.
McDowell knew that he wanted to work with people when he graduated. Before beginning the project that became With Love, McDowell worked in online marketing for 10 years. He decided to open With Love because he saw that there was a lack of access to affordable, healthy food within his South Los Angeles community, as well as a lack of jobs. McDowell began working on this concept four years ago, and after a long battle to procure enough funding via bank loans, With Love opened its doors March of this year.
“Our neighborhood is extremely under-resourced,” McDowell said. “That is often where food justice comes in — when the greatest needs meet the greatest opportunity.”
Food justice encompasses environmental sustainability, workers’ rights, healthful food and equal access across socioeconomic class, Food Energy and Sustainability Team (FEAST) President and Food Justice Month planning board member Skye Harnsberger (senior) said.
McDowell agrees that the nature of food justice is multifaceted, and added that it requires multiple organizations and disciplines to address issues such as these.
“It takes lots of little parts doing their part well, and working in congress with everyone else,” McDowell said.
With this in mind, McDowell maintains that With Love must narrow its mission, as it cannot meet every food justice-related goal. In the business, he and his employees focus on providing equal access to healthy food, while also providing the community with jobs and health-related education. In addition to the store and the cafe, With Love partners with local businesses, churches and schools to provide health and lifestyle classes on topics such as cooking, nutrition, yoga and parenting. Some of these classes make use of With Love’s community garden to teach community members about home-grown food.
This kind of community outreach is an important aspect of With Love. McDowell’s goal is to hire 75 percent of employees from within the community. Because the neighborhood is largely Latino (around 25 percent, McDowell said), most of McDowell’s employees are bilingual, and With Love always plays Spanish-language pop music over the speakers. McDowell said that there are around seven schools within a few blocks of With Love, and schoolchildren in the area come to With Love to do their homework.
With Love is gaining recognition quickly; they were selected by American Family Insurance to be the subject of a television commercial, which will begin airing in more than 30 U.S. states in three weeks. In the commercial, sports stars Derek Jeter, J.J. Watt and Kevin Durant surprise McDowell and his associates by coming to help out in the store for a day. The commercial will not be aired in California because the insurance company does not cover Californians, so McDowell is looking for other ways to build a following locally. Aside from shopping at the store, supporters can visit With Love’s website to view the commercial, share other news about the store and donate money through With Love’s own crowdfunding site.
If students are looking for more ways to get involved with food justice on campus, there will be additional Food Justice Month events to attend; many planned by student group FEAST. Harnsberger said that her favorite FEAST event is the Oct. 22 fermentation workshop with Paul Hudak, where attendees will ferment their own food and take it home.
Harnsberger added that students can also contribute to the mission of food justice by following the Real Food Challenge, a national sustainable food movement that Occidental participates in. Anything in the Marketplace marked with an “Oxy’s Own” sign is sustainably sourced. More information about the Real Food Challenge and the specific food sustainability goals of Occidental can be found through the Campus Dining webpage.