Food and drink goes beyond survival because it’s core to how we live and exist around each other. I think it has the power to increase tolerance and acceptance.
Location: New York, New York
Profession: Ph.D Candidate in Anthropology of Food
What organization are you giving to and in what capacity?:
I’m volunteering as a researcher for the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD), the first food museum with exhibits you can eat.
How did you connect with MOFAD?:
I was attending a conference on food and heritage at Brown University and one of the program directors suggested I reach out to MOFAD given my concentration in food studies. When I reached out to MOFAD, the team was very enthusiastic and welcoming. I instantly knew I wanted to work with them.
Why did you choose to volunteer with MOFAD?
MOFAD’s goals are aligned with my broader interest in engaging the public and fostering education about food issues. Their approach is unique because rather than focusing on one specific issue, their vision is to present food in a holistic and balanced way. They’re trying to change the way people think about food and raise questions about why and what we eat.
Why have you focused your career on food and drink?:
I’ve dedicated my life to food and drink because I believe it’s the basis of all human interactions. Food culture is something that we all experience and possess and it’s the quickest way to feel connected and understand the world around us. Food and drink goes beyond survival because it’s core to how we live and exist around each other. I think it has the power to increase tolerance and acceptance.
Have you always worked in the nonprofit sector?:
I was passionate about international security, peacebuilding, and humanitarian aid in college and I wanted to work in the international nonprofit sector. I interned with an organization that fosters US-UN relations for two consecutive summers and then landed a job working for a UN think tank after college. I really enjoyed working in the nonprofit sector and it has shaped the way I think about food politics in my research.
Was there a moment that helped you understand the value of giving?
I was raised in a Korean public school system that required you to volunteer a minimum of 40 hours during the summer beginning in elementary school. You could pick up trash, visit nursing homes or orphanages, or control traffic and provide directions at the subway stations. We were allowed to choose so you were able to do what interested you. One year, I volunteered at the post office and I really felt like I was part of a bigger community, contributing to the greater whole, and it made me feel more connected.
What mindset do you have when deciding to volunteer with a nonprofit?
People tend to think volunteerism is supposed to be selfless, but I don’t think it can ever be selfless. There has to be a motivation that’s personal. Otherwise it’s not very meaningful to either party.
Nonprofts want to have people who have a vested interest in what they do. I think an ideal match is someone who doesn’t just have the skills, but also has similar objectives as the nonprofit because those are the people who will be passionate about it. Nonprofits need people to stay engaged. In my experience, the nonprofits I’ve worked with always asked me whether the role fulfills my needs. They have to be strategic about how they’re working with volunteers because that’s the only way the organization can flourish and move forward.
How do you feel about being recognized as an ordinary philanthropist?
Oftentimes, the giving relationship is so focused on the person who’s giving, rather than the relationship between the two parties. It assumes that whatever the volunteer can give is enough, but if the need doesn’t match the gift, it won’t be a productive relationship.
It’s uncomfortable to be the one being applauded for giving because I’m not doing it on my own– I’m working as part of a network. My mantra is that you’re only strong as your network, and I try to live by that. It’s important for me to be plugged in and foster relationships with people who are doing things that I honestly respect.