Town & Country’s ninth annual Philanthropy Summit returned to an in-real-life event just in time for attendees to experience a plant-based lunch curated by Questlove, the Roots drummer, Oscar-winning filmmaker, NYU professor, bestselling author and major foodie.
Questlove, born Ahmir Khalib Thompson, is among T&C’s cover faces (along with Stephen and Ayesha Curry, Jennifer Garner and youth activists). Thompson is on the board of the Food Education Fund and is a cofounder of the Future of Food Entrepreneurship Program, which pairs public high school seniors studying culinary arts with food tech companies.
As attendees were munching on their first course of toasted amaranth chicory and kale salad with pickled onions, butternut squash, apple, red and golden beets and sherry vinaigrette, Thompson introduced the young chefs. Annalysse Melendez and Kayla Atkins are seniors at Food & Finance High School, a New York City public high school in Hell’s Kitchen that offers students training in culinary arts and the restaurant industry. (The main course of andouille braised mushrooms with heirloom hash browns, miso fennel and mushroom gravy and the ginger poached pear dessert was from New York chef Tara Thomas.)
Sitting on the dais in the 44th floor Hearst Tower dining room with Martha Stewart, his interlocutor for the T&C summit, Thompson explained, patting his ample middle, that he always loved to eat. But his true purpose, he said, is saving the planet by promoting sustainable culinary solutions. Last summer, his Quest Loves Food foundation underwrote a four-week summer program that introduced students to Bay Area food and agricultural tech companies at the forefront of the sustainability movement. (Questlove’s Cheesesteak, made with Impossible, the plant-based meat, is available on Goldbelly.com.)
And both Thompson and Stewart marveled at the innovation of Food & Finance High School’s students. Stewart noted that they were using “garbage” — discarded milk cartons and wood chips — to grow edible mushrooms. “Not the Snoop Dogg kind of edibles,” she stressed, referring to her podcast mate who is known for his devotion to marijuana in all its forms.
“I want to go back there,” said Stewart of the high school. “I should have gone there before I opened my restaurant in Las Vegas…according to Pete Wells,” she added of The New York Times food critic as the room erupted.
Thompson and Stewart capped a day of panels (there were about 200 attendees) that were often as emotional as they were troubling. A discussion about the mental health of America’s youth drew audible gasps from the audience when Andrew Solomon, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia and author of “Far From the Tree,” recounted stories of teens attempting suicide.
Jennifer Garner — who is a trustee of Save the Children that promotes literacy and early childhood development in America’s poorest rural communities — shared that one of her earliest mentors while growing up in Charleston, West Virginia, was school librarian Annyce McCann, who recognized a “spark” in Garner and opened her up to the world of books, and her own mother, Patricia Ann, who grew up very poor in Oklahoma. “Mom grew up in one room, (her) clothes were made from sack cloth. They ate canned beans and if they had enough money to buy sugar, they made homemade ice cream. But she was the first in her family to go to college.”
Busy Phillips, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts discussed “rage giving,” a term that describes the outpouring of charitable giving in the wake of mass shootings and the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Phillips opened the discussion by ticking off all of the things she is raging about: “the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the stripping of our human rights, the crumbling of the building blocks of our democracy. I’m really pissed about all of it.”
But there is room for hope.
Watts — who started her foundation after the massacre of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — pointed out that MomsDemandAction is now two times larger than the NRA.
“When she started the organization a third of Congressional Democrats had an A rating from the NRA, now none do,” she said. “They are hemorrhaging money and influence because of angry women.”
Phillips fought back tears as she recounted that her 14-year-old daughter asked to go to boarding school in Europe because she doesn’t feel safe in the U.S. “And I thought, aren’t I f–king privileged. Wouldn’t we all like to send our kids to school in a country where they can be safe? And why can’t we make that our country?”