Dine like you give a damn

“Dine like you give a damn” is an annual event put on by Charlotte’s local non-profit, The Bulb. Founded by Alisha Pruett, The Bulb works to bring relief to food deserts and food-insecure neighborhoods by bringing them food that would otherwise be deemed waste (ie when a farmer doesn’t sell all of his produce at a market – it’s still perfectly good!). This 5-course vegan dinner is prepared by Nourish’s celebrity vegan chef Julia Simmons. Each course is made with “rescued food” that would’ve been tossed otherwise – and some special items like cashew-based truffle cheese from Viva Raw. Proceeds benefit The Bulb so they can keep doing what they do!


A little about food deserts

Food deserts are areas where there may be an abundant amount of “food”, but none of it is nutritious. Rather than ample fresh produce, the majority of the available food is highly processed, packaged, or fast-food. Meanwhile, any high quality and fresh food that does exist in the area is not affordable. Food deserts tend to exist in low-income urban or rural areas.

A little about The Bulb

The Bulb was founded by Alisha Pruett to help people living in food deserts in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. By partnering with farmers, chefs, credit unions, and other non-profits or volunteers, they can host about 4 fresh food markets a week. A cool thing that The Bulb does when they are bringing food to neighborhoods is provide education as well. Rather than just providing swiss chard, for example, they give out information on how to use the produce. Since access to fresh produce is so limited, many people may not have used certain vegetables or fruits before. The Bulb gives people the resources and guidance to eat for a healthier life.

There are plenty of opportunities to donate or volunteer, so check out their website to see how you can help. If you’re not in Charlotte, there is likely a similar organization in your area. Do some research! These efforts from people like Alisha are truly so important.

The event

This year’s Dine Like You Give a Damn event was held in uptown Charlotte’s 7th Street Public Market – a casual spot with local vendors of wine, cheese, coffee, desserts, and more.

vegan wines from Assorted Table Wines
Assorted Table Wines has the goods in 7th Street Public Market.

Julia Simmons from Nourish is regularly cookin’ up magic at events like last summer’s Avant Garden Party and to fit the theme of this event, she made masterpieces using rescued food that would have been tossed as food waste otherwise. Many of the courses featured the Charlotte-famous cashew-based vegan cheese from Viva Raw. Each course was perfectly paired with vegan wines from Assorted Table Wines (psst – they do $5 wine tastings on Monday’s in 7th Street Market!)

Before taking a seat, we all mingled while sipping some wine and nomming on cucumber with a sweet potato hummus, chick pea, and za’tar seasoning. It is always fascinating meeting people at events like The Bulb – from Oatly reps and meat-eating pharmacists to couples that have been vegan for more than 20 years, you’re guaranteed to meet an interesting mix of people from all walks.

vegan cucumber with sweet potato hummus
Sweet potato hummus, garbanzos in pot liquor (that’s the water leftover from boiling veggies or whatever else) vinaigrette + za’atar’d cucumber.
Paired with 2017 Carpineto Dogajolo Red Blend.

While crunching on these crisp cukes, I got a fun refresher from the Assorted Table Wine rep about what makes a wine vegan. It seems clear that it’s just fermented grape juice, so what about it wouldn’t be vegan? In processes for clarifying a wine to reduce haziness from particles, animal proteins from casein, egg whites, fish bladders, or gelatin will be used as fining agents. Clarifying can be done just by passing time, so not every winery needs to do this. Many natural and biodynamic wines tend to be vegan.

Finally we moved to sit down for the first course, which was a shared board of roasted beets with Viva Raw’s cashew-based cheese, arugula, and a sweet vinegar. I loved the slate they used to present this course, and you wouldn’t believe it was made using produce that would’ve been deemed food waste.

vegan cashew cheese with roasted beets
Salt-roasted beet caprese with Viva Raw’s caramelized garlic & chive cashew cheese.
Paired with 2017 Giesen Sauvignon Blanc.

Additionally, the Sauvignon Blanc from Giesen of Marlborough, NZ was one of the best Sauv Blancs I’ve had from that region. While it still had the classic zesty herbaciousness of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc, it was tamer and it actually had some more minerality to it that you would expect from a French Sauvignon Blanc. And even better – it can be found between $10-15. A budget wine that rocks.

The next course was a savory crepe with kimchi, radish, and sprouts. This course had a lot of really unique and interesting flavors that I think are great examples of how talented and creative Julia Simmons can be. Most notable to me was the pickled whole peppercorns – spicy when they burst on your tongue, and soft from the fermentation, I am willing to bet you haven’t had peppercorn like this before.

vegan savory crepe with kimchi and pickled peppercorns
Savory crepe with sprouts, radish, kohlrabi kimch and coconut nuoc cham.
Paired with 2017 Dover Vineyards Villard Blanc.

The Villard Blanc they paired with the crepe dish comes from Dover Vineyards, which is a local North Carolina winery. They also have a farm on the property, and they contribute a portion of what they produce to The Bulb.

Next up was a hearty dish of polenta and braised jackfruit that I swear to god could be mistaken for a slow-cooked pork. The texture was unbelievable – Julia said the secret to getting the jackfruit like that was smoking it and then double-braising it. The polenta was topped with Viva Raw’s wild mushroom & truffle cashew cheese – I’m all about truffles anywhere on anything at anytime so consider that my new favorite Viva Raw cheese.

vegan jackfruit ragu with polenta and truffle cashew cheese
Smoked jackfruit ragu with caramelized polenta, buttered cabbage, and Viva Raw’s wild mushrooms & truffle cashew cheese.
Paire with 2017 Carpineto Dogajolo Red Blend.

They paired this with the Carpineto Dogajolo Red Blend that Assorted Table Wines provided during the initial happy hour mingling and this pairing had me all sorts of inspired for making hearty “meaty” vegetarian dishes that stand up to a strong red wine.

Finally, dessert – a deconstructed banana split with a brûlée’d banana, cashew-based hazlenut cream and berry ice cream with some mixed seed and nut granola for texture.

vegan deconstructed banana split rescued food
Deconstructed + brûlée’d banana split with berry ice cream, hazlenut spread, and seed granola.

Inspiring dish after inspiring dish, this dinner was not only memorable but charitable and I have so much appreciation for the work that The Bulb and Nourish do, and the products from Viva Raw and Assorted Table Wines.

If you’re in the Charlotte area and feel like you missed out (which you did) and want to go to more events like this, keep an eye on Nourish’s website for upcoming events. And, follow Nourish, The Bulb, Viva Raw, and Assorted Table Wines on IG to stay on top of it.

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