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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 67.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Eat for Equity Madison turns one
Pop-up dinners benefit the community
on
The "Wisco bento" dinner benefited Operation Fresh Start.
Credit:Anda Marie Photography

Eat for Equity Madison turns a year old at the end of June, and to celebrate they're having a dinner at Graze. Chef Tory Miller has generously provided the space for the anniversary event, which will be a joint fundraiser for Eat for Equity (to cover such items as liability insurance) and the Sherman Middle School Garden, a cause that Miller has long supported.

The Madison chapter of the national Eat for Equity movement hosts themed dinners at various locations throughout Madison. The pop-up style meals raise money for local causes and charities. Stephanie Ricketts and Casey Bilyeu started the chapter following the launch of branches in Boston and Minneapolis. There are now nearly ten local groups, with more cities joining every month.

"We wanted to find a way to give back to the community," says Ricketts. "I heard about Eat For Equity through a tweet from @GOOD, and after the third dinner we became an official branch." (GOOD is a progressive social network.)

The anniversary dinner at Graze will be the group's ninth meal this year. It offers a dinner every month during growing season from May through October, and a meal every other month in winter.

Past themes have been a dinner inspired by the California restaurant Chez Panisse and one by rustic Mediterranean cooking. A "Wisco bento" dinner benefited Operation Fresh Start. That dinner featured carved potato animals, sugar cookie forests and vegetable fish carved out of carrots swimming in a potato-leek soup "lake." One of the most popular dinners of the year was inspired by street food from around the world.

I attended an Eat for Equity meal last fall that was entirely hunted and foraged by the Chief Meskokonaye Youth Camp attendees from the Red Lake Chippewa Nation in Minnesota.

Beneficiaries of this year's Eat For Equity dinners have included: Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (for a new shelter), the FEED Kitchens, Bare Bones Farm Cooperative (free/reduced CSA shares for those in need), and the Gardens for Empowerment Project. Upcoming beneficiaries will be Growing Food and Sustainability, FairShare CSA Coalition, Community Action Coalition and Outside the Bean (a Just Coffee initiative).

The number of guests at each dinner varies from 35 to 70, but participation is growing and the events sell out, says Ricketts. Ricketts and Bilyeu (who worked at Graze, Mermaid Cafe and other area restaurants) act as head chefs, with Johnny Knight (formerly of Forequarter and now at Sal's Tomato Pies) stepping in as a frequent guest chef. The group is entirely volunteer.

Want to help out and participate but don't think you can cook? There is room for you, says Ricketts: "Something that has been cool that I didn't expect when I founded this branch is that I've had people come to us with their skills: photography, graphic design, letterpress. People have come out of the woodwork saying 'Hey, I can't cook but I can do this other thing and I want to give back.' It's been really awesome to see."

Eat For Equity also helps train its volunteer cooks, and demonstrates techniques. Says Ricketts: "We try to be as local as possible and sustainable. But we also have an emphasis on making things by hand: pasta and ice cream, for instance. It's a way to share new skills with volunteers. We want to build community and have fun in the kitchen."

The anniversary dinner at Graze will feature ten courses, and among the dishes will be artisan seasonal pickles, gazpacho, farmers' market flatbreads donated by Salvatore's, and panna cotta with harvested mulberries. Dinner is family-style. As it is a private event, RSVPing is a must, either at a Facebook event page or by email to eatforequitymadison@gmail.com.

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