Building Community Over Food

by Julian Cohen

Six years ago, I cofounded an international social enterprise called Rumi Spice that imported saffron from Afghan farmers and brought our amazing spices to dinner tables and restaurants across the U.S. What came out of that collaboration was a unique and unifying sense of community between Afghanistan and America. While my cofounders and I were once U.S. soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, we were now business partners with our Afghan farmers. We became the largest private employer of Afghan women, opening up three processing centers in Herat, Afghanistan, and proudly promoting women in the ranks of Rumi Spice leadership. Our Afghan women shared recipes of their native saffron dishes, and we found ourselves welcome into the homes of the families, sharing food and playing with children. Our company was truly a warm bridge between two very different worlds, and the community we built around food and family was incredible.

Business lays a foundation for peace and community, as we’d like to say at Rumi.

Bountiful Kitchen aims to do the same. In uncertain times of Covid-19, we are separated from our neighbors, unable to engage in normal day-to-day activities that define our community and identity relationships. Oftentimes, food unites us and gives us memories of the days we spent sharing with family and friends.

I met Joe, the Culinary Director at Bountiful, at the steps of my home in Somerville. I had posted my blender on Craiglist, and he had come to purchase it from me. He stood awkwardly at the doorway, and I awkwardly hastened to put my mask on. Social interactions, let alone Craiglist transactions, were confusing because of Covid-19.

I decided I should at least show him the blender worked. “Why don’t you come in?” He walked in gingerly and folded his hands together. I plugged it in, turned on the motor, and fiddled with it. He told me he had just recently left Craigie-on-Main, a local fine dining establishment, due to the pandemic, and he and a friend were starting a food delivery company to source from local producers in the Boston area and feed people who wanted delicious, home-cooked meals of higher caliber that weren’t GrubHub take-out. I got excited, shared with him about Rumi Spice, and offered my help. That was the day I joined Bountiful. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of watching (and eating too!) Joe and his team craft delightful dinners with a growing community of diners and fans from the Cambridge and Somerville area. It’s the neighborhood sharing in Joe’s cooking!

Bountiful is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise uncertain world of withdrawal. While businesses are failing and people are getting laid off, Bountiful is an opportunity to bring a new type of value and employing the resources that is available to us right here in the local community. Food is what binds us together as human beings; over feasts we celebrate and nourish ourselves. Joe and Julian have created a delicious means of bringing people together in the time-honored way of sharing food.

 

Written by Kim Jung