Food Businesses and Voting

The Lempert Report
October 23, 2020

In 11 days its Election Day, quite possibly the most important election in our lifetimes – and the food business, one of the hardest hit from the pandemic are doing some extraordinary things that I wanted to share with you.

No its not about masks and social distancing. Its about what the estimated 4 million workers at 100,000 permanently closed restaurants are doing. Its about the grocery workers who just couldn’t face another day of working without PPE. Its from every point in the supply chain.

Many of them are text banking for their candidates of choice.

Chains like Noodles & Co. and Sweetgreen, are giving employees paid time off to cast their votes, which in some states and counties engulf their entire shift – and then some.

&Pizza, an East Coast pizza chain, will give its 700 employees Election Day off, paid, plus three additional paid days off to engage in “activism of their choosing” in the days leading up to the election.

The owners of Tired Hands Brewing Company, in Pennsylvania, wanted to address how changes to local election rules had complicated voting in the company’s home state, they looked to craft brewers. 43 breweries have signed up to brew I Voted Today, providing local voting precinct information to beer drinkers, and raising funds for several voting rights advocacy organizations.

Brewers develop a beer and brand it around a particular cause, be it social justice or disaster relief; get other breweries to join the effort by supplying them with the recipe and label design; and raise funds to support the cause when drinkers buy the beer. 

There is Sierra Nevada’s Resilience IPA in 2018, which was created to support victims of the California fires, and Weathered Souls Brewing Company’s Black is Beautiful stout, which supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Tired Hands created I Voted Today, a double dry-hopped American pale ale, complete with a peel-off sticker that says the same.  

A month ago, chef Daniel McLaughlin of Mission Taqueria was on a Zoom call with Power the Polls, a national initiative to recruit poll workers, Chefs are natural community-level organizers. Their clientele represent powerful constituencies. And they are great at figuring out how to draw a crowd. He worked with other restuarants to form #FuelThePolls, and offer voters a sweet incentive for signing up: they will send you a free meal from one of their restaurant partners, delivered to you on November 3rd at whatever polling location you go to. Fuel the polls now boasts over 700 new poll worker sign ups and the restaurant partners will deliver close to 2,000 meals on election day. MANNA, a local non-profit food delivery service, will support the deliveries, and TerraVida, a medical marijuana company, is covering the cost of food.

Berkeley Food Institute, a non-partisan food systems research arm of the University of California, Berkeley, wanted to ensure that people who spend their days in and around restaurants—cooks, servers, and delivery drivers—were registered to vote, could find their polling place, and had a plan for Election Day. So it launched Take Out the Vote, an initiative that includes designed placemats and posters for restaurants to post prominently on doors or near take-out windows, and that directed people to a mobile-friendly website with information on voter registration and absentee ballots.

 “The first person to sign up was [chef and local-and-sustainable food movement doyenne] Alice Waters. She was like, ‘Yep, definitely put Chez Panisse on the list,’” said Chris Cassidy, Berkeley Food Institute’s communications director. Through its network, the group has reached restaurants in California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Washington. No surprise.

Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen typically feeds communities that have been stricken by disaster. But now, the self-described “food first responders” have turned their attention to feeding communities in a different sort of need: those facing long lines to cast their vote. 

When early voting began in states like Georgia and Texas last week, the organization launched its #ChefsForThePolls initiative, funding chefs and food trucks across its network to bring meals to citizens who had to wait to vote—some for 8 hours—at polls in Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, and California. The group plans on working in between 60 and 70 cities, in states as far north as Alaska, before Election Day. 

 And my personal favorite – based on one of my favorite foods is Pizza to the Polls. Scott Duncombe and Noah Manger founded the movement in 2016, when historic voter turnout sparked epic waits and equipment failures at the polls. Their plan is simple: send free pizza to people waiting to vote with donations from people at home. Visitors to the site or Twitter feed would report where there were long polling lines. Pizza to the Polls would verify the locations and order pizza to be delivered from local pizzerias to polling lines. By Election Day in 2016 the group had delivered 2,368 pizzas to 128 polling places across the country, all paid for by donations solicited on the site.As of Wednesday, Pizza to the Polls has sent 3,645 pizzas to 300 polling places in 30 states, and raised more than $300,000 to pay for the food. And this year, they’re sending more than just pizza. This weekend, the initiative will roll out a fleet of 185 food trucks and send them to polling places in 25 states that have had historically long polling lines in the past. 

The group has collaborated with national and regional food partners like Shake Shack, Milk Bar, Just Water, and Kind Bar to provide food for the trucks. The trucks will be filled with hot and cold individually packaged snacks. Nuchas Empanadas will supply snacks for New York City trucks. In Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, trucks will offer Wetzel’s Pretzels.

The grocery and foodservice industry has shown shoppers how we work together to solve problems from the supply chain and shortages on the shelves to helping people during an unprecedented voting cycle.

We should be proud. And be sure to vote.