Sustainable Eats is just one of the restaurants you can try for free
By Brooke Geery
Whether you realize it or not, everyone has been affected by Covid-19. From the homebound seniors who spent a year watching cable news, to the young professionals who didn’t realize having a beer on a bar patio was the crucial “therapy” time — no one is coming out of this pandemic unscathed. But, as the fog of Covid-19 gently lifts, it’s getting easier and easier to see some of the great things we’ve gained locally, one of which is Vermont Everyone Eats (VEE).
“Vermont Everyone Eats provides nutritious meals to Vermonters in need of food assistance, as well as a stabilizing source of income for Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producers,” according to the program website, vteveryoneeats.org. “Funded by the Vermont Legislature to address Covid impacts, VEE is administered by Southeastern Vermont Community Action, SEVCA.”
The program serves up restaurant-prepared meals to anyone who needs one — vegetarian, carnivore, cold, hot, however you like to eat your food, there is a meal available for you.
The program is in all 14 Vermont counties and is currently producing about 30,000 meals a week.
The food insecurity rate for Vermont has hovered around 10%, or 1 in 10 Vermonters, over recent years. The rate increased dramatically during the pandemic, with nearly 30% of Vermont households, or more than 1 in 4 Vermonters, experiencing food insecurity, based on findings from a series of surveys administered by UVM faculty during the spring through fall of 2020.
With the need for economic and food assistance support, the concept of VEE was developed. The program follows a precedent set by World Central Kitchen, founded by Chef Jose Andres to “use the power of food to heal communities and strengthen economies in times of crisis and beyond,” according to World Central Kitchen
Restaurants receive $10 to prepare and package each meal and are required to source at least 10% of their ingredients from Vermont farms and/or food producers.
Grabbing a free meal from Everyone Eats is totally painless. You pull up, fill out a form for the program’s record-keeping purposes, and then decide what you’d like to try.
Although the choice was almost overwhelming, with cuisine from more than 15 restaurants throughout Rutland County, I eventually settled on a meat and a vegetarian meal from the Sustainable Eats food truck. I was able to pick up three meals— for myself and my parents — and happily texted my mom to let her know she could stop cooking dinner, immediately. With impeccable timing, she had just taken the chicken she’d planned to make out of the freezer, and put it back in.
Because I wanted to try everything, I opted for both the veggie and the meat “of the day” option from Sustainable Eats.
“This isn’t a financial need based program,” VEE volunteer Grace Davy of Middletown Springs said while handing me my meals. “It is for anyone who has been negatively affected by Covid-19. We get people coming through the drive-thru with nice cars all the time,” she said, it’s hard to know who is in need from the outside.
The meat meal came with a crispy salad, a chicken breast (best served cold) and cavatappi pasta with a light sauce and a fresh-baked roll. For the vegetarian, the salad was kicked up a notch with chickpeas and Brussels sprouts — for a warm spring day in Vermont, it couldn’t possibly have tasted better. We also heated up some of the pasta, and it worked that way, too.
Of course, this is just what Chef Brent Black of Wallingford was cooking that day. Black’s career started as a prep cook, moving up to line cook at Soup ’n Greens in Barre, before attending culinary school and finally bringing his own culinary vision to life when he and his wife opened the food truck in 2019.
This winter, you may have caught them serving up coffee/espresso drinks, healthy smoothies, bakery items, soups, and other meals inspired by the local bounty in Vermont and the surrounding regions at the parking lot at Killington Resort.
It’s not cheap food, it’s good food, which makes the serendipitous nature of the program even more apparent.
“It’s not that we just want people to save money,” Davy said. “Our hope is that people try the restaurants and are inspired to go there and spend money at them, leave a good tip and get back out into the world safely.”
The Sustainable Eats food truck, which as the name implies, moves around, isn’t big on social media (yet) and hasn’t published a schedule (yet) but look for them this summer at fairs around Vermont, such as the World’s Fair in Tunbridge or Art in the Park in Rutland.
A comprehensive list of Everyone Eats locations for Rutland and Windsor counties is on page 18. For more information or to find a VEE pick up location near you, visit vteveryoneeats.org.