Yesterday, hundreds of USDA employees gathered in the Whitten Patio to enjoy a celebratory food tasting in commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month. More than two dozen employees volunteered as chefs to bring their homemade Hispanic cuisine to headquarters for the event. Among them was Under Secretary Ed Avalos, who cooked Red Chile, a traditional red sauce with meat spiced with New Mexico’s chile peppers. The Food Fiesta was truly a USDA family affair—Russell Avalos served portions of his father’s red chile, beans, and tortillas to lines of guests wrapped around the Patio.
Max Finberg, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, welcomed the guests in celebrating the many Hispanic roots represented at USDA. Febe Ortiz, Acting Departmental Hispanic Employment Program Manager, encouraged guests to ask the volunteer chefs about each dish’s history, a reminder that our collective Hispanic heritage represents over 25 countries of origin here in the United States. The menu reflected that array, including Puerto Rican rice and beans, Mexican mole, Spanish flan, and Salvadoran tamales. Father Mario Dorsonville, Vice President for Mission of Catholic Community Services, blessed the food before inviting guests to begin eating.
The Food Fiesta also hosted Common Threads’ DC supporting chef Pedro Matamoros of 8407 Kitchen Bar, who generously shared tuna tartare cornets with avocado, chipotle aioli, and micro cilantro. Common Threads is a non-profit organization that educates children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being with the mission of fostering an appreciation for cultural diversity through cooking. Common Threads’ after-school cooking and gardening classes and summer camps reach over 6,300 children and families in low-income neighborhoods. Chef Pedro was joined by four Common Threads students from E.W. Stokes charter school, which was recently awarded DC’s first Gold Award of Distinction in USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge. The students told guests about how they’ve learned to cook healthy meals that their families enjoy.
Celebrating food is part of USDA’s history, and making sure Americans have enough food to eat is a job the Department takes seriously. That’s why USDA launched La Mesa Completa (The Complete Table), an initiative to reduce hunger in the Latino community by improving access and increasing participation in USDA nutrition assistance programs. The Fiesta brought La Mesa Completa to life by reminding guests of USDA’s role in putting food on the tables of Latino families and by celebrating the very food that brings the USDA family together. As Finberg reminded the audience, quoting Cesar Chavez, “The fight is never about the grapes or the lettuce. It is always about the people.”
This event was sponsored by the Employees Active in Transformation (EAT) Committee and the Organization of Professional Employees, U.S. Department of Agriculture (OPEDA).