Who the Folk?! Michelle Horovitz

Welcome to “Who the Folk?!” Every week on Monday we feature a new member of our Jewish community. Know someone we should feature? Nominate them by sending an email to [email protected].

Last week we got to know Alex Levin. This week meet Michelle Horovitz! Michelle had so much to say about who she is and what she’s doing that this profile is a bit longer than usual. But we think it’s worth it. Read on and be inspired!

TC Jewfolk: Are you from the Twin Cities?

Michelle: I was born and raised in the Twin Cities. I grew up in Minnetonka, but my dad’s family is from the north side of Minneapolis. My grandmother lived there for 45 years. My parents met at Bernie’s Delicatessen, which was run by my great-uncle Bernie Horovitz. It was across the street from the Lincoln Del back in the day. My dad worked behind the counter, my mom was a waitress; she asked him out, and the rest is history! So I feel like I’ve got Restaurant in my blood, food in my veins, and in my history.

TCJ: Can you talk a little more about that?

Michelle: I’ve always had a passion for food. I started cooking when I was ten years old, largely because I was a third child, so sometimes I had to fend for myself for dinner. I cooked all through high school and worked at restaurants. I went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergrad, and I worked at White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, which was one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in the country. It’s a cooperatively owned restaurant. Judy Wicks is the founder, and she’s kind of a pioneer; she’s like the grandmother of local food. I got really passionate about food–I wanted to go to culinary school after undergrad, but it wasn’t the practical thing to do, so I went to law school at the University of Minnesota instead.

TCJ: Law school?

Michelle: Yeah. I got really drawn to public interest law in law school. I was the director of the criminal defense clinic, and I worked at the Anoka County attorney’s office doing criminal appellate work. I went to work at the Miami Public Defenders office after law school, doing indigent criminal defense. There I was really exposed to a lot of racial and social injustice. I call it the criminal INjustice system, because it’s not just broken–I really believe it was designed and built to keep down people of color poor–to create sort of an invisible caste system. But after a while, I just got really burnt out–it was emotionally, psychologically, and physically draining.

TCJ: So then what?

Michelle: I took a leave of absence and planned to go to culinary school. But I met Michelle Bernstein days before she went to New York to receive a James Beard Award for Best Chef. She’s Jewish, half-Argentinian, and half-American. And her dad grew up in St. Paul. She discouraged me from going to culinary school and invited me to come apprentice with her staff at Michy’s in Miami. I worked there as a line cook for almost a year, got pregnant while I was there, had our son down in Miami. Then my husband and I decided to move back to Minneapolis in 2010, and I kind of had an early mid-life crisis.

TCJ: How so?

Michelle: I’ve always been passionate about social justice, even before I knew what that meant. I grew up in the suburbs but spent time going back to the north side to visit my grandmother, hearing stories about the whole north side, about the old neighborhood, and have always felt really connected to that community. Coming back to Minneapolis, I wanted to figure out how I could combine my passion for racial and social justice with food. I started learning more about the food justice movement–what that means, and how food is at the intersection of health, economic development, jobs, housing. I started teaching cooking classes through a program at the University of Minnesota until I realized I wanted to start something of my own in North Minneapolis in partnership with the community. I met my co-founders, Tasha and Princess, shortly after I started teaching cooking classes, and we created what is now Appetite for Change together.

TCJ: Can you say a little bit more about what it is you do at Appetite for Change?

Michelle: Appetite for Change is a food justice social enterprise in North Minneapolis. Our mission is to use food as a tool for building health, wealth, and social change. Our vision is that, long-term, every child should have the opportunity to grow up healthy in their own community; to have access to fresh, local, affordable, sustainable food; that there are thriving local economies and local food businesses; and that families and communities are strengthened around food. Growing it, cooking it, eating it together.

TCJ: So how do you achieve that?

Michelle: One way is through workshops. We do cooking and gardening workshops with different demographics: preschoolers, youths, and pregnant and new moms. Bringing people together to grow food, cook food, eat food, talk about the issues that are important to them and build community–it’s kind of our form of community organizing. Our second branch is urban agriculture. We work with local North Minneapolis urban farmers, mostly African-American–the population we serve is mostly African-American, actually.

TCJ: Is that by design?

Michelle: Yeah. Princess and Tasha are both longtime members of the community. North Minneapolis used to be full of Jews, but especially after the riots in ’67/’68, when all the Jews kind of migrated to St. Louis Park–part of white flight in general, but also just part of the Jewish community building their own wealth and wanting to move to a nicer part of town, and have bigger houses and all that–when that happened, a lot of the businesses left North Minneapolis. So there became very few food choices, very few jobs, and just a general lack of resources.

TCJ: So what you’re saying is this is all just one big dose of classic Jewish guilt for you?

Michelle: Well, obviously there’s more to it than that. I really feel like because of the privilege I had growing up–and my family values, and Jewish community values of giving back and building relationships with people who are different than us–I really felt like food could be a way to build bridges between not only the Jewish community and communities of color, but the white community in general. North Minneapolis is often a place where people from outside the community start non-profits and say, “This is what you need, and we have our white savior hats on.” And I did initially have that white savior complex, even though I wasn’t intentionally trying to. I just think it’s part of the Jewish culture in a way. We want to give back; we want to help those less fortunate. But in doing that we sometimes make assumptions about what people want or need, and think that we have the answers. And what I really learned by partnering with Princess and Tasha, and the folks in the community, is that people in the community really know what they need and what they want. And they may not have the resources to provide the solutions for generational poverty, the solutions for issues that are plaguing the black community, but the leaders and solutions are within the black community. So it was intentional, but how it came about and how we did it was more organic.

TCJ: How else has Appetite for Change been influenced by this “organic development?”

Michelle: We originally had eight workshops in 2012, and we asked 250 people what THEY wanted us to do in the community around food. So all of the decisions that we’ve made as an organization have been guided by what the community has said they wanted. All of our staff are from the community, and most of our volunteers are from the community. It’s great for people outside the community to get involved, but sometimes when you volunteers from outside the community it sets up this conflict of us/them, and we’re coming in to teach people what they need to do to be healthy. And what we’re really trying to do is bring people from outside the community in to actually learn from the community and partner with the community to have shared knowledge.

TCJ: Do you do other things besides workshops?

Michelle: We aggregate produce from urban farmers and sell it at the West Broadway Farmers Market, and we sell it to other local businesses in North Minneapolis. So that’s building wealth among the growers, as well as increasing local food access in the community. We also have a policy piece, where we’re doing leadership development, and working with community members that are ready to take their involvement to the next level and get involved in advocacy, policy, and systems change. They’re actually advocating for the changes in the food system that they want.

TCJ: And you just opened a café. Correct?

Michelle: In 2014, we moved our headquarters to West Broadway, the heart of North Minneapolis. We took over an existing business called Kindred Kitchen, which is a shared commercial kitchen where food trucks, caterers, and people who are producing food–food entrepreneurs–rent space in that shop and produce their products in that area. And next door to Kindred Kitchen, we just opened Breaking Bread Café. We’re building it out as a youth employment and training model. We’re already working with youth from the community. They’re already doing all the things in the organization that the adults do. And we’re expanding that piece to the catering and the café. So it’ll be kind of a holistic employment and training program, where youth get to work in all areas of the organization, and build job and life skills in culinary arts, food service management, and a bunch of other transferable skills.

TCJ: Wow. That’s really inspiring stuff. And this is a café that anyone can come get lunch, or whatever?

Michelle: Yup! Open to the public. It’s a non-profit café–Appetite for Change owns it. We hope to break even, obviously, but any profits made by the café go back into supporting the programs, the workshops, the community engagement, and all the other stuff that we do. Right now it’s open Monday-Friday, 7am-3pm. Breakfast all day, and lunch 11-3, and we’ll be adding weekends shortly.

TCJ: What’s the menu like?

Michelle: It’s global comfort foods. So it’s traditional soul food recipes with international influence. Globally inspired soul food, basically. So we have a play on shrimp and grits–Caribbean jerk shrimp with cheese grits. We’ve got, instead of just a pork sausage biscuits and gravy, we have a latino chicken chorizo with poblano pepper gravy. Everything’s made from scratch, wholesomely. Lots of salads with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options as well.

TCJ: OK, real quickly: what is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Michelle: Passover. I love matzah ball soup, and I just love the seder.

TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Michelle: Hm… probably matzah ball soup!

TCJ: Finally, give us one more reason why you’re folking awesome! 

Michelle: I’m a certified spinning instructor! I don’t do it anymore. I taught when I was in Miami, but now I’m lucky if I get to a class let alone teach one, but I love spinning.

Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!