From Tradition to Table

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

The Taste of Freedom

“I see miracles happen every day,” said Keturah Lee Schroeder.

It’s interesting, she continued, when most people ask about her job working with survivors of human trafficking, they ask about the heart-wrenching stories and wonder about the sadness that comes from witnessing the horrors humans can inflict upon one another.

“But the truth is, I see beauty every day,” Schroeder said. “These women are sometimes getting their first paycheck from us. They text me, ‘I just opened my first checking account in my life’ or ‘this is what I am making for dinner.’”

Schroeder is the managing director of Freedom a la Cart, a catering group that solely hires survivors of human trafficking. What originally started as a food cart debuting at the 2011 Spring Flea has grown into a full-fledged catering operation.

“We started right at the beginning of the explosion of food trucks, and there we were with this tiny little cart amidst all these big beautiful trucks,” she said, regarding the now-defunct cart. “The revenue was not reliable, there could be rain and stuff, so we decided to focus on our catering – now we have gourmet box lunches and cater weddings, corporate breakfasts, cocktail parties…[catering] is also easier for the women because they know the set recipes.”

The survivors that Freedom works with typically have few kitchen skills when arriving on the job. “There is a long learning curve,” said Schroeder. “Remember, these are women who have been eating out of the corner store – Mountain Dew and a bag of Bon Tons is what they had to live off of.”

However, once the survivors get hip to the chopping and cooking skills, they love their jobs and are excited about coming to work every day. “And they are competitive with each other,” laughed Schroeder. “Have you tasted my sauce? My sauce is better than your sauce. Did you look at my fruit plate? It’s beautiful.”

When Schroeder was a little girl, people were always telling her she was “too loud, too abrasive, too this, too that,” all because she was a girl. “I never understood why I didn’t have the same rights as guys,” she explained. “So I became really passionate about women’s rights.”

At a screening of the documentary Call + Response a few years ago, all of Schroeder’s interests coalesced into the issue of human trafficking. “Besides issues of women’s rights, it has to do with poverty, gender issues, labor issues, exploitation – I was also amazed by how pervasive human trafficking is and how little people know about it.”

“It’s our generation’s issue.”

After switching to catering full-time, the Freedom chefs starting hosting underground supper clubs in an effort to expose the issue to the community through food. After a handful off successful events, what was underground is going above ground in a big way.

“We wanted to do a big fundraiser,” she said. “We thought of doing a fashion show, but everyone is doing that, and then we thought of doing a Chef-Off but everyone we talked to said it wouldn’t work.”

“Finally, I talked to Dustin Brafford, the executive chef of The Crest Gastropub, and he was the only one who said it would work, but he wanted to do a collaboration instead of a competition.”

“Eat Up! Columbus: Seven Young Gun Chefs Unite for One Night” will take place this fall and feature the crazy kitchen talents of Freedom a la Cart’s own Chef Deborah Quinci; Chefs Miki Ashino and Eric Allen, Tokyo GoGo and Brothers Drake; Chef Patrick Caskey, Skillet; Chef Tom Kimura, Kihachi; Chef Julian Menaged, The Market Italian Village; and Sous Chef Jessica Bryant, Pistacia Vera. Brafford will be acting as team captain for the event, which will also serve light hors d’oeuvres during a cocktail hour. 

“Besides issues of women’s rights, it has to do with poverty, gender issues, labor issues, exploitation – I was also amazed by how
pervasive human trafficking is and how
little people know about it.”

“[Dustin] really took this event on,” said Schroeder. “He said it will be one of the events of his career.

Most people only have a cursory knowledge of human trafficking, especially as it relates to the U.S. and Ohio in particular, noted Schroeder. At the dinner, they will learn more about the tragic epidemic, as well as hear the stories of survivors.

“It’s so touching for me to hear these stories, everyday…people don’t know the women and their stories. We do want to educate people about this great mission and great project.”

When working with Freedom a la Cart, one of the things that surprises clients most is the quality of the food. “We like to say they come for the cause and come back for the food.”

Offering opportunities to women who have spent most of their lives existing in the shadows is satisfying for everyone involved, from Schroeder to the volunteers that help out. “These are the women who face the highest barriers to employment – they have PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, arrested development – they’ve had a long time of life on the streets … and now they’re excited to pay bills and taxes!”

Eat Up! Columbus will take place on November 15th – go for the cause, stay for the food, and be a part of the miracle.

For Eat Up! Columbus details, as well as Freedom a la Cart catering information, visit freedomalacart.org.

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