Food for Thought: Alumnae and Food!

13 May

As an almost-alum, I am often worrying (no thanks to CDO emails and phone calls with my mother) about post-grad plans. While there are a plethora of opportunities to explore and tons of places to go, loans, a limited budget, and lack of experience in the world of work are definitely limiting factors when it comes to finding a job. While many of my fellow Smith grads are off to take jobs in the city, living out their Fulbright dreams, traveling abroad, or interning at the company of their dreams, I find myself less sure of what I want my future to look like.

Growing up on Cape Cod, I usually spent my summers sailing, swimming, and, along with most of my peers, working in a restaurant. Because the majority of my hometown’s economy depends on the revenue generated by tourism (the population triples—from 33,000 to about 100,000—in the summertime), there is no shortage of seasonal restaurants, ice cream shops, and cafes. Working in the food industry, for me, has always been almost second nature. Yet, as overfishing continues and many restaurants (usually for financial reasons) continue to buy produce from big food service companies who aren’t necessarily concerned with the sustainability and origins of their products, the prospect of spending my summer shucking clams and doling out lobster rolls becomes less appealing every day. So, to help quell my own uneasiness about life after graduation, I chatted with a few alums who have found fulfilling and rewarding work in the food industry.

Maggie Kraus, Class of 2012

Maggie is perhaps better known to Smithies (and her ever-widening fan base) as half of the folk duo Hannah & Maggie, which performs regularly in and around New York City, and has spent much of the last two summers touring the country. She graduated last May with a Comparative Literature major, a Spanish minor, and an Archives Concentration, and promptly hopped in the car and drove across the U.S. to promote her newly released CD. She returned home to New Jersey in September with no job and no plans. Her first priority was, she says, “to find some sort of income”.

What she ended up doing turned out to be very different than her life on stage. Maggie usually wakes up around 6 or 7 and walks a few minutes into town to The Able Baker, where she works the register, serves coffee, cleans, washes dishes, and occasionally bakes.

“I was walking my dog the first time I spotted a small bakery nestled in the corner of town. I knew it couldn’t have been there long (it certainly wasn’t there the last time I lived at home) but it was bustling with people: happy people! Even the customers, standing in a considerable line for coffee, were smiling.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity, she called them when she got home to ask if they were hiring—which they were. She’s been a full-time employee now for eight months, and, she’ll tell you without hesitation, it’s the best job she’s ever had.

“It’s so refreshing to wake up (early!) and help other people start their day on a good note. Working at the bakery has definitely transformed the way I look at “sweets”. If they’re made right (with real, simple, and fresh ingredients) there’s a lot less to feel guilty about. The best part about my job is that I actually believe in the food we’re making. I love telling people that the milk and eggs are delivered from local farms, and that our insanely delicious banana bread is gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free.” The owners and staff have also been a big part of her positive experience at the bakery. “They’ve treated me like family since the first time I put on an apron. I could never have predicted finding this job but I’m so, so happy I did!”

While Maggie is not quite sure of where her life (and music) will take her, she’s enjoying her time at the Able Baker. For the immediate future, she plans to take a trip to Ireland with her mother before heading off across the country to tour with Hannah in July. If it’s in the cards, she’ll most likely return to the Able Baker in September, continuing her foray in the food service industry. Yet if she doesn’t, it is clear that Maggie sees her time at the bakery as more of an opportunity than a financial obligation, which is perhaps a sign that sometimes not making plans can lead you to find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Image Pies being made from scratch at the Able Baker.

Yoanna Torres, Class of 2010

During her time at Smith, Yoanna’s studies  focused on Sociology and the Study of Women and Gender. When she graduated, Yoanna worked briefly for the census in Easthampton—a job she would not highly recommend. “People were so mean. They would just slam the door in my face. One man crumpled it up and threw it at me. It was terrible.” When the census was over, she started working at Goberry for a bit before heading off to spend some time in Peru. She then returned to Northampton, and to Goberry, where she continues to work now.

Like everyone else who works there, Yoanna started by working hourly. From there (if you seem responsible), employees are given the opportunity to become a shift supervisor. Usually, this is as far “up” as one can go, but now Yoanna is also the General Manager for both the Northampton and Amherst stores.  “I developed a personal relationship with Molly and Alex, the two owners. We work really well together and they needed someone to run the store so that they didn’t have to worry about the day-to-day stuff, and that’s where I came in.”

Yoanna, for now, plans to stay at Goberry until at least next summer. The pay is good and she really enjoys the people she works with, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t making any future plans. “I think I want to go back to school. I’ve also been thinking that maybe I want to start my own business—but that requires an idea, which I don’t really have yet.” As for working in the food industry, Yoanna describes it as “a mixed bag”.

“I love food, and I love interacting with people. Sometimes food service brings out the worst in people, and people can be so demanding to the extent that they’re rude. I like the part of my job that makes other people happy—food makes people happy for the most part. I hate the parts that make people unhappy, especially because often times they have nothing to do with me or my product or my job.”

However, the “downsides” don’t seem to ruining her hopes of starting her own business sometime down the line, and Yoanna feels confident that she will probably continue to work with and around food. Her experience in the industry has led her to see that a possible career path would definitely be “do-able”, as well as something she would enjoy. However, embarking down this path doesn’t mean she’ll be compromising her personal beliefs in the process. “I feel strongly about making connections with local farmers and having it be a community establishment, as opposed to just a business. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing, but I just don’t think that would fulfill me.”

Thanks a lot to Maggie and Yoanna for taking the time to chat with me, and good luck to you both in the future, wherever it may lead you!

-Eva McNamara, ’13

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