This year marks the 85th anniversary of HERAA, and thus the existence of 85 graduating classes of incredible women worth knowing. In the lead up to the Alumnae Weekend on April 4-6, 2014, we will introduce you to one alumna from each decade starting with the most recent and working our way back to our earliest House residents. You can read our other Alumna Spotlights here.
As we head into the season of giving thanks, we’d like you to meet Emily Torgrimson (COM 2006). She currently lives in Minneapolis, MN and serves as co-founder and executive director of Eat for Equity, an organization with roots in the HER House. A COM Journalism graduate and recipient of a Masters in Public Health from the University of Minnesota, Emily has helped “build a culture of generosity through sustainable community feasts.” Through her work she has expanded Eat for Equity to ten different cities across the United States and engaged citizens to raise over $100,000 for local and international nonprofit causes.
Emily at work with Eat for Equity
Who are you?
If we are what we eat, I am dim sum from my childhood in Hong Kong, jello salad from my family’s return to small-town Minnesota, and my mom’s pesto made with basil grown on our farm.
What is the best meal you had during your time living in the HER House?
Everything I know, I learned from house meals. I’m joking, but also serious. I saw how food was a delicious way for people to share their stories, by making the “hippie” grain salads or paella they had grown up with. And I saw how food could be a creative outlet, when cooks themed meals around fire or Midwestern cuisine [I take pride in having introduced many people in the house to jello salad and hot dish]. I saw how food brought people together in a natural and powerful way, when we invited our classmates and friends to the shared table.
Emily at one of the first Eat for Equity dinners at the HER House
Eat for Equity started as a small event held at the HER House, but you’ve helped grow it into a national non-profit organization. Please talk about how Eat for Equity began.
In my senior year at Boston University, Hurricane Katrina hit. I wanted to help, but I didn’t have much money to give. And so when I saw a recipe for jambalaya, I thought out loud, “What if I made a New Orleans-themed meal? Do you think people in the house would donate a couple bucks for hurricane relief?” My friends in the house said, “Yes! And what if we invited everyone we knew? What if we made it a party, not just a dinner? And what if we tried it?” When 100 people showed up, we realized that this basic idea could be transferred to any cause, as a way to build a giving community around social change. And Eat for Equity was born.
Please talk about experiences serving as executive director and what it’s taken to bring the organization to its current state.
Create space for others to join you and help you succeed. When I first brought Eat for Equity to Minneapolis, I did it all. I picked the organization, I planned the menu, I invited the guests, I cooked for 50 people in kitchen, I cleaned up. And don’t get me wrong – others helped out a lot. But I while I was doing a lot of work, I wasn’t doing enough to create opportunities for others to join me and help me succeed.
Others took it on, and I realized that this was much bigger than me – and then I got to dream bigger, and focus on expanding Eat for Equity to other branches. I couldn’t start those branches myself, but I could create opportunities for others to lead and co-create. I used to think that leadership was forging ahead to make things happen. Now I know that leadership is also creating a structure – recipes, ingredients, and a balance between guidance and independence – that allows people to take ownership toward the same goals.
What advice do you have for the HER community on expanding or embarking on a path toward professional growth and success?
Be open to changing the dream. You may be doing something ten years from now that you couldn’t imagine today. I studied journalism at school and my original dream was to be an environmental journalist.
For many years, I worked in public radio, while juggling part-time jobs and volunteering for Eat for Equity. Working as an associate producer on The Promised Land, a Peabody Award-winning public radio show, I realized that telling important stories wasn’t enough for me – I wanted to be part of the story.
Emily and fellow HER alumna Clara Herrero (CAS 2006) at an Eat for Equity-Oxfam America event at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee in 2013
I wouldn’t be here today if I had not made my first dream come true. I started to realize that I really enjoyed my part-time work, that there was a through line with those jobs – they were about food and community – and that maybe that was a good plan B.
I went back to school and got a Masters in Public Health. When I became open to changing the dream, that’s when things started to fall into place, opportunities started to open up and Eat for Equity started to take off in ways I couldn’t have predicted.
Why would we want to meet alumnae from the graduating classes of 2000-2009 at the Alumnae Tea on April 6, 2014?
My housemates from that era are amazing women. We’re pursuing our passions and our own paths, we’re making a difference, and we’re proud to be part of a continuing legacy of sisterhood and cooperation. My friends from the house are my best friends from college – we’ll have a lot of fun together and with you.
Have suggestions for other alumnae we can interview and feature in the Alumna Spotlight? Email your ideas to HERAA at firstname.lastname@example.org.