According to The American Dietetic Association, in an article in the March, 2010 issue of “Environmental Nutrition,” 40 percent of the food produced for consumption in the U.S. will never be eaten.
Mary Risley, founder in 1987 of Food Runners, observed the amount of un-eaten food from her cooking school classes in Tante Marie’s Cooking School and wanted to do something about it. “One day we produced seven wedding cakes,” she says, “and I thought: What are we going to do with these cakes – just throw them away? That seemed so wrong. So, what then? Should we give them to neighbors? Donate them to Glide Memorial Church? From Mary’s musings that fateful day the idea for Food Runners was conceived.
Like her hero, Julia Child, Mary Risley is an innovator. Mary grew up in Toronto where her father was sent to work for Pan American Airlines. Perhaps it was her mother’s love of cooking creatively with fresh vegetables and unusual (for that time) recipes that planted the seed for Mary’s love of cooking. Whatever was her inner motivation, when Mary arrived in San Francisco in the late 1960s she tasted many different cuisines and yearned to get involved in the culinary arts.
In her younger years, although Mary would have rather been a stockbroker (women at that time didn’t have that opportunity) Mary settled for being a secretary, but she made sure she always worked in the investment field. “The knowledge I picked up in finance aided me greatly in running a business,” Mary says.
To begin to explore the idea of teaching cooking, Mary visited City College’s School of Culinary Arts. In the early 1970s, culinary arts meant variations on macaroni and cheese. Mary was horrified.
About that time, Julia Child was making a splash on American television with her cooking show, guest appearances on shows like “Good Morning America” and with the continued publication of a slew of bestselling cookbooks.
Using her hero as her guide, Mary rented a storefront in North Beach and began printing out recipes and giving lessons for those interested how to prepare “fine” food. In 1979, Tante Marie’s Cooking School formally became a full-time business.
Today, 31 years later, Tante Marie is going strong. “Last week we had a total of 260 people enrolled in various workshops with full and part-time students and with those just wanting a one-day class. Corporations such as Wells Fargo use us for team-building experiences for their employees.”
Food Runners has a very special place in Mary’s heart. She says, “The mission of Food Runners is to help alleviate hunger in San Francisco, to help prevent waste, and to help create community. Each week we deliver approximately 10 tons of food that would otherwise be thrown away. With help from our volunteer coordinator, our paid truck driver, 200 volunteers, and more than 250 restaurants, bakeries, groceries, farmers’ markets and other businesses that regularly donate perishable food, we are making a difference.”
If you want to donate food, or your time, call Food Runners at 415.929.1866 or email Nancy@foodrunners.org. To contact Mary Risley to inquire about classes in Tante Marie’s, call her at 415.788.6699 or email her at Mary@tantemarie.com.