Cathy Pedtke joined our team in November 2015 as a Food Rescue Driver
How did you arrive at Lovin’ Spoonfuls?
In the usual roundabout way! After working several jobs in the Boston food industry, none of them quite ringing true to my goals, I started working less and volunteering more. Volunteering with the Boston Area Gleaners and with the Medford Community Cupboard, I realized I enjoyed my volunteer work far more than my actual employment. I started asking around and applying to jobs in the realm of food rescue, and found that Lovin’ Spoonfuls came highly recommended. As luck would have it, they were also hiring, so here I am.
Describe a typical work day.
On a typical workday, I visit 5 or 6 different stores to pick up donated food: I talk to the receivers at most stores, and often to people in each individual department as I collect food from them. I always like to check in, and also check the food that’s being donated to make sure it meets our standards (basically, is it safe and edible). Then I’ll visit 4 or 5 different beneficiaries to drop off the food- these can be shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, or many other organizations that need food for their clients. While the basic system may be similar to that of an average truck driver, my interactions throughout the day are very different: for the most part, everyone’s always happy to see me. The stores are grateful to have an outlet for food that would’ve been thrown away, and appreciate the idea of reducing waste and helping those in need at the same time. The beneficiaries are also always happy to see me and grateful for what I bring them. I often feel like I get undue credit just for being the middleman, but it’s very satisfying to see both ends of the system and be the one to bridge the gap.
What’s the strangest/most exotic food item you’ve seen out on the road?
I’ve gotten a box of jicama, which I had to explain to the chef at one of our beneficiary kitchens how to use, and the different things she could make with it that people might like. Sometimes we get Cherimoya, which is a fruit I’ve never tasted. I’m going to buy one and try it out so that I can tell people about it next time. I’ve also gotten whole ducks and geese, pigs’ feet and spines, and bison steaks!
What are some of your favorite tunes/radio stations that you listen to on the road?
NPR is always my default, but I also like listening to Gary Clark Jr. it’s great driving music, upbeat but relaxing at the same time, and always puts me in a good mood. If I’m feeling a little sluggish and need energizing, that’s when I turn to a mix of Santigold and M.I.A. For days with longer drives I listen to 99% Invisible podcasts or audio books.
Do your friends and family consider you a good cook? Any signature recipes?
I went to culinary school, so my friends and family tend to get a little intimidated by my cooking skills. Mom still doesn’t believe that I love her cooking the most, but I do. When I cook, I never follow recipes, so if I come up with something really good, it’s hard to replicate exactly. Even the dishes I make often are a little different each time.
What would we find in your refrigerator right now?
Winter vegetables (carrots, parsnips, squash) that were rescued leftovers from local farms, cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen, and lots of homemade condiments- kimchi, beer mustard, cider mustard, orange marmalade, strawberry preserves, pickled radish relish, General Tao’s sauce… All in canning jars. And milk. There’s always milk.
What’s your favorite childhood food memory?
This may seem strange, but my favorite childhood food memory is when my younger sister and I made ourselves sick on strawberries. Our whole family had gone out strawberry picking, and we had quarts and quarts of strawberries. Mom was going to make jam, but she had to go to the store, so my sister and I got left alone with the strawberries. We just ate so many that she got terribly sick, and I had to take care of her until Mom got back, and then I got sick as well. I think it was a real bonding experience, and I felt very grown up for taking care of my sister even when I was sick too. And we both still love strawberries!
Has this job made you more aware of your own consumption habits? Have you made any significant changes as a result?
I’d like to think that the reverse is true: my own consumption habits led me to this job. I’ve always worked in some facet of the food industry, in restaurants or catering or food retail, and I’ve always been the one to rescue food from the garbage and take it home with me. Many times I’d end up eating things I didn’t really want or enjoy, just because I couldn’t bear to see them go to waste (I did enjoy the creative challenge- what do you do with 15lbs of extra rutabaga? Two-day-old bread?). Some of my coworkers would even tease me about the stuff I’d save to take home. I would save the end stubs of salami and other meats that we’d slice at work, and chop them up for soups or stews, and pretty soon my coworkers would be asking me before throwing anything away – “are you sure you don’t want this moldy slice of bread? You couldn’t put it in a soup or something?” Now that I actually work rescuing food, and don’t bring leftovers home with me, I’ve had to start buying more groceries, so I think I eat healthier now than I have before.
What’s your favorite place/restaurant/neighborhood in Boston?
Chinatown! I go to Hing Shing Pastry and buy one of everything, and the total ends up being under $10. I especially love the fried sesame balls with red bean filling, and the flaky beef and curry pies. You can take your snacks out to the park and watch the intense games of mahjong and cards being played. Then you go down the street to My Thai Vegan Café and sit upstairs among the big tropical plants and watch the city bustle by below you while sipping slushy bubble teas. It’s like having a secret jungle treehouse in the middle of the city.
What is your motto?
“Use it up and wear it out, make it do or do without.” It’s something my mom said that my grandfather used to say, and it’s just stuck with me. Whenever I start to get caught up in all the things I “need” that are really just things I want, I remind myself that I’m always happier spending my money on new experiences rather than new stuff.
Who are your heroes?
That’s a tough one. Among modern celebrities, I’ve always admired Alice Waters and Dan Barber for the overall concepts of food that they’ve built and popularized, and how they moved beyond being chefs and restaurateurs to being educators and champions of food on a wider scale. On a personal level, my parents will always be top of the list for the uncommon path they chose for their children (we were all homeschooled), and how great that experience was for me. For a historical role model, Leonardo Da Vinci has always been my hero. He was so far advanced and so creative for the era he lived in, and so self-aware and observant, that part of me has always wanted to be a Renaissance woman and fill notebooks with my discoveries and dreams and wild inventions.