Feed the Polls is trying to make waiting in line to vote on November 3rd more bearable for Americans — and much tastier

  • Feed the Polls, a new civic and culinary initiative, is seeking to get out the vote and feed voters.
  • At least 35,000 meals will be delivered to food insecure areas in US cities.
  • Lady Gaga has backed the initiative, $300,000 has been raised, and a fleet of food trucks is mobilizing from coast to coast.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

What if democracy was truly free, and gourmet too? A new initiative, Feed the Polls, seeks to untangle how COVID-19, voter suppression, and hunger are playing out in the US today, where 1 in 6 children are food insecure. 

Business Insider spoke virtually with Chris Stang, co-founder and CEO of The Infatuation, a restaurant recommendation website and messaging service, and Nasser Jaber and Daniel Durado, founders of The Migrant Kitchen, a nonprofit food relief kitchen employing undocumented immigrants in New York City. Together as Feed the Polls, they've raised more than $300,000 and will be distributing at least 35,000 meals on election day.

Feed The Polls will operate meal distribution sites in the following cities on Election Day: 

  • Philadelphia, PA – 34 locations
  • Los Angeles, CA – 10 locations
  • New York, NY – 4 locations
  • Phoenix, AZ – 3 locations
  • Miami, FL – 2 locations
  • Denver, CO – 1 location

Azmi Haroun:

Could you tell me about ideation of the project and how Feed the Polls came to be with all the different pieces that you all represent?

Chris Stang:

Yeah, we at the Infatuation and Zagat had been talking for a couple of months about what we were going to do around the election. We, historically, have tried to do things around turning out the vote. For example, in 2018, we have a food festival that happens every year and at that festival we worked with DoSomething.org and registered people to vote, so we've always been interested in ways that we can activate our community around important initiatives and, obviously, this is a big one this year.

So we had been thinking about what we were going to do, and I had actually seen Michelle Obama's Democratic National Convention speech and got really inspired because she basically, I'm paraphrasing, but mentioned something along the lines of, "You need to go out and vote. The lines are going to be really long. You should probably pack a lunch and maybe pack a dinner, because you're going to be waiting for a while."

And for us, being a company that exists around food, that sort of just made me think, well, we should do something around trying to feed people as they're in line to vote. And we'd been trying to figure out how we could do that and what role we would play in it, I mean, we certainly are not the experts in producing food at scale and giving it to people. But as we had been playing around with the idea, I had a coffee with Nasser, who I know, and we were both back in New York and he had just come back from Beirut and had been serving people in Beirut. So we just were catching up and I had just casually mentioned the idea to him about feeding people in line at the polls and he was like, "We can do this, we got to do this."

And that was like September 28th, so it was already pretty late in the game to be spinning up a new initiative around this, but Nasser and Dan and his team being who they are, they were very confident that they could pull off the feeding the people part. So we at the Infatuation and Zagat have a big engaged audience of people and a lot of reach and we thought, "All right, we can handle the promotion and fundraising side and you guys can handle the feeding people side, and let's figure out how to combine this into a new initiative," and Feed the Polls was born. I guess, I think, we launched it that last week of September and here we are today with almost $300,000 raised and a bunch of meals going out the door pretty soon.

Nasser Jaber:

Yeah, I mean, to comment on the conversation that Chris and I were having was about basically how low the voter turnout, historically, is in the United States for a country that is in a full democracy. So if you compare us to other nations around the world, the American public is not engaged in their civic duty. And it's not because of lack of interest, clearly, as we've seen. It's literally the economy, jobs, it's things getting in the way of getting people out to vote. But we can't solve all these problems.

But we, on the front lines of food activism and food information, and food delivery, we decided, "Okay, what can we do make the lines easier to bear with food?" And at the same time, don't forget, there's social distancing, everybody's talking about how long the lines are, I mean, with the mail-in ballot system. So the idea was about, okay, we were already doing thousands and thousands of meals to front line workers in March and then that shifted into feeding senior citizens in New York for disaster relief, and then that shifted into Beirut pre- and post-explosion and we also did Jerusalem. And, of course, all that is because Dan has a genius logistical mind when it comes down to delivering high-scale operations. And we were like, "Oh yeah, we can definitely activate this." I mean, the number of meals is not the scary part, it's the fact that we're doing it coast to coast on one day and at the same hour. I mean, that was really the challenge. It wasn't the actual cooking of it.

And I love challenges and I thought this would be a great way to do it and take the risk, simply because if we get this to work and people come out and vote, regardless of who they vote for, we are strictly, and we keep saying this, we are non-partisan, we just want people to go out and engage in their civic duty. For us, if this works, this could go on, on, and on. For us, it's important to get people to go out and vote.

And also, we want to tackle food insecurity. I mean, The Migrant Kitchen and Infatuation are both dedicated to highlighting the fact there are people in this country who don't have food to eat. The truth of the matter is that no one should go hungry in the United States.

I remember, I guess maybe eight or nine months ago, they were talking about cutting out food stamps, because you can't get sandwiches and this and that, and during COVID a lot of online delivery stores were not taking food stamps, so they had to make a rule about it. I mean, that is unacceptable. Right? That is unacceptable in the United States. And we will do whatever we can to make sure that no one goes hungry. And that's where we are today.


Thanks for sharing that. So from when you started in September until the election next week, what are the different cities and polling locations that you're focused on?


We've sort of now shifted into execution mode. We spent the last however many weeks trying to raise money and get the word out. And what was great about that is the first thing we saw, immediately, was just that people, as soon as they heard about this and heard about what we were doing, immediately it resonated, people were so enthusiastic about the idea and I think it just made sense. So we were so fortunate to see donations roll in from all around the country and we had people like Lady Gaga post about it. But even more impressive, we've had people donating $3 and you can just tell that those are just people who are literally trying to contribute whatever they can, and that's so meaningful. We worked with a bunch of local organizations and tried to, basically, find what we thought were the markets that we could make the most impact in.


This thing, from the first moment, has resonated. And it becomes very easy to market something that resonates. You don't just get Lady Gaga to post about your thing. It happens, because it's the right thing at the right time and it makes sense and that's definitely what this has been. And partly, to sort of mention, when Dan's talking about places that probably wouldn't be the first places we would imagine going like Rutland, Vermont or some town in Montana. What's been so amazing is that, even yesterday, we were still getting emails from people like the New Jersey Food Truck Association, which I have no idea what that is, but I'm really glad it exists. And they reached out and they were like, "We'll put our food trucks to work." And that's what's been so incredible, is the reason we're in Rutland, Vermont, is because someone said, "Hey, look, I can do this here." Or somebody in Pittsburgh says, "Hey, I've got a catering company, let me do this here."

And it gets us excited about the future and thinking about when we have more time to plan these things. I mean, there are elections that are local elections and state elections. All those things keep happening, not just every four years. So yeah, now we're in execution mode and what we know is that that part is well handled by the Migrant Kitchen team, but it's pretty surreal to be saying that we're, what? Five days away from election day, and here we are.


And I do have to say, I have to thank the Infatuation team, really, for making me a hero to my mother, because she told her whole village, "Lady Gaga is now working with Nasser…" Nothing else mattered except the Lady Gaga part. [Laughs.]

Make sure you’re poll ready for a fun time in line to vote, because it might be a long one! I’m going to make PB&J sandwiches for my voting snack! Make sure to pack your own snacks, and go to feedthepolls.org or @pizzatothepolls to learn how to donate to help feed people in line! ❤️

A post shared byLady Gaga (@ladygaga) on Oct 17, 2020 at 1:57pm PDT



Could you talk to me a little bit about how Migrant Kitchen and the employees of Migrant Kitchen are playing into this project?


Yeah, at the beginning of COVID, we were ramping up our production in support of food insecure communities. So we were looking at massive kitchens that we were working out of over here in Queens. We have other restaurant kitchens that are activated as we need them throughout the city and other parts of the boroughs and everybody, essentially, were workers that were unemployed and didn't have access to any type of unemployment insurance. At the end of the day, the hospitality business here in New York City shut down, and a big part of this, for me anyway, was getting these people that I have worked with in restaurants for the past 20 years in the city something, some work, something to do, because they have their families at home. Had a couple of friends that just had kids. You know what I mean?

I had a baby, she's now eight months old. She arrived two weeks before we shut down here in New York. I couldn't imagine that, and no unemployment insurance and no savings and no ability to provide for your family. It was definitely one of the most heartbreaking things that I had ever encountered. These are people that I work side by side with for 20 years. So to be able to get them back to work, get them employed. And, once again, I talk about this all the time, it's a drop in the bucket, right? This is a city whose hospitality business is built on the backs of immigrant labor, immigrant labor that everyone wants to say, "Yay, rah, rah. $15 an hour minimum wage." What the fuck in $15 minimum wage going to do for anybody at a 40 hour work week? There's a long way to go in this town until we get to some place where New York City is livable for the masses.

So it was personal project, in many respects, I think, for Nasser and I. But to put as many people back to work as we could, because this initiative and this project, what was started, was not about making money, it was about getting people back to work and getting people fed. And I think we're pretty proud that we've been able to do that throughout and hopefully we can continue that work.


And, I mean, I have to add to that, I mean, you mentioned the refugee dinners that we were holding three years ago before starting the Migrant Kitchen. I mean, we were running small dinners employing refugees as cooks while I was a waiter. There was nothing to gain from this. However, we learned along the way, that for profit businesses can also be impactful and scalable if the owners decide that the bottom line is not more important than the employees and the welfare of your company. So after many trips to different types of places, the gastrodiplomacy project for the state department took me to Sweden and everywhere else. I realized a lot of companies actually care about these kind of initiatives to make sure that they empower them and Infatuation does that a lot with their staff.

I mean, the decision here to take on, Feed the Polls, rallied the entire company across all their outposts across the city. And it makes them that they're engaged as part of the process, it's a team mission. And it's like that on our end, too. And it's important for us to make sure that we have, as the Migrant Kitchen, access to employment for people who want to have growth and all these kind of stuff, and at the same time, impact the community, as I mentioned.


Where do you see Feed the Polls and the civic and social partnership between the Migrant Kitchen and the Infatuation going post- election?


I mean, look, we really want to stay focused on Tuesday before we get too far ahead of ourselves in terms of what happens next. But I think that, unfortunately, food insecurity is a problem that is not going to go away soon. And I think Dan mentioned that we're going to play some small role. But it's a big problem that lots of people need to focus on and, really, our government needs to focus on and we need to think about how we can make real change that lasts. I think, also, that's true for voting and voter access. I mean, also to Dan's point, it should not take this long for people to vote and it should be easy for people to vote and we should be encouraging people to vote and those are not problems that will go away after November 3rd. So, I don't know, I think we're all going to have to come together and make some decisions about what we want this to become moving forward, but I do think that I would like to see us get involved in helping shape policy and just helping to make bigger impacts over longer periods of time, so that we can look back on this some day and say, "Hey, we really, really did make a big difference." But we'll get to work on that part as of November 4th.


Everything is now being focused on November 3rd and after November 3rd. I just wanted to mention that even though all of us here are men on this panel the entire actual execution of this project and the management of it, on our side, and also on Infatuation's side, has been led by women. Jaclinn Tanney has been in contact with every grassroots organization, our head chef, Chef Lisselly Brito, is with her wife Ramona in Miami right now working, so we're very, very, very proud that at the core of it is a women-led initiative.

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