I love to cook, but for many years, with my work schedule and board requirements, I haven’t had the time. Then COVID descended. I found myself with the opportunity to cook more often for my husband, a discriminating eater. For years I had been hoarding mouth-watering recipes, so I began to experiment.
My father, who was in the food business, was a great cook, as was my mother, and they enjoyed cooking side by side. After years of watching and helping them, as well as a short stint at the renowned Escoffier culinary school in Paris, I developed a love and respect for tasty meals and fresh ingredients. Working remotely this year allowed for a lot of cooking time, which became therapeutic. I could de-stress attempting coq au vin, caramelized tomato tarte tatin and chocolate Guinness cake. Of course, my pantry lacked many of the ingredients, especially for the more exotic recipes. Fortunately, I could order online, and I sought out websites nationwide.
I began stocking my pantry with products from our family business friends in the food industry, many of whom have participated in our Transitions conferences, including the owners of Omaha Steaks, BUSH’S BEST beans, Chelsea Milling Company (makers of “JIFFY” mixes), Lundberg Family Farms, J.M. Smucker Co., King’s Hawaiian and Southeastern Mills.
I noticed how many products had labels proclaiming that they’re made by family companies — many include the dates they were founded, and some list the generation involved. For example, Lindsay Olives notes, “4th generation since 1916.”
Other family-made items include Goya beans (since 1936, “largest Hispanic-owned company in the U.S.”) Enstrom toffee (since 1919), Betty Rae’s pickles (since 1987), Nielsen-Massey vanillas (since 1907), Krusteaz/Continental Mills Belgian waffle mix (since 1932) and Kikkoman soy sauce (since 1917). And what pantry is complete without Bob’s Red Mill barley (since 1974, now owned by an ESOP)? The oldest on my shelf is rice vinegar from Marukan, a Japanese family company since 1649.
My own family’s flour business in Kansas City produces Ceresota Flour, whose colorful bag says, “Unbleached since 1891.” My brother makes sure I am well-stocked!
My family is fortunate to have food on our table each night, but many others do not. During the pandemic, family companies rallied to increase food supplies, adjust their distribution and donate items to ameliorate food insecurity.
Family companies are known for focusing on key stakeholders beyond family shareholders, such as employees and community members. For example, fourth-generation grocer Jeff Brown (whose story is chronicled in this issue) has been deeply committed to his customers in underserved communities. After two of his stores were destroyed by looting following the killing of George Floyd, the Brown family could have abandoned those neighborhoods, but they reopened their stores, staying true to their mission of bringing joy to the lives of the people they serve.
There is something comforting about coming together to eat as a family. So when you are sitting around the Thanksgiving table this year, giving thanks and counting your blessings, remember the Oscar Wilde quote, “After a good dinner, one can forgive anyone, even one’s own relations.”
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