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Pop-up dining experience serves up discussion on Richmond food deserts

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EAT Foundation members at an event atCrossroads Art Center in Richmond. (Courtesy EAT Foundation)

RICHMOND, Va. — Led by a resident of grocery-starved Manchester, a new Richmond-based nonprofit is taking its fight to end so-called “food deserts” to the streets.

EAT Foundation, led by city resident Zach McElgunn, is serving up pop-up dining experiences across the Mid-Atlantic to raise money and awareness of food deserts in Richmond and elsewhere.

A UVA grad who has worked in restaurants and in pop-ups, McElgunn formed EAT as a way to highlight the region’s dining scene while helping to address areas where vulnerable populations have limited access to fresh, healthy food.

“When you look at this area, for some, especially in the city, access to grocery stores that have fresh produce and vegetables is difficult,” McElgunn said. “Yes, we have a lot of grocery stores in the area, but there are limited options in the city.

“I live in a neighborhood where we have no grocery store, but I have the means to travel to a grocery store.… Others that live in the area are not so lucky.”

A community style dining concept, EAT works with regional chefs and venues to craft a specific menu for diners that follow a particular theme for the evening. In December, the group held its first event at Wilton House in the West End, where patrons enjoyed a five-course meal prepared by Brandon Bundy, executive chef at Julep’s, that highlighted meals from the American Revolution era.

“We pair everything, from the food and beverages, to where we will be hosting the dinner,” McElgunn said. “We want to craft a memorable dining experience, so we work with the chefs on creating a multi-course menu.”

The group has since held two other events in Richmond. Tickets cost about $85 per person, with $10 – tax-deductible – allocated to a fund to support the foundation’s community initiatives. The group also takes donations.

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