Closing the Empathy Gap

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Do you feel more empathy for certain people in need than you do for others? Feeding America CEO Diana Aviv says we need to “close the empathy gap.” She discusses empathy and food with Nick Stefanelli, chef/owner of Masseria Restaurant in DC, and Share Our Strength founders Billy and Debbie Shore on this episode of Add Passion and Stir. Aviv cites recent research that found people who were sympathetic toward people using food banks changed their attitudes when asked about people using public assistance. “The only group they didn’t change their attitude towards was kids,” she says. This indicates that in order to solve the hunger problem, we need to help people extend their empathy for children to the whole family. Stefanelli fights child hunger by supporting No Kid Hungry and teaching about food and cooking in kindergarten classes. “[Hunger] is an issue that we’ve been looking at since ancient Rome, with the grain sheds and giving out bread, and we’re still dealing with it in 2017,” he says.

Aviv notes that Share Our Strength has done a great job tapping into the giving spirit and making it easy for chefs to get involved. Billy and Debbie Shore observe that it would be hard to find a chef who is not supporting a cause. “Chefs and restaurants are looking for ways to get involved and just waiting to be asked,” Debbie says. Stefanelli cites a strong connection to his heritage from the Puglia region of Italy, where food and community are fundamentally intertwined, for why he gives back. “Food brings everybody together. What happens at the table when people come together is a very important thing,” he says.

Feeding America, which runs a nationwide network of foodbanks, is currently focused on using technology to build greater efficiency into the distribution of food to the hungry. Aviv mentions Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and its focus on efficiency. “There are huge opportunities to take that technology … and develop ways we can get the food faster to the people who need it,” she says. Quoting statistics that 21% of our fresh water is used to produce food – of which 40% goes to waste – Aviv declares: “We can feed America and we can feed the world.”

Listen to this powerful conversation about the power of empathy in ending hunger in America.

Resources and Mentions:

Diana Aviv

Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization and third largest U.S. charity according to Forbes. Previously, Diana served as President and CEO of Independent Sector, the national leadership network for America’s nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs. She also served as executive director of the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector. Among the boards on which Diana currently serves are the advisory board of the Comptroller General’s at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the advisory board of National Center on Philanthropy and the Law (NCPL) and the board of advisors at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNPL). She is also a Distinguished Visiting Practitioner and Visiting Fellow at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. For 14 consecutive years, Diana has been named as one of The NonProfit Times’ Power & Influence Top 50. A native of South Africa, Diana graduated with a B.S.W. from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and received a master’s degree in social work at Columbia University.

Nick Stefanelli

Chef and owner of Masseria Restaurant in Washington DC. He grew up in suburban Maryland and was influenced by the culinary heritage of his Greek and Italian grandparents. Visiting Puglia, the source of his Italian roots, Stefanelli became enchanted by the masseria, centuries-old agricultural estates whose residents worked the land, created their own food, and hosted visitors, neighbors, and friends with great warmth. After training at L’Academie de Cuisine, he built his culinary career in the Nation’s capital. He is a long-time supporter of Share Our Strength and No Kid Hungry.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Root Cause Coalition

The Root Cause Coalition is a national, member-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of health disparities by focusing on hunger and other social determinants leading to nationwide epidemic of preventable chronic health conditions.

Feeding America

Mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. For more than 35 years, Feeding America has responded to the hunger crisis in America by providing food to people in need through a nationwide network of food banks. The national organization for food banks was established in 1979 as Second Harvest, which was later called America’s Second Harvest the Nation’s Food Bank Network. In 2008, the network changed its name to Feeding America to better reflect the mission of the organization. Today, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks across the country. The Feeding America network of food banks feeds 46 million people at risk of hunger, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.

Masseria

A celebration of big, harmonious flavors based on the fine Italian cooking that shaped chef Nick Stefanelli’s palate as a child. In October 2016, it earned a Michelin star within Washington, DC’s first-ever guide. The restaurant’s name comes from the charming agricultural farms of the Puglia region, which is heavily rooted in Chef Nick Stefanelli’s heritage. The restaurant combines the raw and simple look of an Italian country estate, the industrial grit of the Union Market district, and the undeniable chic of its fashion-savvy chef-owner. Stefanelli’s innovative Italian tasting menus sing with touches of coastal cultures and feature a satisfying range of his signature cuisine.

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