Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon interviews Chef Perry

Chef Perry: I Grew Up with Hunger
Dec 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Seaberry

To close out the year, we had a chance to speak with Portland chef Perry Perkins. Chef Perry helps run SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com and the MY KITCHEN Outreach Program. Listening to him talk about cooking makes our mouths water, but, beyond tips for how to prepare delicious and healthy meals, Chef Perry has his own story to share, and it’s a moving one.

As a kid, Chef Perry, like thousands of kids in Oregon, didn’t always have enough food at home. Growing up with a single mom with a disability, they relied on public assistance, SNAP and school lunch. With the help of these supports and other important people in his life, Chef Perry was fortunate to become a professional chef, instructor and cookbook author. When it comes to making the case for ending hunger, few people are more passionate or more articulate in conveying not only the urgency, but the extraordinary benefits that our whole community stands to gain.

Read our Q&A with Chef Perry below. Then share his story with family and friends. Invite them to join us in bringing the solutions to ending hunger to the forefront of public conversation by becoming a Partner.

Are you a native Oregonian? Tell us a little bit about what do you do?

I’m a native Oregonian. I was born in Portland, moved to Georgia briefly and moved back when I was six years old. I grew up in Portland’s Rockwood neighborhood with a single mom. We were on public assistance, food stamps and welfare. It was a pretty low-income situation. When I was 10 years old, my dad came back into scene after he moved back to the area. He and his grandfather were professional chefs. I began working with him in his restaurants. Starting when I was a teen, I worked in local kitchens, and did a lot of cooking for church groups that I was with.

What are some of the things that you like best about Oregon?

I’ve been to Africa and Europe, and a lot of other places in the U.S., and I have to say that Oregon is pretty laid back. People are friendlier here than other places that I’ve been. There’s more of a giving spirit, more of a desire to help one another. I like to fish, hunt, camp and hike. The trade-off of course if the rain. We  like the trees. We like the grass and we wouldn’t have all of that without the rain. I don’t own an umbrella, so I’m a native. 

What led you to care about fighting hunger? 

I grew up with hunger. I have a terrible short-term memory, but good long-term memory. I can remember the weeks that we dealt with just having potatoes and bricks of government cheese to eat. I remember seeing the look on my mom’s face when there wasn’t enough food in the house.

I didn’t realize it then, but there were times when I went to bed with a little something to eat, but she went to bed without anything. I know that, as a parent, if there were only enough for one, my child is going to have it. Medically my mother wasn’t able to work. We didn’t even have a car. 

Everyone has ups and downs. We get bad times here, and we think, “We have to tough through it, things will get better.” I have that hope that if I work harder, things will get better. Some people don’t have hope. They see a long grey future. 

For parents, the priority is that their kids not go hungry. Not having enough food to give your kids has an effect on the parents in that home. I look at my seven year old daughter and think how would I feel if I had to put her to bed hungry and how would I respond to everything else in my life if i had to do that? I don’t want anyone to go through that. 

I think there needs to be more voices out there bringing this to our attention. There’s something wrong with kids going to bed hungry every night in the richest country in the world —

Read the rest of this interview…