Midterm elections are fast approaching and abortion rights are quite literally on the ballot in a number of states, following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Experts have documented the impact abortion bans have on women’s participation in the labor force, and their findings have inspired James Beard Award-winning chef Beverly Kim (Parachute, Wherewithall).
“It’s very difficult to raise a child in this industry because of the lack of support systems both locally and nationally,” says Kim, a mother of three. “We’re already fighting for healthcare benefits, parental leave, and livable wages. Having that access and choice is a really important matter, it’s a puzzle piece that helps narrow the gap of gender disparity [in hospitality.”
In 2020, Kim co-founded the Abundance Setting, a Chicago nonprofit that supports advancement for mothers working in the hospitality industry. Under her group’s banner, Kim has assembled an all-star lineup of chefs for “Love is on the Menu,” a benefit dinner supporting the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF), a local nonprofit that provides financial, logistical, and emotional support for abortion patients throughout the Midwest. The dinner on Tuesday, November 15, features a five-course meal from Top Chef alums Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), Joe Flamm (Rose Mary), Damarr Brown (Virtue), plus Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Tayler Ploshehanski (Wherewithall), Kim and husband (and fellow Beard Award winner) Johnny Clark, and Los Angeles’ Mei Lin (Daybird). Tickets ($275) have already sold out, but hopefuls can request add their names to the waitlist via Resy.
“Everybody loves someone who has had an abortion, whether they know it or not,” says Kim. “Bringing people together around the dinner table helps to soften the dialogue, it destigmatizes [an experience] that is pretty widespread so we don’t have to whisper about it.”
Brown, who rocketed to culinary stardom this year on Season 19 of Top Chef, worked with CAF executive director Megan Jeyifo while at MK in River North. He says his respect for her made the decision to participate an easy one. “I was raised by three women, my mother was a single mother and she worked really hard to do what she did with me, which was a great job,” he says. “I think taking people’s choice is horrific, and as a Black person, taking away people’s liberties is something I take pretty personally.”
Though there are numerous national nonprofits raising money for abortion access, Kim says she and her team feel it’s important to support local groups like CAF that have a regional focus. For now, abortion rights are secure in Illinois — Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have both vowed to preserve legal abortion access in the state and city — but the ripple effects of bans and restrictions on reproductive health care have already begun to emerge as out-of-state patients are left with few options. In the first few months of 2022, more than 80 percent of CAF’s grantees traveled to Illinois from states including Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and beyond.
“We all feel very passionate about standing up for this, but I think just as important is that we’re going to be doing it together as a community,” Kim says. “This is something we need to support in a loving and trusting spirit, and that’s what I think food can do.”