Photograph by Macaulay Lerman
Audio by Vermont Folklife
1. “My whole family really believes in the idea of equality and equity.” (2:30)
Yes. So my name is Midhat Hadzic. My title is Food Service Manager. So, you know, my role is procuring and receiving and food, and the two different programs in our agency and so much more. I was born in 1971 in former Yugoslavia. Nowadays, Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I came to Vermont in '99. So we are making a huge leap here, right, but it's hard to exactly find the way that kind of lead me to be here today. But I do have some thoughts how that, that really happen. So I was--I mentioned I grew up in Yugoslavia that had the, it was socialist country. In the USA when you mention socialism, people just freak out. And of course, every system has its flaws, and I'm not I'm not sugarcoating here, I'm just telling you how it was for me. So very, you know, fond memories of childhood then and stuff. So I mention socialism not to, you know, again, I'm not really delusional to think that the system is just perfect. But, you know, my father really believe, and my whole family really believe, in ideal for equality and equity. And they that's how I was raised, you know? That, no human being is less worth because of any differences except the content of character. And I'm super grateful to them for that upbringing. And whole system really put emphasis on that--that, you know, you don't discriminate people based on these differences, but rather you include and, you know, coexist in a dignified way.
2. “I was always cooking for family and friends...” (1:11)
So, I pretty much came to Vermont with a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket and my family at that time. And then, as I said, I started working different jobs in Vermont. You know, factories first and then work for school districts, coaching soccer along the way. And I was always cooking for family and friends and, you know, always heard great feedback, And, “You are talented,” and all that, but never really thought that's going to be something that I'll do for a living. And then after I found myself, like we all do sometimes at some sort of crossroads, you know, like I chose that and applied for Healthy Living. Started there and was lucky to work under an amazing chef, Jamie Eisenberg, who taught me lots of stuff, even though I had a pretty good knowledge because I was interested, reading lots of books. And then that whole food--I call that “food revolution,” started when, you know, people really started getting more international and ethnic cuisines around, and TV shows and books and all that. So, I was even more into that. But Chef Jamie was definitely important figure in shaping, and kind of, you know, guiding me into a little bit more than just, “So I'm just going to do that for a little bit.” So I spend, I think, four years there. And, and then, at that time this place where we are right now was called Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. And so I saw, you know, that they are looking for a cook here and I decided to apply. Came and I guess I fit here from very beginning. And it was eye opening for me because then I realized that even though Healthy Living is a great place that is supporting local economy and farmers and you know. Many other aspects about them are amazing. They are supporting our organization as well. And so I realized that the only certain class of people can come and shop or eat Healthy Living on a regular basis. Right? And that never felt right for me. And then when I came here, it was complete like. Complete opposite. You know, I quickly realize I'm like, okay, this is this is what I'm about.
3. “Vermont is kind of changing...” (2:59)
On a staff we have, you know, Edi Abeneto door who is working for 15 years at the door, distributing food to people. And Edi speaks French and English and Swahili, and the couple more, I think. And I can speak with people from Balkans. And so, we were always, you know, able, kind of, because we are diverse as organization as well. We're able to, you know, recognize that need and say, “okay, not everybody wants,” you know, “peanut butter or cereal” or, you know, all the other stuff that are shoved to average American consumer as staples, you know? So then we recognize that lots of people, they don't want to even can--not that they don't want, they'll prefer, they'll--you know, when you when you are in position that you are asking for help, anything helps. I'm not downplaying the importance of these items, you know, but for lots of people was like, “I need dry beans, I need I need rice, I need the,” you know, “fresh produce and vegetables. That's my--that's what we are eating.” You know? So we, you know, manage to fulfill those needs through various strategies. One of them was another partner in our fight against poverty and hunger--is definitely City Market. And so we are able to, you know, partner with them on getting grains, grains and beans in bulk and we'll package that here and then, you know, fill that. Just recently we, we purchase to the food bank from the New American Farm that is bringing us greens called Amaranth I think and Linga Linga in Swahili and, you know. So we are whenever, you know, because Vermont kind of is changing like everything else. So, you know, depends on which group of people are coming from, which part of the world we'll try to kind of adjust to that. So, yeah. But it is always a little bit challenging because, you know, there's language barrier and just like cultural barrier. But we are--I feel we are succeeding in helping people to feel that this is a welcoming place for them to come. And, our the numbers show that is this true. You know, with room for improvement always, of course. But, you know.
4. “It's hard to put yourself in somebody's shoes...” (2:05)
But I think collectively we need to kind of start narrative of, “Hey, this is our--these are people from our community, neighborhoods, you know, streets, whatever. And just because they are down on luck with whatever happened, life happen to people, right?” Don't, you know, if you are helping, you know that there is different, different ways I feel like to help people without feeling superior because you are, at the moment in better position, right? So I think that's something like if people start--I think there's lots of labeling, lots and lots of, you know, stigma and labeling and negative connotations about people who are coming. I met some brilliant people here, like brilliant. Talking about--like, seriously, people that you wanna be friends with, kind and artistic and, you know, giving. So many times--there was one guest who's coming here for breakfast for so long, and every once in a while he will hand me a couple of bucks. Like, “No, like, I want to support you.” That's when you want to cry. And, you know, so many, many examples. I just feel the, you know, people need to--you know, it's hard to put yourself in somebody's shoes, but that's again, it sounds like cliche, but really starts everything from there. I think once you do that, then that charity moment is elevated to something else. Then you are, you are fellow human being to fellow human being. Not, not like I'm--whatever, not just better, but I'm luckier than you.