Stories / Scholarships

A Day in the Life of a JBF National Scholar

Sarah McKeen

March 15, 2017


I’m Sarah, Food Studies Masters student at NYU, employee at the Meat Hook and Heritage Radio Network, James Beard Foundation National Scholar, and 26-year-old New Yorker. I live a hectic life as I speed toward graduation this May, taking every opportunity that comes my way while also trying to stay healthy and sane. Between school, my two jobs, and the infinite pursuit of what it means to be a twenty-something in the city, I struggle to find time to step back and take it all in. Nothing fulfills me more, however, than learning from my experiences and allowing each to inform the next. I’m lucky to have a diverse set of responsibilities and opportunities every week that collectively round out my goal to develop an enriched cultural perspective of food and the way it intertwines with our lives. Here’s a quick glimpse into four days in my life.

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Sundays are my “me day,” meaning the one day a week during which I do not have school or work. For that reason, I slept until 1:00 P.M. My houseguest (who happens to be my little brother) and I eventually donned our snow boots around 2:00 P.M. to trudge through the freezing rain over to the Williamsburg Hotel. While arctic adventures on my day off are not my go-to, I needed bread for the dinner I was planning on hosting that night. The bakers at the Williamsburg Hotel (formerly of Brooklyn Bread Lab) make what I stand by as the best bread in the world, so it was worth the subzero trek. We found further sustenance at Frankel’s in the form of breakfast sandwiches and coffee—western omelets on rye, to be exact. I got back home in time to prepare the evening’s menu, which was a heavily spiced Moroccan stew with chicken sausage. This was not just any Sunday dinner, but the pilot episode of my podcast, Supper Talk, a show in which I have guests over to discuss one specific food system issue over a home-cooked meal. My co-host and I welcomed Ben Turley, my boss and the owner of the Meat Hook, and Maggie Tauranac, vegetarian and former NYU Food Studies student who is in favor of taxing antibiotic use to curb meat consumption. The four of us sat around my little kitchen table for three hours, exchanging thoughts on where we think the meat industry needs to go in the U.S. I loved being able to hear everyone’s perspectives as we shared a meal, divulged our favorite movies, and sipped on beers. By 10:00 P.M., we had devolved from meat talk into discussing future business plans, so it was time to call it quits. I blew out the candles and washed the dishes before falling into my bed, dreading Monday morning. [As an aside, I plan on completing and releasing episodes of Supper Talk in late March.]

Monday, February 13, 2017
Mondays are typically reserved for laundry and schoolwork, which would usually mean editing audio clips from the previous evening’s dinner, but a meeting meant I had to forgo my domestic work for a late-morning trip to SoHo. I quickly made myself eggs and toast from the leftover dinner bread before sprinting out the door to the subway. After the meeting, I holed up in NYU’s Bobst Library for a few hours. I planned out the next few episodes of my podcast, reaching out to some guests I would like to host for dinner, and worked on a paper for a class I took with my professor Carolyn Dimitri in Mexico this past January. Before heading to class, I took a quick call with a prospective guest for our upcoming food access and education episode. Then I dashed into La Colombe for some restorative turmeric tea before going to my Research Applications class, where a group of students all in our final semester meet weekly to discuss our capstone projects. Some of the topics include a survey of sustainability practices among regional farmers, a meta-analysis of food literacy over the last few decades, and nutrition education acceptance among high school students. We are a small group, but everyone is very generous in their critique of one another’s projects. We will present our projects in May to an audience of current and former students, professors, and members of the food community. Class wrapped up just shy of 9:00 P.M. and I hopped on the L back to Brooklyn and made it home in time for a late meal of leftover stew from the night before.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Tuesdays are spent at the Meat Hook in Williamsburg where I work as a production cook, produce team member, cashier, and butcher’s assistant. I was recently deemed a “Jill of All Trades,” but that’s not yet official. I essentially try my best to do everything. Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, and as we all know, there is no better way to spend Valentine’s Day than making sausage with a coworker while listening to Adele. I spent the morning grinding pork, beef, and bacon for the sausages we had lined up for that day. Once all of the meat was to the desired consistency, I began to mix each one in the Hobart mixer with its designated blend of mix-ins: sweet Italian, Mexican chorizo, and long dong bud (a pork sausage with pickled jalapeños, Texas Pete hot sauce, and Swiss cheese—our healthy option). My coworker then swiftly stuffed each of the mixes into casings and linked the sausages up so they would be ready to sell the next day. The rest of my day was spent making my specialty: chicken potpies. I developed the recipe using vinegar and pork lard in the crust, while the filling remains classic with chicken, carrots, celery, onion, and parsley. After about four hours and a lot of elbow grease, I completed 26 individual potpies and my day was over. I stopped at home for a quick chat with my roommates before squeezing in a run at the gym and then heading out to a friend’s birthday. Yet again, the evening slipped away from me and I found myself creeping up on midnight, so I snuck out of the party and escaped to my bed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
To complete my four-day circuit of something different every day, I spend Wednesdays at Heritage Radio Network (HRN) in Bushwick where I work as membership coordinator. HRN is a perfect balance of rogue and intellectual. The radio station itself is two repurposed shipping containers in the back of the restaurant Roberta’s where some of the most talented voices in food come through every week. Meanwhile, our offices are in a nearby warehouse that we share with Heritage Foods USA, so we work amid freezers of rare-breed meats. My specific role involves sending our donors their membership gifts, following up with those who are due for renewal donations, and planning member benefits. Mid-winter is rather slow for us because giving season falls at the end of the year, so I spent most of the day working with one of our hosts to plan a happy hour, while also following up with members who are due to renew, and checking in with the whole HRN team for our weekly all-staff meeting. I would love to say that I grabbed pizza from Roberta’s for lunch, but that habit is on hiatus. This past fall, I found myself growing dependent on the “working man’s slice” (a fat slice of focaccia with a generous amount of cheese, sauce, basil, and chile oil) as my lunch—not my best choice. I opted for fruit and yogurt from the Brooklyn Natural Market instead. Unlike the rest of my week, Wednesday wrapped up at a reasonable hour. I was able to finally do laundry while also going to the gym and making myself a heaping bowl of pasta with homemade marinara sauce for dinner. Just like any other person my age, I watched Last Week Tonight with John Oliver while checking Instagram and fell asleep at 10:00 P.M., ready to take on whatever the following day’s schedule had to offer.

My schedule is certainly packed, but I could not ask for a richer set of experiences as I wrap up my final semester of grad school. Thanks for coming along for the ride and please be on the lookout for Supper Talk on your podcast app in late March!


Learn more about JBF scholarship opportunities, including our National Scholar program.