Everyone likes to eat and drink. But what if your ventures out to do so could also do good for society as well? Sound too good to be true? It’s not!
Here in LA, Laura and I are obsessed with really making our dollars count. I mean, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the country, so that alone should be motivation. But we also like seeing to it that, when possible, we are confident our money is going to good causes.
And good cause can mean many things, to many people. It might be shopping local instead of at a giant box store. Perhaps it’s hitting up a mom and pop owned Chinese restaurant rather than a Chinese chain. For the purpose of this blog, Laura and I are talking about one thing, and one thing alone: How can the money you spend, support social justice initiatives? And to start, we’re going to focus on the travel destination we know the best: Our home town of Los Angeles.
Homeboy Cafe in LAX
When you land in LA, you don’t have to wait long to dive into eating for social justice. At least if you’ve flown in on American Airlines. Terminal 4 is host to Homeboy Café, a sandwich shop managed by Homeboy Industries, the largest anti-gang program in the United States. So stop in on your way into the city or perhaps better yet, on your departure!
Homegirl Cafe in ChinaTown and City Hall
And while the airport joint is alright, especially by airport standards, the real Holy Grail is about 15 miles east, on the edge of Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles. Stop into Homegirl Café where chef Pati Zarate hosts an innovative Latin menu. Our favorites: Grab Angela’s Potion, a delicious drink to go with your taco plate. If you’re stopping in for breakfast or brunch, the chiliquiles are our go to item! There’s also a City Hall location, and if you’ve got some smooth talking skills you can grab your food and get up to the Bradley Viewing Room for some of the best views of Los Angeles.
Mama’s Hot Tamales by MacArthur Park
Most people in LA by now have heard of Homeboy. But we’re constantly amazed how many people know nothing of Mama’s. Sandi “Mama” Romero not only makes some of the best tamales you’ll find anywhere in Southern California, she also uses the profits to support a nonprofit they started to serve as a small business incubator for aspiring low income entrepreneurs. Mama does great work, worthy enough in itself, but the tamales from different regions help ensure this is a place you’ll come back to again and again.
We can’t lie, we’ve got us a personal interest in this. A friend helped get this place off the ground. Bias as we may be, we had a chance to check it out and we love it! It’s social enterprise meets cafe, with a location in Hermon and one coming in Skid Row. Good food for a good cause as they like to say! So Manifesto Cafe, check it out while in DTLA (downtown LA), order up a Thai Burrito (loved it) or do what I’ll be doing when I go back: The Haitian Burrito with one of their cool coffee selections. The prices can’t be beat!
Mercado la Paloma
If you’re doing a college tour and USC is on the map, so too should Mercado la Paloma. The mercado is all about creating local economies. We’re talking about affordable rent for tenants, creating meeting and other spaces for local nonprofits to utilize, and promoting the arts and culture of the local neighborhood, Mercado la Paloma is living proof you can do well while doing good. The various food vendors are pretty good, but we’re biased toward Chichen Itza and Oaxacalifornia.
I first met Juan Romero when I was working for City Year, and we were looking for good community partners to expand our work into Boyle Heights, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Juan was the president of the neighborhood council, and was excited to work with us. We teamed up on a number of initiatives, and I was thrilled as I was leaving to find out he was starting a coffee shop in the neighborhood. Juan used to tell me that for growing up in Boyle Heights, you looked at it as a place to leave, and he wanted Primera Taza to be one small step toward changing that. He’s created a place that serves up good coffee, juices, and sandwiches, but it’s also a great community gathering space, where students from the local high school come to do homework and more. Stop in (if you take Metro you get 15% off your bill), and then check out some of the incredible art and culture that make Boyle Heights the community it is.
When we travel, we try and do it as ethically as possible. Often times, that’s eating at joints like those listed above. Sometimes it’s just being deliberate about frequenting mom and pop shops where we can. But at the end of the day, it’s about the joys of travel being paired with the joys of trying to be a conscientious citizen, shopper, and traveler!
What are we missing? We’d love to do similar posts for other cities so feel free to chime in below or email us other ideas!
Update: Our friend Mario, who is launching what looks like an awesome social enterprise called Big Citizens Hub, also suggests Made Cafe and Boutique and from the website alone, we want to check it out! He also said With Love Community Market and Cafe in South LA is on his list to check out!
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