On Tuesday, July 6, Kurt Evans, the Philly chef, activist, and co-founder of Down North Pizza in Strawberry Mansion, was given the “Champions of Change” award by the organization behind the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, in recognition of his activism around mass incarceration in America. Evans joins Viviana Varese, an Italian chef, and Deepanker Khosla, an Indian chef in Thailand, in winning the inaugural award.
“Ah man, it feels amazing to get recognition,” Evans tells Eater. As a chef, Evans says, he’s aware of the role the World’s 50 Best organization plays in his industry, and the fact that this platform recognized him will enable Evans to continue his work. “I’m grateful that I’m able to put mass incarceration in the spotlight on a worldwide platform,” he says. Evans will be traveling to Belgium in October to accept the award.
Evans’s work as an activist and chef has been around criminal justice reform in America, where 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated. For years, Evans has run dinners themed around ending mass incarceration, where diners gather for a meal to learn about the criminal justice system. Evans is also one of the five cofounding chefs of Everybody Eats, a mutual aid organization that began during the pandemic to provide free food to people in underserved communities, as well as an organizer for 215 People’s Alliance, and a chef at the People’s Kitchen, both Philly-based activist groups.
He plans to use the prize money, the amount for which Evans could not disclose, in two ways: He’ll invest 50 percent of the money into Everybody Eats, and the other 50 percent he will use to fuel more of his End Mass Incarceration dinners. Everybody Eats is in process of getting a community space up and running this July, and Evans and the other organizers will use the award funds to purchase and set up a roving produce truck.
“It will be a box truck in partnership with US Foods, and we’re going to ride around to food desert neighborhoods and low income neighborhoods,” he says, describing the initiative. “You get a tote bag and you’ll get to fill it up about 15 pounds of produce until the truck is sold out.” The organization plans on running the produce truck operation a few times a month. In the immediate future, Evans is running several more End Mass Incarceration dinners in Alaska, Houston, and Miami, and will begin a collaboration on the same theme with the Philadelphia Free Library this fall. The prize money will enable him to host many EMI dinners in the future for free.
Asked what motivates him to continue his activist work despite having success in the restaurant industry, Evans says that he takes inspiration from other Black activists who have done the same. “I know throughout history food has been an integral part of a lot of movements,” Evans says, reflecting on how Black Panther leader Bobby Seale was able to register 30,000 people to vote when he ran for mayor of Oakland in 1973, due in large part to a free grocery program. “I would like to carry on the traditions of those that came before me.” Plus, he says, receiving this award gives him another thing to be proud about: “I get to represent Philly.”