February 23, 2024
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Food Star and Teaneck Native Eitan Bernath Receives Official Designation From UN World Food Programme

“I have to be quiet because I’m in Los Angeles and it’s early here,” social media sensation and Teaneck native Eitan Bernath said over the phone. Bernath’s visit to Los Angeles is his latest in a series of trips leading up to a major announcement: his official designation as a High Level Supporter at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The 20-year-old’s expertise in food, combined with a following of over 10 million, makes him the perfect choice to bring younger audiences into the global effort to solve hunger.

The last time Bernath spoke with The Jewish Link, he was anticipating the release of his first cookbook, “Eitan Eats the World.” He spent months promoting the book, which he described as an “all-encompassing endeavor.” But once that was over, he switched gears to focus on new content for his social media pages, as well as becoming more active in philanthropic organizations—ultimately leading to his new post at WFP.

“I’m around food all day, and I’m constantly cooking,” Bernath explained. “For all of us who are food secure and don’t worry about where our next meal will come from, it’s easy to forget that there are millions of people who don’t have that privilege.” His awareness of food insecurity led him to become involved with City Harvest, a New York City-based nonprofit that rescues hundreds of millions of pounds of food that would otherwise be wasted.

When Bernath began developing a relationship with WFP, he was interested in taking his passion for fighting hunger on a global scale. “A few weeks ago, I met with the CEO of the World Food Programme at the USA headquarters, and I asked him why WFP doesn’t donate food within the United States, despite the fact that hunger is a real problem here,” Bernath said. “He told me something that really stuck with me—the United States has plenty of safety blankets, with organizations like City Harvest, various food pantries and charities, but there are places elsewhere in the world that don’t. For those countries, WFP is their safety blanket … it has the ability to reach places that no one else can reach.”

The young chef explained that while food insecurity in the U.S. is prevalent, we have the resources to deal with it, while many disadvantaged areas around the world do not. Bernath was exposed to the impact of food insecurity on a recent trip to Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, where he was inspired by the benefits that poverty-fighting organizations could achieve.

“I learned so much about how these types of programs can change people’s lives,” he shared. “For example, one of these organizations provides goats to rural women and teaches them how to raise their own goats. A woman sold one of her goats and was able to send her son for a higher education; her son is now on the way to becoming a doctor and has improved his family’s life forever.”

Bernath continued that it’s “easy to forget” how these small things can impact people. “Hunger will completely suck the life out of you. A person who is food secure has a completely different trajectory in life than a person who goes hungry and is worried about where their next meal will come from. You can make that difference for someone.”

Over the past year, Bernath has supported smaller initiatives from WFP, and has “felt more connected to their mission” over time, leading to this official designation. “I feel very honored,” he said of the appointment. “I don’t take this lightly.”

Bernath shared that he “feels a responsibility here,” referring to his ability to raise awareness to social issues he genuinely cares about—especially considering the amount of influence he has over his millions of social media followers. “When you find a social or philanthropic cause that you can partake in and effectively advocate for, and your audience will resonate with it, that’s really exciting. This opportunity is perfect for me.”

The sense of responsibility to give back was instilled in Bernath long ago by his parents, who emphasized the value of tzedaka. “After my debut episode of ‘Chopped’ aired, I did a cooking demo at a local grocery store that earned me about $200,” he recalled. “My dad told me that I could do what I wanted with that check, as long as I donated a percentage of my earnings to a charity of my choice. My parents made sure I understood that I should take care of others.”

The social media star contrasted this with the overarching attitude of most influencers. “So many people say, ‘What can I do for myself?’ I’m privileged to gain a lot from my platform, and I know I need to give back to others.” Bernath explained that this feeling is amplified by an awareness of his own Jewish identity, and that he’s likely the only Jewish person many of his followers are exposed to.

“I know I need to set a good example for what a Jewish person is and what a Jewish person cares about,” said Bernath. “Jews are people who engage with the world and try to make the world a better place. We’re the first to be there when help is needed, like in Turkey, where Israel was on the ground to get people out of the rubble right away.” Being a good example of what it means to be Jewish is also his way of fighting antisemitism.“I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of antisemitism is borne out of ignorance; if more people knew a Jewish person, and saw that we care about others, we can combat that.”

When asked what he is most looking forward to about his official designation, Bernath replied that it’s the opportunity to show his followers the difference they can make in fighting world hunger. “I really want to show my followers that the smallest efforts—just providing a meal or a means of obtaining food—can change someone’s life trajectory. That was really inspiring for me to learn about, and I want my followers to see it, too.”

You can follow Eitan Bernath’s exciting journey with the United Nations World Food Programme on his many social media platforms—Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and more—and on his website at www.eitanbernath.com. To get involved with the World Food Programme, visit www.wfpusa.org/get-involved/.

By Channa Fischer

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