Philly resident completes epic culinary journey, donates $100,000 to fight global hunger


It was matoke, a Ugandan spicy beef and banana stew, that inspired Dan Berger’s world spanning culinary exploration and a project that raised more than $250,000 to combat world hunger.

Berger, 38, who works for global investment bank RBC Capital Markets in Center City, made the dish during the early lockdown stages of the pandemic at the behest of his world-traveling brother, Matt. Globetrotting was no longer on the table, but Berger discovered you could appreciate a variety of cultures from the safety of your kitchen.

By his own admission, Berger was not an adventurous cook, but upon tasting the matoke, he remembers saying,“This is the best thing I’ve ever made for myself.”

It was a transformative moment.

This culinary revelation sparked the beginning of a very productive (and very pandemic) project — documented with pictures and recipes on the website 197plates.com — where Berger undertook to cook the national dish of every country in the world. (For the record, not all countries have an official “national dish,” so Berger did some research to determine what dish he believed best reflected each nation.) He made dishes such as feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew with smoked pork and beef and nasi lemak, a Malaysian coconut rice with anchovy and hot chile sauce that’s topped with fried anchovies, fried peanuts, sliced cucumber and hard-boiled egg.

That Dan, who Matt describes as “tenacious” and “passionate,” would undertake — and finish— such a Herculean endeavor was not a surprise to him. “[H]e had cooked fewer than five of them and I could tell he was going to continue with it until he did one for every single country.”

Chicken machboos, the national dish of Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf. Photo by Rachael Warriner.

An unintended and perhaps ironic consequence of the 197 Plates project is that his global exploration connected him much more deeply to Philadelphia. To find the wide variety of ingredients he needed for his recipes, he shopped locally, which took him to stores and neighborhoods he had never before visited. He found himself in Rieker’s Prime Meats in Fox Chase in search of spätzle; Jumbo Meat Market and Bullboi Meat Supermarket in Northeast Philly for carne seca and paio sausage; Walnut Supermarket in West Philly for pig tails and scotch bonnet chili peppers; and the H Mart in Upper Darby to secure gochugaru, a Korean chili powder you may know from kimchi.

About half way through the three years Berger spent preparing the meals, he began to wonder if he could find a way to parlay his personal quest into a mechanism that would help address an issue he was passionate about: fighting world hunger.

His interest in the topic began in 2008 when Berger was working for a company that encouraged employees to donate money to one of two charities: the Red Cross or CARE International, a humanitarian organization that combats world hunger. Berger began to read about CARE and became enamored with their work. Through the years he began to donate more money and became involved in advocacy. “I just really got immersed in the organization,” Berger says.

According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, every four seconds someone succumbs to starvation globally. The ongoing pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine have exacerbated the situation, plunging an additional 200 million individuals into acute food insecurity since 2019.

All the cool stories I have in my life are because of CARE.”

— Dan Berger

According to CARE’s website, their programs impact nearly 100 million people across approximately 100 countries annually. The organization has launched a comprehensive food security response with a particular emphasis on the 17 countries most deeply affected by the crisis, which include Afghanistan, Haiti, Nigeria, Somalia and war-torn countries Burkina Faso and Mali.

Berger’s advocacy for CARE has taken him to Guatemala to see how the organization works on the ground, as well as to the U.S. Capitol where, while advocating for the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018, he struck up a conversation with Senator Bob Corker in the men’s room, making a pitch for the legislation — which did eventually pass.

“All the cool stories I have in my life are because of CARE,” says Berger.

To further this idea of merging his cooking quest with fundraising, he called Bekah Dickstein, CARE’s director of philanthropy for the Northeast region, who he had been working with since 2017. She was floored by the concept.

“I think I was in disbelief at first — it was such a lofty and laborious undertaking,” Dickstein says via email. “Dan has a full time job, a vibrant social life, and is involved in countless local initiatives in addition to CARE. And the 197plates.com initiative requires persistence, resourcefulness — the lengths he went to get certain ingredients is mind-boggling — and patience. But he just made it all look so easy.”

They created the #cooklikeyouCARE challenge, inviting individuals worldwide to join the cause by voting (while making a donation) on what country makes the best rice dish. Additional funds were raised through the fundraising apparatus of CARE, and were aided by Berger’s decision to match donations up to $100,000.

This was his “go big or go home” moment, he decided. When asked about what it’s like to part with such a large sum of money, Berger demurs, and tries to contextualize his generosity by expressing how profoundly lucky he feels.

“I have lived a life of nauseating privilege. [I] went to a private high school, my parents paid for college. I don’t think you can really look at my life and say that I sacrificed. If I have to wait another couple years [to buy] a house, so be it.”

Dan Berger poses with chicken machboos. Photo by Rachael Warriner.

Though Berger’s job pays well, he says he isn’t a millionaire, which makes a donation that size both significant and proportionally extraordinary. He admits that there were butterflies in his stomach as he signed a check with so many zeros on it, and that he felt some anxiety. But after the shock of parting with the money wore off, he noticed that his life afterward remained pretty much the same as it had been before writing the check.

“I have a job with a good income, I have the security of [knowing that] if my world collapses, I still have my family to support me. So there’s those fixtures in place, and perhaps those are the most important things at the end of the day.”

His actions certainly would qualify him as a citizen of the world, but he’s also deeply invested in Philadelphia. He serves on the board of several nonprofits, including SEAMAAC, AchieveABILITY and the Wyss Wellness Center. He credits the board memberships with his love of the city, and “getting me out of my Center City bubble.”

While his post-six figure donation day-to-day life has remained virtually the same, he hopes that the fundraising on behalf of CARE he spearheaded, which raised in excess of $250,000, will dramatically improve the quality of life for people around the world who are suffering from hunger.

“The thing about Dan,” Dickstein says, “is that he shows his commitment to CARE in so many different ways — through his financial support, advocacy, time (oh my God, so much time), guidance, wisdom. He is a phenomenal human being.”

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