Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why I Share MY Strength

Why do you share YOUR strength?

A Cooking Matters class learning how to menu plan for their families

Hi. My name is Jeanelle and I've been volunteering with Taste of the Nation Chicago for three years now. This is my story of why I Share MY Strength.

My first love has always been food. Ever since I can remember. While it was standard for 80's babies to watch Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, I'd also be rapt by Justin Wilson makin it a lil mo heapin, Jeff Smith and his frugalities, and Martin Yan and his crazy rapid knife and stir-fry skills. With my mother's watchful guidance, I began cooking around 7 years old. As I grew up, I'd spend summers with my grandmother in Alabama. She's lucky enough to share a garden with her neighbors that's several acres in size, so there's always a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and even pecans straight from the tree in her backyard. But one incident sticks out to me to this day. When I was maybe 9 or 10 or so, we woke up early around 6a, and the first thing she asks me was "What kind of meat do you want for dinner?" With this influence, it's no wonder I've always had a love affair with food.

While my family's been fortunate enough to ensure I've never had to do without a meal, sadly there are millions of others across the country who can't say the same. The reality is that right here in Chicago where I was born, raised, and currently live, work, and play, one in four children are food insecure, which means they just don't know where their next meal is going to come from. Further, over 200,000 children in this city live in food deserts, or places where access to fresh produce (like the food my grandmother grows in her garden) is limited to non-existent. And childhood obesity is still an epidemic. At first these statistics broke my heart, but then I got fired up enough to do something to change them.

That's why I love the work that Cooking Matters is doing and that's why I had to get involved. The classes are in a six-week format and they combine teaching healthy eating habits along with the skills of how to cook the meals and shop for the menu items on a budget. Overall, with a chef instructor and nutritionist leading the way, children, families and adults learn how to integrate food in their lives in a more positive way.

I just wrapped up my fourth week of my first class and I reflected on how rewarding it's been to work with the families. From teaching children knife skills to telling their moms how they can substitute different ingredients and still maintain the integrity of a dish to letting families know that just because food's on their plate it doesn't mean they have to be solely responsible for eating it all right then and there, it's been great to share lessons I've learned in my life, culinary school, and my culinary career.

It's also been a great experience to be able to see the participants' attitudes change throughout the course when it comes to what they eat and have learned how to cook themselves. From activities like Blubber Burger that shows just how much fat your favorite fast food meal might contain (lesson: beware buffalo wings) to learning about the varieties of whole grains and how they can be prepared to menu planning for the family, it's great to see how they take to heart the key lessons from each week. Also, it's just fun to cook with the families, and sharing cooking tips I've learned along the way. I especially love to see the reaction to ingredients and recipes they're a little uncertain of at first glance then the look and sounds of enjoyment as we eat their creations at the end of each class, and you'd be surprised, oftentimes it's the children who are more immediately receptive to new ingredients! Those families are why I share my strength.

Sign up to help!

If you have a passion for helping people enjoy food in a more healthy and positive way, you should definitely sign up to volunteer with Cooking Matters, be it as a chef or nutrition instructor, class assistant or even grocery shopper.

Other Ways You Can Help:

• Buy tickets to Taste of the Nation Chicago 2012. August 8, 2012 All the proceeds go to Cooking Matters, Illinois Hunger Coalition and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

• Participate in the Great American Bake Sale. On May 7, 2011, some friends put one together at The Butcher and Larder and we raised nearly $10,000 to end childhood hunger. I even baked a couple of coconut cakes for the cause.

• Take the No Kid Hungry Pledge. On the slowest computers, it only takes a minute. If you haven't already, do it now.

• Participate in the Dine Out for No Kid Hungry from September 16 - 22, 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment