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February 14, 2013 / HandsOnCorps

Reflections on a cooking club in Ames, Iowa…by Bonnie Cherner

newsletterThis fall I helped to organize a cooking club at Kate Mitchell, the elementary school where the garden I coordinate is located. We have the use of a small kitchen that is part of the school’s special education classroom, although the main meeting would be held in the gym. The cooking club was a partnership between the garden program, the Health Corps member at Mary Greeley, the local hospital, and the Iowa State University Dietetics Club.

Our first cooking club meeting was hectic and a bit disorganized. We were making kale chips, sweet potato chips, and beet chips with the kids. For a first meeting, the actual cooking went pretty well. Most of the kids at least tried all three veggies, and the majority of them liked them! When it was time for the students to go home, we found that one student didn’t have a ride. His mother did not own a car, and had to borrow one from a friend to pick him up from school. She was upset with us for not telling her that her son had been invited to participate in the program (even though we had emailed, and called and left a message). The boy was morbidly obese, and was probably one of the students who would have benefited most from the healthy snacks and nutrition education that we were offering in our program. He had really enjoyed the kale chips, which he had never had before. Even though we offered to drive him home after cooking club each week, he did not return to the program.

I occasionally attend the weekly Sustainable Agriculture Colloquium lectures on the Iowa State University campus. In November, I attended a talk by Aaron Bobrow-Strain on the history of white bread in America. Aaron book, “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf” discusses the history of the food movement by tracing the role of bread through our culture. At the end of his talk, he compared today’s food movement with the food reform movement of the early 1900s. According to him, well meaning food reformers were “setting the table” for others and imposing their own values and beliefs, instead of inviting under served community members to set the table together. My job as a VISTA focuses more on education and health than directly fighting poverty in my community.This talk helped me to put the work that I do with food into perspective as part of the larger fight against poverty.

The student who did not return to cooking club made me think about what we could be doing differently to include more community members. We try to reach all students during classroom time, but we are limited in what we can do then because we must conform to the school district’s Grade Level Expectations (GLEs). We have more freedom in after school, weekend, and summer garden and nutrition programs, but our reach is limited to those with transportation during these times. I think that if the district wants to be serious about addressing healthy living, making nutrition a GLE is necessary.

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