Food Justice: What does it mean to learn it, grow it, live it?

PrintFor some, Chefs Night Out has been a longstanding tradition of food, fun and fundraising. Local food and wine enthusiasts gather for a cocktail hour, auction, and a much anticipated dinner prepared tableside by one of 10 locally celebrated chefs featured at the event. This year the celebration continues on November 16 at the beautiful Seattle Design Center in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

In addition to having the opportunity to savor a gourmet four-course meal with fine wine pairings, attendees partaking in these festivities also get to do so while contributing to a cause that challenges the root causes of hunger. All proceeds from the event go toward Solid Ground’s work to achieve food justice through the Hunger & Food Resources department and its subsidiary programs. But this year is a little different; the focus is not only on food justice, it’s also on the development of food justice as a living mantra for the local community. A mantra built on the tenets of learning it, growing it, and living it.

LEARN IT
The Apple Corps program, a team of National Service members dedicated to nutrition education, works within local schools to combine standard subjects like math, science, literacy and art with cooking, wellness and physical activity. Gerald Wright, Hunger & Food Resources Director at Solid Ground, firmly believes that nutritional knowledge is power:

Apple Corps 2008The whole idea around nutrition education is that if we can really train children from an early age in all aspects of healthy eating, in understanding the value and benefit of eating balanced, nutritional meals, if we can help children at that young age really start to fall in love with healthy foods – taste it, experience it, and see that it’s good – that enables them to start making healthier choices. That is supportive of food justice.”

GROW IT
Developing an urban farm in a rapidly sprawling city like Seattle can be difficult. But the Lettuce Link program, which has been gardening and giving since 1988, is still going strong. By cooperatively operating two lively farms with their adjacent communities and collaborating with over 64 P-Patch community gardens and 18 other giving gardens, Lettuce Link manages to donate an average of 50,000 pounds of produce per year to those who need it! Marra Farm’s ¾-acre Giving Garden utilizes the dwindling farming space in Seattle and encourages folks in the South Park neighborhood to invest in growing organic food and the environment around them. Seattle Community Farm‘s repurposed sliver of land in the Rainier Vista housing community is also open to local residents and volunteers, with produce going to the Rainier Valley Food Bank and neighborhood residents with lower incomes.

Lettuce Link 1988“Lettuce Link is all about being a community place where people can not only come and learn about growing food, but they can actually experience it,” Gerald says.

The program aims to offer experiential knowledge and hands-on learning as a means of informing and encouraging the local community to grow its own food. The objective is to offer people the tools needed to ensure that price and availability don’t become the barrier to choosing fresh and healthy options. By showing people that you can grow your own food with a little bit of space and some water, that’s putting control over access and quality back into the hands of the folks who need it most. With all of the opportunities that Lettuce Link offers to stay connected to the food we eat by learning how to grow it, this element is a critical cornerstone of food justice.

LIVE IT

Eating is necessary to sustain life. Cooking, however, is not – and not everyone has equal access to the knowledge or skills to cook the vegetables they’ve been told are good for them.

Cooking Matters 1994 (by John Bolivar)

Photo by John Bolivar

Maybe people have a concept of what constitutes healthy eating. Someone goes to the doctor and their doctor tells them to go on a low-sodium diet. But they may not know how to cook foods within their new diet. We want people to be in a position of power over their eating. Knowing vegetables are healthy is different from knowing how to cook them,” offers Gerald.

This is where the Cooking Matters program comes into play. With generous in-kind donations from Charlie’s Produce and Whole Foods Market, Cooking Matters students (from kindergartners to seniors) attend hands-on cooking lessons and receive take-home groceries to continue cooking healthy recipes at home. Participants also receive food and nutrition expertise from community volunteer chefs, nutritionists and class assistants. Because “it’s not enough just to know what is nutritious and how to grow it, but also how to cook it,” Gerald says.

We’re turning the page on a community exercising the right to know, grow and eat healthy and culturally relevant foods. And while shopping, weeding or cooking can seem like laborious tasks, they empower individuals to make healthy and sustainable choices that feed their bodies and their communities.

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Kids learn how to get healthy & have fun in the kitchen

This school year, Solid Ground’s Apple Corps program will begin using the Cooking Matters for Kids curricula for students attending Concord and Emerson Elementary Schools. This nutrition education will be taught throughout the entire school year by Apple Corps AmeriCorps members serving one-year terms as well as one Solid Ground Nutrition Education Coordinator. Every classroom will receive a weekly 30- to 45-minute hands-on cooking class that promotes nutrition and culturally-relevant healthy cooking.

Curriculum for Cooking Matters for Kids classes includes lessons focusing on colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, smart snacking and even smarter shopping. It also ties in grade-appropriate literacy and geography components of the Washington state Common Core standards to cooking. The program also seeks to serve the whole school through both classroom lessons and school-wide health promotions, such as Healthy Halloween and Healthy Heart (Valentine’s) Day.

One of the first things explained in the Cooking Matters for Kids curriculum myplate_greenis the MyPlate diagram. The diagram emphasizes the amount of each food group you should have on your plate at meal time – from fruits, vegetables and dairy to whole grains and protein. When it comes time to choose the food to put on your plate, some of the tips that are provided in these classes are as practical as freezing bread or fruit before it spoils to use it at a later time.

Another wise shopping tip for kids is that fruits and vegetables at the front of the produce section at the grocery store usually represent what is in season. More often than not, this means it is going to taste more fresh and cost less than other fruits and vegetables. For those who are not yet ingredient-savvy, “brown bread” is not always whole grain. (Anything containing enriched flour, bran or wheat germ is not considered whole grain.) Also, cereals at eye level for kids are usually the ones highest in sugar and are packaged with bright colors and cartoon characters to appeal to children.

The Cooking Matters for Kids lessons take many things into account given the diverse audience that they are designed to teach. For instance, some recipes initially call for certain kitchen gadgets that may not be readily available or affordable for all households, so alternative methods of preparation are given (e.g., instead of using a blender, mash all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon). Some students and their families may have dietary restrictions (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance), so alternate choices are given in those instances as well.

Photo credit: John Bolivar Photography

Photo credit: John Bolivar Photography

As expected, the recipes offered in the workbooks are very “kid-friendly.” If any particular step in a recipe is potentially unsafe and requires adult supervision or assistance, it is notated with a symbol (although safe knife skills are taught as well!). Ingredient substitutions for more exotic or expensive ingredients are also provided for families on a budget.

Other great tips the lessons provide are ways to use up the rest of a recipe that produced a large yield. For example, if there happens to be any leftovers from the Homemade Granola recipe, suggestions for future use are to eat it like cereal, use it to top a fruit salad or mix into yogurt parfaits. Or, if there are leftover rolled oats, one could use them to make oatmeal for breakfast or oatmeal cookies.

There is even a “label lingo” handout that students receive about halfway through the course to guide healthier food choices. Reading the nutritional facts and ingredients on any product is vital to ensuring that what kids put in their bodies is healthy, safe and tasty!

Do you remember cooking a lot as a kid? Did you think about things like nutrition, food groups or sugar content if/when you did cook? Let us know in the comments below!

“Junk” vs. “real” food vs. farmers markets: What’s practical?

There’s a large misconception about how severely limited access is to healthy, nutritious food for many people living on low incomes. In his article “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?,” Mark Bittman compares costs between fast food and “real food” found at grocery stores to be prepared at home. However, the article doesn’t take into account that even food purchased at the supermarket isn’t necessarily “real food.”

Thinking of the kind of groceries that a person living on a low income might buy, the following among others may come to mind: meat containing pink slime, mass-produced eggs, pesticide-laden vegetables, and also, processed foods galore with plenty of additives and preservatives that have a much longer shelf life than fresh produce. (And which, for someone working multiple jobs with dependents who might not have time to take weekly shopping trips, can be miracles as they are often easy-to-prepare, long-lasting foods.)

Grocery shopping

Compare the ingredients of a typical sesame seed bun on a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese and an inexpensive package of Sara Lee sesame seed buns found at a typical supermarket chain. The ingredients are practically identical. Little do we know where the meat comes from (or what, truly, goes into their “beef” patties), how the cow is raised and butchered, and how the meat is then treated and packaged for McDonald’s (pink slime). But the same goes for the largest meat retailer in the United States.

Before the truth about what pink slime is (lean, finely textured beef trimmings) and why it is pink (it’s treated with ammonia hydroxide) came out, large supermarket chains had been selling products with this meat filler in their stores. It was only after the story broke that a couple of them immediately pulled it from their shelves. Others said they would remove the product “as quickly as possible.” For someone who doesn’t always have a stable income, waiting is not an option.

What does one do when they seek a healthier lifestyle by not just buying “real food” from a supermarket but by eating truly all natural and organic produce, grass-fed meat, whole foods grains and dairy? Certainly farmers markets would be a great place to start. They provide access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables by cutting out the middleman also known as retailers. Buying directly from the farmer should reduce costs, right? Nope. According to a recent study, farmers market prices for produce were higher on average than your local grocery store.

squash, tomatoes, vegetables in bowl

On occasion, I admit to spending more on seasonal, organic produce at any given farmers market in Seattle when the exact same quality is available for less at the local natural foods store (PCC in my experience). However, this personal encounter seems to be unique to Seattle – one of the most expensive cost-of-living cities in the U.S. When I’ve visited markets in Portland, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Utah and Chicago, Illinois, I noticed the prices were much more reasonable. So without delving into the exact reason why our produce is so much more expensive than some other metropolitan areas, take a moment to really think about whether you, as an individual or supporting a family, can access organic, sustainable and affordable produce with your own personal budget, regardless of where you are in the world.

Those with higher incomes quite possibly live in more upscale neighborhoods in which local, natural markets and farmers markets are within walking or a few miles biking or driving distance. Since the housing prices in Seattle have made it difficult for middle class to find affordable housing – looking to those living on middle-to-low incomes or at poverty level – we can’t expect high-end organic markets to be available in neighborhoods where residents cannot afford their products. Expensive farmers markets won’t help much, even for those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a program that has received recent cuts and is constantly threatened with more.

At a recent Community Alliance for Global Justice meeting, in which concerned folks from all over Seattle came to talk about racism, classism and sexism in the global food system, one woman spoke about the Safeway in Rainier Beach, a neighborhood in South Seattle. “You all talk about there being no access to grocery stores in ‘food deserts,’ but even the Safeway close to me…their produce is horrible,” she explained. “I went into a Safeway in Ballard a few months ago, and it was like night and day.” Ballard: a popular, up-and-coming and expensive neighborhood in Northwest Seattle.

Some local farms, P-Patches and guerrilla gardeners in the greater Seattle area are working hard to ensure healthy, organic and culturally appropriate foods are available to the community. Some are listed here. Through Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program, the Seattle Community Farm and our Giving Garden at Marra Farm are two other examples of efforts to create access to fresh organic produce. But a couple hundred acres in a metro area of 3.5 million people is only one small part of working for food justice. Real, systemic change in our food system is in order – not just talking about “real” versus “junk” food.

40 years of healthy food & food justice

Food Bank waiting 1993

Customers in line at the Fremont Food Bank, circa 1987; the Food Bank was transferred to FamilyWorks in 1999.

For more than 40 years, Solid Ground and its predecessor, the Fremont Public Association, have been feeding a hungry community and promoting food justice.

In 1974, our Fremont Food Bank was one of the first in Seattle’s north end. But it takes more than distributing food to fully address hunger.

So we started working with food banks, educators, chefs and businesses to help families develop skills to improve their food security and build lifelong healthy eating habits.

Solid Ground's Food Resources transports produce to local food banks throughout Seattle.

Solid Ground’s Food Resources transports produce to local food banks throughout Seattle.

In 1979, we partnered with the City of Seattle to create Food Resources, which developed into the backbone of the Seattle food bank system, providing administrative and technical support and transportation.

In the late 1980s we organized Lettuce Link to support P-Patch community gardeners and other backyard gardeners to grow produce for local food banks, and to provide seeds and vegetable starts for families who patronized food banks, supporting them in growing their own food – but the need for fresh produce was far greater.

Solid Ground now operates farms in the South Park neighborhood and at the Rainier Vista housing community.

Solid Ground now operates farms in the South Park neighborhood and at the Rainier Vista housing community.

So in the mid-1990s we partnered with community groups and spearheaded the Marra Farm Coalition to steward one of two remaining original farmland sites in Seattle at Marra Farm. There, hundreds of volunteers a year tend our Giving Garden to grow organic produce for people with limited access to nutritious produce, and we engage people in organic gardening, food justice and environmental stewardship. The Giving Garden produces about 25,000 pounds of fresh organic produce each year. In 2011, we opened a second urban growing operation adjacent to the Rainier Vista housing development, Seattle Community Farm, which provides education and inspiration while engaging the local community in growing fresh produce to support food security in Southeast Seattle.

Cooking Matters builds community through hands-on nutrition education.

Cooking Matters builds community through hands-on nutrition education.

During the mid-1990s we also launched a partnership with the national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength to bring Operation Frontline (now Cooking Matters) classes into our community. These six-week courses are presented at community-based partner organizations throughout Western Washington. They utilize volunteer chefs and nutritionists to support healthy cooking skills, nutrition education and food budgeting. Share Our Strength was also our partner in turning the Fremont Food Bank into the region’s first Super Pantry, which married emergency food and a full array of family support services. The Super Pantry eventually spun off as a stand-alone nonprofit, FamilyWorks.

In 2005, our nutrition education and skill-building efforts expanded into local schools through the Apple Corps, which uses national service teams to address the root causes of hunger and other health inequities in low-income communities.

Apple Corps Market Night at a local elementary school.

Apple Corps Market Night at a local elementary school.

The Giving Garden at Marra is our outdoor classroom. Students from Concord International Elementary School and other partner organizations learn about environmental issues in their community as they also learn to garden and prepare nutritious food. Our work in schools and with other community organizations is an important aspect of a growing movement towards a sustainable food system that is equitable for all.

We believe that ending hunger and creating equitable access to healthy food starts with breaking bread together. It draws on the experience and expertise of many organizations, community groups and individuals. And over 40 years, the education and access supported by Solid Ground helps empower people to achieve food justice.

For more information about this work and how you or your group can get involved, contact Gerald Wright, Hunger & Food Resources Director.

Cooking matters vol 2013

 

June 2014 Groundviews: Growing healthy partnerships

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the June 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

If you visit Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood on any given day from March to October, you’re likely to find a beehive of activity — often involving groups of students from Concord International School (pre-K through 5th grade), located just a few blocks away. Via collaboration with Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link and Apple Corps programs and Concord teachers, students learn about nutrition, the environment, and sustainable gardening and food systems. 

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton works one-to-one with a Concord International student. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At the center of the buzzing, you might find Amelia Swinton, Lettuce Link Education Coordinator, who describes her job as “the meeting ground of two different education programs.” There’s gardening education through Lettuce Link, combined with nutrition education through Apple Corps. In the fall and winter, she partners with an Apple Corps AmeriCorps member to teach weekly indoor nutrition-education lessons at Concord. Then during the growing season, classes move outdoors for hands-on gardening at Marra Farm, where kids get to “Adopt-a-Plot” that they plant, nurture and harvest themselves. Best of all, they get to bring the veggies home for their families to enjoy.

Nate Moxley, Lettuce Link Program Manager, says it’s “a collective approach. We’re working together to achieve common goals around food justice, access and education. Almost everything that we do comes back to that.”

Engaging families
Since 1998, Solid Ground’s involvement as one of several stewarding organizations at Marra Farm has greatly increased access to healthy nutritious food in South Park, and one of the most effective conduits for this has been Concord students themselves. When Solid Ground launched the Apple Corps program in 2007 to do nutrition and fitness education in schools and nonprofits, Concord became a natural partner.

In addition to classroom lessons, there are afterschool events designed  not only to engage families, but also to encourage self-determination where healthy food choices are concerned. Annual “Market Night” celebrations are one such event, combining health and nutrition information and activities with cultural sharing presentations, and an open-air market where each kid is empowered to choose from and “purchase” a variety of fresh produce.

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Rained out from the outdoor classroom, Joanne cooks up some fresh produce grown at Marra Farm. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

At Concord’s recent Market Night, Amelia introduced us to Joanne – a 4th grader and very enthusiastic budding gardener – who has brought her family to the Farm on several occasions. Joanne tells us, “I like Marra Farm because they garden, and also they let other kids do it.” Her favorite veggie to grow is “peas. They’re actually a little hard; you have to use sticks so they can climb, and you need to water them and weed them every single time.”

Joanne definitely thinks it’s better to grow your own food rather than buy it in a grocery store because, “It’s more nutritious, because you’re proud of yourself, and you think it’s very good!” She says someday, “I’m going to go and make my own garden in the back of my house.” For now, she and her parents are happy to live so close to Marra Farm.

Another way families get involved is through student-led Community Kitchens, known at Concord as “4th Grade Cooks.” Amelia says, “The logic behind 4th Grade Cooks is that the best way to learn something is to teach it – and kids should be the nutrition teachers for their families. Kids are a great ‘carrot’ to get their whole family involved, and then it becomes a night where kids are in the lead in cooking healthy food – the end result being a fun, positive space where everybody eats a healthy, free dinner. And what family doesn’t want to come cook with their cute kid?”

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Amelia Swinton helps Concord International 5th graders tell the difference between weeds and edible plants. (Photo by Brad Fenstermacher)

Honoring community strengths
In South Park, 30% of residents speak Spanish, and Latino students make up the largest ethnic group (over 61%) at Concord. As an international school, the dual-language immersion program strives for all students to become bilingual/biliterate in English and Spanish. While Amelia is fluent in Spanish, she says she hopes that Solid Ground’s work in South Park will become “more community based and build leadership amongst folks from the neighborhoods where we’re working. As a white educator not from the community, this feels especially important to me.”

One way Amelia connects the community to gardening and nutrition education efforts is to invite parents and teachers to guest-teach classes in their areas of expertise. Recently, one student’s mom gave his class a tour of the Marra Farm Chicken Co-op that she helped to create. “To encourage families to share some of their knowledge is a really powerful way of switching out those roles of who has knowledge, and who’s the giver of knowledge, and who’s the receiver of knowledge.”

But she adds, “I think the most important kernels of my work at Marra Farm are getting kids to bond with nature and healthy eating – and doing so in a way that acknowledges how agriculture and farming have been felt really disproportionately by different communities. Particularly in the Latino community, there’s been a lot of suffering through agriculture. There is also a huge amount of knowledge and pride. I hope the program continues to grow in a way that acknowledges people’s different experiences, while leading with the really beautiful and important things that happen when people love on their environment, feed their bodies well, and treat animals with respect.”

Amelia says, “Part of what makes nutrition education and the Marra Farm Giving Garden such a natural fit is that nutrition is all about, ‘Eat your fruits and veggies!’ And the Giving Garden makes it possible in a community that would otherwise struggle to access produce. Where do you get fresh vegetables? Marra Farm! Actually being able to say, ‘This is important and this is how you can get it’ is really powerful.”

Cooking Matters’ diabetes classes meet an increasing need

Everyone lives with diabetes these days. Of course, the 25.8 million Americans who are currently diagnosed with it experience the brunt of the disease. But everyone lives with it. Whether you’re genetically predisposed to it, have high blood pressure or even just watch what you eat, it’s all around you.

Choose My Plate is the new Food Pyramid

Choose My Plate is the new Food Pyramid

In a food system where the cheaper, highly concentrated high fructose corn syrup regularly replaces real sugar and enriched wheat-packed processed foods dominate the affordable grocery market, the influx of people living on low incomes with diabetes is no mere coincidence. So, in a society with disparities in access to healthy food options, we all must think before we eat and make the right choices, whether it’s to prevent diabetes, maintain our health, or provide for a diabetic loved one.

You’ve probably heard this mantra before: Keep a healthy weight, make smart food choices and be active every day. It’s pretty easy to say. But in communities with limited access to affordable fresh produce, the actual doing of those things is incredibly difficult. That is why Cooking Matters, a program of Solid Ground in partnership with Share Our Strength, has started to offer diabetes classes. The series is made up of six weekly classes and focuses on diabetes prevention and management through healthy choices about food and physical activity.

While this disease becomes more commonplace, it can still be a difficult thing to talk about, especially for those living on low incomes. Since access to healthy food is a tough issue in the first place, openly discussing the physical and emotional tolls that diabetics endure can be challenging. This type of discussion is encouraged in Week 1, where the information provided is also meant to complement the current curriculum taught in Cooking Matters for Adults classes.

This first series for Cooking Matters Seattle was held at the Sea Mar Community Health Center in Burien, a region in King County that typically sees a lot of families and individuals living on low incomes from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds.

“[Cultural diets] do play a big role in how we structure the class,” says Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Program Coordinator at Solid Ground. “We try as best as we can to diversify a recipe. At the beginning of the series (Week 1), we will ask participants, ‘What are some things that you’d like to learn in class?’ ” she says, explaining that healthy versions of traditional recipes or ingredient substitutions can be planned out over the course of the class series. “Oftentimes people are vegetarian or have different beliefs. So if they’re Kosher, we make sure to note that and take that into account.”

As the first local Cooking Matters class focusing on diabetes-centric nutrition, Sandra says that attendance was at capacity. Having access to knowledgeable specialists may have been a factor. “In the diabetes class, we do require that the nutritionist is a registered dietician,” Sandra says. “Unlike our other adult, family and teen classes where we require volunteers to have some background in nutrition and cooking, but not a degree.”

If the goal is to expand these diabetes-focused classes to more regions, more often, then we’re on our way. Another series is due in the fall of 2014. But new class series are heavily dependent on word of mouth from previous program participants, volunteers and donors. “We teach healthy cooking, nutrition and how to prevent diseases,” says Sandra. “I feel like people gain a lot from the class, and yet we don’t have enough resources to offer the curriculum [more frequently].”

Please click here if you’d like to learn more about participating in, volunteering for or coordinating a Cooking Matters class. Can’t wait until fall? ChooseMyPlate.gov is a useful, free tool you can use to put together nutritious, preventative meals yourself.

Cooking Matters receives local in-kind donations from Charlie’s Produce and Whole Foods Market.

Cooking Matters: A recipe for changing lives

Cooking Matter class at Brettler Family Place

At the end of their second class, participants and volunteers line up to share the dinner they’ve just prepared together.

There aren’t many activities that can compete with sharing a home-cooked meal with family, neighbors and friends. That is until you combine it with lessons that put a smile on your child’s face and give you a repertoire of resources and know-how to keep your family healthy.

Cooking Matters is a Solid Ground program offering six-week classes designed to teach healthy habits, mindful shopping, food competence and meal planning – all with a dash of fun.

At the start of one recent class for Brettler Family Place residents, two families queued up outside the community kitchen bathroom to wash their hands while volunteers unpacked ingredients on the chef’s table. After washing their hands, the father and mother of one family automatically grabbed a can of beans and began reading the label and asking questions. This was only their second class, but they were already forming healthy habits.

Describing the healthy lifestyle changes Cooking Matters promotes, Program Supervisor Raquel DeHoyos explained, “It’s like brushing your teeth. You just have to make a habit out of it. Our format is pretty basic. We just want to give everyone the same foundation – some basics and go-tos – if you’re looking to incorporate healthy eating habits.”

Solid Ground partners with Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger, which provides curricula, supplies and staff training for the program – along with tasty recipes. The simple recipes prepared during this class were nutritious, quick and packed a punch of flavor. The families and volunteers unanimously voted the appetizer – a spicy white bean dip served with pita slices – as the new football game snack favorite.

One rule of the class requires each participant to taste everything once to expand food choices and sharpen palates. The families played a blind taste test game with this rule in mind. While the parents were pleasantly surprised by jicama, the kids enjoyed pomegranate and grapefruit the most – sometimes sneaking to the bowls on the back table to grab more. Volunteers provided tips on how to incorporate their favorite items in future meals and suggested alternatives if those ingredients weren’t available.

Cooking Matters is funded through SNAP Ed and an annual fundraiser called Chefs Night Out. Program sponsors, Whole Foods Market and Charlie’s Produce, donate all the food for the program, so families living on a limited budget have at least one fallback meal for the week. The families were given a helping of each selection from the taste game, as well as all the ingredients for the meal they prepared for dinner to experiment with at home. Not only do families get to practice cooking the recipes, but they have the opportunity to share quality time cooking and eating as a family at home.

“It’s so easy for people to connect over food and cooking,” Raquel affirmed. At the end of class, when everyone sat down to eat the meal they had prepared together, there was a sense of shared accomplishment – delight evident on everyone’s smiling faces. The class is a social event as much as a learning opportunity – a chance to escape from the stresses of life.

Raquel recalls a past participant’s gratitude for the stability the class provided in her hectic life. “A mother of two kids experiencing homelessness took who knows how many buses to get to class each week. She said that every other aspect of her life was so discombobulated, and this class was the only thing that kept them together.

“They needed something routine and structured,” Raquel explained, “because they didn’t have that in the rest of their lives. This mother was able to go to class with her children, which was fun and an escape from worries. At the same time she looked forward to having at least one meal at home with her family. And now she can’t keep her youngest away from vegetables. She has to constantly watch him at the farmers market because he is always trying to eat the veggies. That’s a true testament to what this class can do,” Raquel laughed.

In 2013, Cooking Matters served a total of 740 participants in 58 sessions. This year – Cooking Matters’ 20th anniversary – the program is reaching toward a goal of 65 six-week sessions, and expansion statewide through satellite partners.

Raquel believes in the positive influence these classes have on the lives of those living on low or middle incomes. “For me, this program is about much more than cooking. This program can change a person’s life forever. Even if you’re only working with these people for six weeks, they take it with them, and they will continue to cook. They may not take everything, but they will take what works for them.”

Look for the Cooking Matters app available on iTunes and Google Play. If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information, please contact Cooking Matters staff at 206.694.6846 or at cooking@solid-ground.org

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