The program is called Cooking Matters, a program of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. The goal is to help lower-income families learn to shop, cook and eat in a way that is affordable and healthy.
As is often the case with such things, I think I’ve gotten more out of it than the students have. But that’s not to say they aren’t learning, too. Each week, several participants have a “eureka” moment when they realize they like brown rice, they like the taste of foods with less salt, or they actually enjoy broccoli.
Cooking Matters is fairly new in Arkansas, only having had a few classes over the past two years as they geared up through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Mine is the first to use the “Families” curriculum, meaning we have kids and adults cooking and learning together. Now, local coordinators are seeking out new locations and instructors to place classes all over the state.
Each week, we get settled into our “kitchen” (some classes are taught in an actual kitchen, while others, like this one, are done in a meeting room) and begin with a lesson from a nutritionist. (Last week’s demonstrated the amount of fat in a fast-food meal by putting equivalent amounts of Crisco on a bun. Several haven’t had fast food since!) Then, we review topics such as knife skills, food safety or the like, and then we go over the recipe for the day.
Then it gets crazy! The room buzzes with the happy madness of several families cooking at once. I demonstrate each step from my station, and then sometimes walk around to help the students complete it. When we’re done, we all gather together at a large table, demonstrating the importance of eating together as a family. Here, we try each others’ dishes, talk about the lesson, laugh, learn from each others’ lives. Then I close with a challenge for the next week, such as choosing healthy ingredients or limiting fast food.
I’m writing this now to tell you how you can help. I’ve seen firsthand how lives are changed. Not only do I hope the program becomes funded for expansion, I want you to feel the happiness of knowing you’ve changed lives for the better — with cooking.
On Tuesday, July 31, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is holding a fundraiser event at The Oxford American that is a must-attend. The funds will stay in the state to fund Cooking Matters, as well as to help increase participation in existing programs such as WIC, SNAP and summer feeding programs. (For more info on why, read this; many hungry Arkansas kids don’t take advantage of the help that’s available.)
I seriously hope you’ll take action today to make sure you’ll be there. Tickets are $150 each, with table sponsorships available for $1,500. Ask your employer to participate, especially if you’re in the food industry.
The No Kid Hungry Dinner will be hosted by Chef Donnie Ferneau (Rocket 21) and will showcase the talents of some of Little Rock’s best chefs, including Brian DeLoney (Maddie’s Place) and Kelli Marks (Sweet Love), as well as visiting chefs John Currence (City Grocery, Oxford, MS) and Marcel Vigneron (Modern Global Tasting Inc., Los Angeles, CA).
You can buy tickets online or get more information about the event here.
P.S. Chef Donnie Ferneau has approved my schlepping in the kitchen for the event, so I’ll be live-blogging (or after-the-fact blogging, depending on how busy he keeps me) the whole thing, from the perspective of the chefs! Stay tuned.