Project CHEF: Investing in Food and Our Future

All too often we hear about something great, like a store, show, or restaurant, and file it away in the Remember to Check Out section of our mental rolodexes. Other times, news of splendiferousness will bonk you on the head like a cast iron grill pan and push its way to the very front, demanding attention!

Last year I read a piece in Edible Vancouver about Project CHEF (Cook Healthy Edible Food), a right-here-in-Vancouver example of a local culinarian tackling the food system, beginning with setting up our future for success. Similar to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and School Dinners, Chef Barb Finley aims to educate youngsters about the foods they eat, or at least should be eating and aren’t getting either at home or in school. It is shocking and disheartening when kids don’t even know what they have for dinner, or even sadder, don’t have much of one at all.

After reading, it became important to find out more about Chef Barb and her mission. Before attending Northwest was even a consideration (where she also teaches summer camps for youth!) I felt the need to meet this amazing person, and see if there was a way to help out. Fortunately, there was, and I spent a few days last week with her amazing team at an elementary school.

Sweet setup!

Project CHEF is something that is so well-organized and really needs to be seen in action. Chef Barb glides through cooking demos with ease, transitions through teaching the same recipes for different grades with finesse, holds the attention of a room full of youngsters as if it were nothing at all, tells food stories to the children as if she were their favourite auntie (which they love), builds their self-confidence, and somehow manages to contain all of the excitement buzzing around, while her ninja-like assistants swiftly take care of business in the background. She is so humble for a person who is doing something with such a huge ripple effect.

It is so crucial that Project CHEF continues to exist. The state of food knowledge and nutrition that kids usually receive today isn’t good enough to sustain them, and I would give it a failing grade, because I think we are failing our children. And by we, I don’t mean me, because I don’t have any kids, but we in the British sense, as in as a society.

When people don’t know how to cook or put together healthy meals, with all of today’s resources available at our fingertips, should they be having kids who will be completely dependent upon them for all of their meals? If you don’t bother to learn, should you be raising and teaching the children tomorrow? This is an issue that infuriates me.

Jamie Oliver said it best on TV to a woman with a house full of obese kids and a freezer full of instant garbage:

You are killing your kids!”

She was crying and said she didn’t know what to do. In today’s day and age, in a country like the UK, that is embarrassing and her situation should not be happening on as wide a basis as it does around the world. How about picking up a book? Or Google searching “healthy recipes” because there are 19,800,000 results? It takes just as much time to throw rubbish food in the oven as it does to quickly chop a few veggies and make a stir-fry so there are no good excuses. What my point is, is that if you don’t have 20 seconds to Google search, how do you find time to parent?

On the flip side of things, it is so great that moms and dads also volunteer sometimes, and often visit to tell us how happy and excited the kids are at home, and how much they’re spreading the knowledge, as part of their homework is to teach their families something about food each day. Sometimes the kids pleasantly surprise us with what parents have taught them already, and it’s good to know that what happens for the week they spend with Project CHEF made an impact!

I was only there for a little while (and hope to continue on), but it was very clearly spectacular to behold and shining moments will be remembered for a long time. Some of the kids are very bright and encouraging in their work groups, like the kid who started a vegetable-eating contest with a reluctant classmate at his table, and the kindergarten and first grade students graduated at the end of the week in poofy little chef hats that they made out of tissue paper. Enough to make your heart melt! We also had to take part in an earthquake drill, which I thought was funny, because all cooks should hope not to spend their careers cowering and protecting their heads.

My dad, like many other parents, always said that he wanted for all of us kids to grow up and have better lives than his. To be smarter, healthier, and make better decisions than he did. And I am so grateful that he raised us that way, but I still have to call and ask if he’s eating his vegetables.

Eat well!

Kari

If you are a person or organization interested in volunteering, or would like to donate funding to Project CHEF, please visit www.projectchef.ca .

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