After I finished up my master's of education in May last year, I began developing the Alma Community Outreach Program alongside the opening of Alma Restaurant in downtown LA last June. The restaurant's co-owner and chef, Ari Taymor, agreed the community outreach program would be an essential component of the business—coupling our passion for food with education.
The program provides monthly classes teaching elementary and high school students how to create a healthy snack or meal. Beyond the cooking component, we hope to impart a sense of empowerment in the young people—the understanding that these recipes can be replicated at home, free from the confines of a cooking class.
It is inspired by my own experience working at the Tenderloin After School Program (TASP), in the heart of San Francisco’s notoriously high crime, low-income neighborhood. The neighborhood is also considered a food desert—there are no grocery stores located in the Tenderloin—which means that often the only option is to shop at the local liquor store where shelves are packed with cheap, high-processed foods.
TASP was open six days a week and I ran the Saturday program. I remember the kids would arrive around 10 a.m., often with a bag of hot chips and a bottle of coke in hand. They would consume these items as a substitute for breakfast and lunch, and subsequently complain of headaches, stomachaches, and exhaustion. I immediately realized how important it was for me to ensure we made something both healthy and delicious, with fresh and local ingredients. More importantly, I wanted to create a dish that could be easily accessed and easily produced at home, even in homes without an oven or stove.
We started by taking a field trip to the farmers market at the Ferry Building. I was apprehensive at first, bringing 25 kids to a place bustling with tourists and vendors, but I was determined to share with my students a part of the city that I adored the most. So we went—25 of us, by ferry, to the market. And it was grand. The kids devoured tastes of Frog Hollow pears, they munched on samples of homemade toffee, and we bought an array of fruit for a fruit salad feast to be prepared back at the program.
This memory stands out in my mind because it made me realize that I didn’t have to do something massive to have a real impact on my students’ lives. Rather, if I started simple, started small, I had the power to make real change that could ultimately positively impact the lives of my students and their families.
So, what can you do? While it can certainly feel overwhelming at times to believe that change can be made when we are constantly inundated with news of increases in obesity, the prevalence of high processed foods, and the challenge of food access and food policies, change can be made. And change is being made across the country, thanks to inspiring people and incredible organizations.
To start, start small. Log on to edibleschoolyard.org
and join the revolution by creating an account for yourself. This organization inspires me each day. One of the goals of Edible Schoolyard is to cultivate a network of likeminded people that are dedicated to change. So dedicate yourself, and be that change.
Original image via (cc) flickr user famfriendsfood