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Scene In Detroit: Cooking Really Does Matter

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(Photo: Amelia Kanan) Chef Jake Williams demonstrates how some techniques aren't just cool to do but are important for sanitation in the kitchen.

(Photo: Amelia Kanan) Chef Jake Williams demonstrates how some techniques aren’t just cool to do but are important for sanitation in the kitchen.

By Amelia Kanan, CBSDetroit Blogger

Eating healthy, clean and whole has become quite a fad across the U.S., especially with the urbanites. However, unlike skinny jeans and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this trend has become quite instrumental in the fight for wellness and health, especially in Detroit.

Important nutritional philosophies have dripped down from the top of the socioeconomic bracket and puddled into social outreach initiatives for the lowest income bracket where obesity and unhealthy lifestyles are rampant. The national organization Cooking Matters, an arm of Share Our Strength, is a prime example of a successful non-profit that brings professional chefs and nutritionists into the kitchen to educate these low income people who don’t have the knowledge or means.

In connection with Detroit’s own Gleaner’s Community Food Bank, classes are offered that interactively educate adults, teens, kids and families how to prepare easy, healthy meals on a budget.

“Putting it into practice is crucial,” said Dorothy Hernandez of Cooking Matters when explaining how the leaders of the classes are sensitive to the demographic’s lifestyle. Not just nutrition basics are taught, but the differences between types of fat, the importance of fiber and the appropriate portions in a meal, especially protein. “The biggest ‘aha’ moment people have, is the portion of their meat or protein” and “when you tell them they can save $500 a year by eating the proper proportion, they’re game,” Chef Jake Williams shared.

Other lessons and tips that are a part of the curriculum are things such as label reading, pantry stocking, the difference between ‘sometimes foods’ and ‘every day foods’, what bad food actually does to your body and how good you can feel from eating whole foods.

The knowledge of health and nutrition has been isolated to groups such as the educated, wealthy and bored housewives of this country but the ones who suffer from the most health issues are actually on the opposite end of that spectrum — and how you eat is ironically the cheapest solution. That leads into the another huge misconception: it’s not affordable for people to eat healthy on tight budgets. “We’re trying to debunk the myth that eating is expensive,” Sarah Mills, a manager of Cooking Matters in Detroit explained.

There are a number of classes offered that target specific demographics such as families, kids, teens, adults as well as adults with diabetes. The families have been blown away with not only the information but the flavor as well. “It’s like a party in my mouth,” a little boy said after sampling a cucumber tuna boat. “Everyone thinks healthy food is going to taste like cardboard and because it doesn’t, they’re excited to implement it,” Williams added.

Some favorites include mango salsa, hummus, ground turkey and veggie stir fry. The Cooking Matters cookbook uses cheap ingredients like instant barley, store brand whole wheat pastas and brown rice to make meals that are around $10 for 4-6 people. Anyone can benefit from that. In fact, a grad school student who had worked as a chef before going into Psychology was surprised to find out one of his students lived on the same budget as him, “That’s what I spend on food too!”

To implement these things into their lives, students are sent home with key ingredients they used in class to try out in their own kitchens. They get to share their excitement of what they’ve learned, share the yumminess and spread the word of wellness to their families and communities.

The recipe for this organization’s outreach approach is the best dish of all. The combination of enthusiastic teachers and volunteers, the strong personalities of the students, the awe-inspiring knowledge that is taught and the surprises of flavor and fun are all responsible for the success.

To get involved or donate check out Cooking Matters Michigan for all the information.

Thank you to volunteer Rohani Foulkes for raising my own awareness of such a great ‘scene’ in Detroit!

Amelia Kanan is freelance writer/photographer and a returning native of Detroit. A graduate of Columbia College in Chicago, she wrote for an Emmy nominated sketch comedy show and pursued her passion for documentary filmmaking in Los Angeles. An incomplete list of her loves: books, human rights, improv, the smell of new shoes, talking to strangers, libraries, France, yoga, furniture, music, sociology and pushing the limits. See a photo gallery HERE

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