Nutrition Education - Strengthening our Relationships with Food & Each Other

by Kathleen Costello, AmeriCorps VISTA Nutrition Education Coordinator

Hello all! I joined The Nashville Food Project's staff earlier this year as a member of Americorps’ Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps (AHOC). AHOC places Americorps members at different organizations throughout the county that are committed to reducing hunger in their local community. 

My role at The Nashville Food Project involves creating nutrition education opportunities for several of TNFP’s community partners. These activities include inviting students to our kitchen to make healthy snacks, teaching hands-on cooking classes at summer camps, and leading food demonstrations with some of our community partner organizations. 

I just finished providing hands-on cooking sessions at the PENCIL Foundation’s summer camp. This two-week camp taught students about environmental issues such as pollution and water conservation through fun activities, speakers, and field trips. The Nashville Food Project provided lunch twice a week, and I got to lead the kids in cooking classes that had an environmental component. For one of our sessions, we made local “berry scones” with raspberries picked from our Wedgewood Urban Gardens. Besides being insanely delicious (I ate three) it gave students the opportunity to see how many miles non-local food travels compared to locally grown food. Just purchasing two local ingredients for this recipe—cream and raspberries—saved over 4,000 miles of food travel!

(For a peek at how far a non-local strawberry travels to get to a consumer, take a look at this great video from the Ad Council.)

Another nutrition class underway is at Nashville CARES, an organization that provides resources and support to people diagnosed with or at risk of contracting HIV. Every other Wednesday, I bring a hot, made-from-scratch lunch made by our volunteers, and I give a cooking demonstration for one of the meal components. I remember being so nervous for my first class…how would these strong individuals who are dealing with a serious immune disease going to react to this fidgety 20-something intern encouraging them to eat more vegetables? I was taught that the most important part of teaching is connecting with your students… but how could I connect with an audience so seemingly-different from me?

It turns out the answer was pasta salad. I asked about their favorite foods, and Margaret, a fiery grandmother with glittery fingernails, told me how she loves pasta salad, but wanted to learn some new ways to make it. I shared the first pasta salad recipe I’d ever made, someone else mentioned his mother’s go-to ingredient (Italian salad dressing) and the conversation rolled on from there. This week, per Margaret’s request, I’m going to show them how to make a pesto pasta salad made from carrot tops. I guess we aren’t so different after all.

Before my experience at The Nashville Food Project, I thought the most important part of being an educator was walking into the room with all of the answers. But the more time I spend with such amazing and unique individuals, the more I realize that my job is not to provide the right answers, but to ask the right questions. It’s about understanding people and what drives the food choices they make. It’s about working together to find out what the barriers are to making healthy choices, and how we can break those down and build new, healthier relationships with food and each other.

It most likely also involves a freshly baked scone and a killer pasta salad recipe.