WEIGHING IN AT A MERE 115 LBS OF PURE BIKE RIDING MUSCLE AND MEASURING JUST UNDER 5’4″ …. LITTLE SARAH NELSON
I have written about Cooking Matters before, but want to give the topic a little more attention. Cooking Matters is a national program whose mission it is to teach lower income people free cooking and nutrition. While Cooking Matters provides the materials and basic curriculum for the classes, the love/sweat/tears that has made teaching thousands of people in the Bay area how to be healthier possible, is Sara Nelson.
When I first volunteered to be a “chef” in a Cooking Matters class, the program was called Operation Frontline and Sarah worked for the Pacific Coast Farmer’s market association. The PCFMA provided business infrastructure and vehicles. Sarah and a small crew of people ran the entire program, which included finding facilities that would host the classes, writing grant applications, picking up produce, training volunteers, hauling equipment from location to location and everything else that you can imagine for very little compensation.
One day, the PCFMA announced that they would no longer offer the program, which meant that Sarah and her crew were out of jobs and that all of the pending Cooking Matters classes around the entire Bay Area would never be.
I could not believe this was happening. I wanted to continue to volunteer to teach these classes and was so sad for the thousands of people that would no longer benefit. I called Sarah and said, “Sarah, you don’t need nobody! Go ahead and start your own non-profit, cus that is so easy!” NOT. Sarah is a spitfire to say the least and my suggestion was old news because those wheels were already spinning.
So why all of this backstory? Today, Sarah Nelson is the director of Three Squares, the non-profit that runs Cooking Matters in the Bay Area. I think she just celebrated one year! She and her crew still do everything they did before and, still, for very little compensation, only the difference is that she has the satisfaction of knowing that she pretty much “saved” the Cooking Matters program in the Bay Area. Oh and guess who is on the board? I was all a flutter when Sarah asked, “hey, ya wanna be on my board?” I didn’t really even know what that meant. I hate meetings, but love Sarah and Cooking Matters, so onto the board I went. (our meetings involve good food and humor, so they aren’t so bad)
I really do love teaching them. The way they are structured is that a host site provides the location and participants for the classes. In the case of my last class and my newest class, they take place in lower income housing developments. Each class lasts six weeks. We meet once a week for a few hours. The first half of the class is run by a volunteer nutritionist that educates the class about reading food labels, understanding the difference between good fats and bad fats, having a balanced meal and lot more valuable nutrition info. Then I come in and teach them how to make healthier meals using whole ingredients, whole grains and more “veggies” while not compromising on flavor. We teach basic knife skills, but we are not there to train iron chefs. I do teach all of the participants my signature, “how to section an orange”, which is kinda fancy and cool. Oh, and at the end of each class, every person takes home some produce so they can make the recipe at home. Pretty cool.
The participants in my classes have varied greatly from Spanish speaking, Korean, Chinese Russian, young and old, but they are all lovely people who are so happy to be learning new skills. Many of them know how to cook really well and have even taught me a thing or two. I do sometimes wonder whether the messages really sink in, but then out of the blue, like last night, an African American woman who had a pretty serious face on during the entire 6 weeks walked up to me and my fellow volunteers and thanked us for helping her shop, cook and eat healthier.
I have to give props to another petite lady who runs my classes. Jury Sanchez is relatively new to the Three Squares team, but she lugs produce, equipment up and down and across town in her car like an expert. She is soft spoken and kind and has a smile that would light up a stadium. She is studying to be a nutritionist and works for Three Squares through Americorps. I don’t know how she does it all. I am 40 and so impressed by all of these young powerhouses that are doing great things in our community.
I don’t want to go on and on and on. I just wanted to tell you about what I do once a week that makes me feel really good. Oh and if I ever ask you for money or donations or anything, this is what it is for. If you would like to learn more, volunteer or donate some dough, please click here.
PLEASE ENJOY SOME PHOTOS FROM MY NEWEST COOKING MATTERS CLASS