Today we have the pleasure of featuring a guest article from Layla Sabourian of Chef Koochooloo, a neighbor and ally in the cause of better food education for everyone. With the success of her after-school program, Layla is running an Indiegogo campaign to fund the development of her new app. Head over to her campaign to show your support (Joyful 12 memberships are available as a reward), and learn more about her story right here.
Chef Koochoolo is a social enterprise focused on teaching kids math, science and geography through one hour long cooking sessions, while raising awareness about worldwide causes affecting kids.
I began working on my idea one year ago, after surviving a life-threatening situation. Like any parent in my situation, my biggest regret was the fact that I would not be able to spend enough time with my husband, and daughter. Having lost my parents at an early age, I was especially worried about my four year old daughter, knowing the type of life she would have ahead, not feeling loved or appreciated as a person. I worried that she would grow up facing the same health, and emotional issues I had experienced.
Growing up, I had to go from one relative’s house to another, struggling to fit in with my cousins and catch little glimpses of love from relatives. Needless to say, my self-confidence was completely shattered and I developed all kinds of emotional issues that manifested themselves via an eating disorder.
It began with the fact that I could not eat meat any more after discovering that a few animals I had grown attached to had been slaughtered and made into traditional stews (that were fed to me.) I felt a special sympathy towards the animals, and felt guilty for making their babies orphans, so I just could not eat meat items any more.
My relatives could not understand my ‘vegetarianism’ and one uncle would try to solve this issue by tying me down with a rope and forcing the pieces of meat down my throat. Up to this day, I have nightmares about those sessions. After months of trying to convert me into a carnival, another aunt stepped in to solve the issue by threatening me to go and see a physiologist.
My mother had suffered from mental illness and so the relatives would refer to her as the Crazy woman, and my aunt’s threats were to scare me away from seeing a Physiologist, because that would mean that like my mother, I was destined to be CRAZY .
I made the much feared trip to the Psychologist at age 10, he was a kind man who asked me a few questions about why I refused to eat meat. After hearing me say, because I don’t want to kill animals, he said, “Well did you know that plants are living organisms too?”
The way the physiologist painted such a vivid picture of living plants in my mind, I could no longer eat vegetables or fruits either after my visit, and my real nightmares began then. Every bite of food I would have to take was like torture to me, convinced I am killing some baby plants. There were times I had to be rushed to the hospital and hooked to IV’s to survive.
That is when I began surviving on processed unnatural foods. Candies and chocolate bars, anything that did not look like food was more comforting to me.
My first healing experience with food began in Mexico at age 21, I was working on a community development project, helping the poverty stricken communities in Guadalajara learn new talents, and somehow I got assigned to teaching a cooking class. I began teaching the ladies attending class traditional Persian recipes, and soon my class was packed. Children and men began attending, and as some of the children became adventurous chefs, urging me to try their creations inspired by my teachings, I began looking at food in an enjoyable way again.
Since my time in Mexico, I ended up living in many different countries and experiencing delicious international cuisines. Lying there in pain in the hospital, not knowing whether I would make it or not, I decided to jot down some of my favorite recipes for my daughter and husband. I divided the duties between big chef and little chef duties, and added fun stories about where I had first cooked those dishes.
After surviving, I began cooking together with my daughter more often, teaching her each recipe, involving her in the kitchen and also customizing each recipe to be dairy free for my husband’s dietary restrictions.
During cooking, I incorporated fun facts about the country we were cooking from, so that I could keep up my daughter’s interest, and I also talked about some of the challenges those kids faced. I would tell her about the Mexican kids that were my students, and their strength how they overcame the many challenges they had faced.
My daughter was fascinated by these stories and would tell her friends and teachers about it. Before long, our house was packed with neighbors and friends who wanted to participate in our cooking sessions, and soon a few local schools heard about it and asked whether we wanted to try teaching in their classroom.
With the help of teachers and educators, we developed our recipes into a rich curriculum that now includes math and science as part of the culinary journey. Will you join us?
While Layla takes a different approach to food education, we’re thrilled to have her as part of the better food education community. Thanks for sharing your story with us Layla, and let’s help this social enterprise bring their curriculum to more neighborhoods!