A special thank you to Laura Dudnick of the San Francisco Examiner, who covered our story so beautifully in her article on Friday, October 10th, “SF Cooking Class Offers Food Knowledge to Former Inmates.“
So often we want big change, and we want it immediately. But lasting change happens over time and in small, but positive increments. You can not possibly teach someone everything they’ll ever need to know about improving their health through food in just one cooking class, but you can set the stage in that class to inspire each and every student to want to keep learning from that point forward. Believe it or not, change can begin with even the most humble plate of roasted cauliflower.
That’s exactly what happened this past Monday at our Transitions Clinic Kitchen Warriors, Food For Health, event with CUESA (Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture) and Chef Annie Hanrahan of Y.U.M. Chefs. I was asked by the Director of Transitions Clinic, Dr. Shira Shavit, to create an event that would inspire and teach Health Care Workers of the Transitions Clinic the cooking and nutrition skills to go back to their 13 clinics in six states in the US and teach their patients how to use food as another tool in improving their health.
Transitions Clinics provide tailored medical care to chronically ill people who have recently come home from prison, and what’s special about their Community Health Care Workers is not only that they help patients navigate the medical system and social services, but that they’ve once been incarcerated themselves. They know the obstacles these returning prisoners are facing: over 90% are food insecure because they do not have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and productive life. Which is why so many patients find themselves having to skip meals when they once had three provided daily.
Given that September was Hunger Awareness month, this opportunity was even more special to me. The Transitions Clinic Community Health Care Workers connect their patients to the resources and access to food, which are two of the biggest components to food security. And yet, there is a third component to food security which is still lacking —after resources and access—the skill to prepare the fresh food they’ve received in an easy, nutritious, and delicious way.
So for my event, I knew that we had to inspire these teachers that face so many obstacles in helping their patients with one first positive experience: our cauliflower tasting. I strategically put a tasting at the beginning of class to ensure our participants would know that 1) taste is paramount in enjoying fresh foods vs. processed foods, and 2) that eating well could be simple and delicious. If you could have been a fly on the wall that night, you would have seen the room come alive! “This is as good as potato chips!” “Are you sure there isn’t butter on this cauliflower? Just olive oil, salt, and cumin?” “Really, it’s that simple to prepare?”
You see, in order to think about vegetables and fruits first, every day, when you have access and resources to feed yourself, you must place taste above all else. Researchers have found that in general, taste is the most important influence on food consumption, followed by cost, nutrition, convenience, and weight control, in that order. As a chef, when I can teach people how to make vegetables taste great and cook them in an easy way—I’m helping them remove some important barriers to eating for health.
So for this event, we focused on taste from beginning to end, and the joy that filled the room was electric! From our nutrition lesson with Chef Annie, learning how to cook brown rice, how to measure the content of added sugars in our favorite beverages, and how to get more fresh veggies into our diets daily, to my how to roast a whole chicken lesson, knife skills and our veggie chili cook off with the secret ingredient table, a community came together with the humble beginnings of a simple but positive experience with roasted cauliflower.
This month and always, start with small, positive changes and share what you learn with others. Never underestimate just how much you can impact your own community to make food for health a daily decision that’s easy and joyful!
- Cauliflower, 1 medium
- Cumin, 1 tsp.
- Olive oil, 3 TBS
- Salt, 1/2 tsp.
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Wash all produce.
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Pull off the tough outer green leaves.
- Cut the cauliflower through its core, forming two halves.
- Cut those in half again to have 4 working parts.
- Cut the core or tough stem off each of the 4 parts with a knife and use your fingers to tear off the florets, the small clusters of flowers.
- Toss cauliflower florets in olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle the cumin on top of the florets.
- Cook 15-20 minutes or until browned on one side.