Sam is one of HIP’s Nutrition Program Coordinator AmeriCorps members. Her term is ending at the beginning of July with HIP. In this piece she is reflecting on her experience she had running HIP’s cooking and nutrition education classes in the community.
Leading Cooking Matters classes provided me the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people regularly. Whether it was making tostadas with teenage girls, learning about MyPlate with elementary school students, practicing chopping vegetables with retired Seattle seniors, or sharing recipes with low-income immigrant adults, I had the opportunity to collaborate with others of dramatically different backgrounds than my own and hear their stories. These stories and moments were not just superficial moments of polite conversation, but conversations of genuine curiosity and excitement. By sharing these authentic moments with others, we are taking important steps to building strong, diverse, and welcoming communities.
One interaction that stands out the most to me was with one of my adult ESOL (English as Second or Other Language) Cooking Matters students. The lesson that day took us outside to the grocery store to practice shopping for healthier options. On our walk to the store, we had a chance to chat about our interests outside of food. This student shared with me their previous career and life in Iran. After graduating college, they had a career restoring ancient monuments. As a former student of anthropology and archaeology, I was star struck. On that short walk, we shared stories about their work travels, the toll of war, regime change, and the passing of time have on these priceless monuments. I left class that day inspired by this student’s breadth of knowledge and energized by their passion for history.
In another Cooking Matters class, as we were chopping vegetables for tostadas, a participant shared with me details of her previous life in Jordan. As she spoke, it was obvious she was confident, intelligent, and was very skilled in the kitchen. She shared with me that she worked as a school Principal back in Jordan, but here, she works as a Nanny. As we talked, she was eager to share with us the best foods in Jordan, her favorite recipes, and what we should order should we ever visit. We may enter the classroom as instructors, but we often take on the role of student. In this way, I often feel like I leave a class having learned more than I taught.
It is impossible to recount every story like these. Every class we taught had them. And every class was an opportunity to share and celebrate what makes us different and the same all at once. What I have learned from these stories is that even though people may come from far away or seem very different, when we take the time to speak and listen openly and authentically over a shared a meal, we can find community in places we least expect. These small moments that accumulate over time are the foundation of relationships and community-building, and I am inspired by HIP’s consistent dedication to creating these moments and fostering these relationships within diverse communities.