Raising Conscious Cravers
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I’ve always loved to eat, but I didn’t always eat well. As an overweight teen, my pediatrician told me I was on a path to an obese adulthood. Fearful of obesity, I lost the weight in two years and experienced the connection between eating well and being well.
Later I learned more at the Natural Gourmet Institute, a cooking school that links mental, physical and spiritual health to our food choices. Afterward, I decided to teach urban teens the lessons I needed when I was a pudgy teenager. While fear may have been my catalyst for changing what I eat, I motivate young people in entertaining ways—encouraging them to eat well because they love food and they want to have fun being their best selves.
The me I want to be from A to Z
My class starts with teens describing the person they want to be. They shout out adjectives for their best selves from “A” for “active” to “Z” for “zealous.” Then, leaving food out of the equation, I ask for synonyms of junk, like “garbage” and “clutter,” and health like “vibrant” and “energetic.” When we review, students decide that junk is undesirable and negative while health is desired and positive. Things change, though, when food is added to the mix. Suddenly, junk food is delicious, and they want a lot of it. Health food is bland, and they avoid it.
But when I substitute junk with some of their synonyms—asking, would junk food be as appetizing if it were called “garbage” food or “clutter,” food—they say “No, I never thought about it like that.” And when I ask if junk or health will help them become who they want to be from A to Z, they say “Health! But junk food tastes better!” I smile and say, “We‘ll see about that.”
People think I’m crazy for giving teens knives. But to teach young people to eat well, I have to teach them to cook, with a real knife. Correct and efficient knife usage is a necessary skill for cooking to be safe and fun. Plus, as I watch my students learn to chiffonade fresh kale, dice purple onions, chop organic chicken and mince fragrant herbs, I see their confidence grow and I know they are one step closer to being responsible for their well‐being and making better food choices.
The language of eating
I want young people to spice up the language they use to talk about food. A rich food vocabulary allows young people to speak descriptively about their likes and dislikes. Instead of “Eew, that’s nasty!” or “That’s good,“ I teach students to say, “This tastes too bitter for me” or “This is crisp and refreshing.” This judgment‐free talk allows young people to express their reactions while being respectful. It creates an open‐minded space in which they can develop their sense of taste, giving them the power to make any dish enjoyable. It teaches young people they don’t have to like every food but that trying a new dish or ingredient is a worthwhile adventure.
Spread the word
Young people everywhere deserve the chance to learn to better feed themselves, their family and their community. The good news is that fun food education can happen in almost any community location. All you need is an experienced cook or holistic nutritionist willing to teach teens (that person may be YOU, by the way), a few inexpensive tools and equipment and a few recipe and curriculum ideas. Talk to your local library, church, community center or school and start raising conscious cravers today.