Hallie worked with Spoons Across America during June and July thanks to a Professional Development Internship from The Culinary Trust. Born and raised in Manhattan, Hallie is a rising Junior at Yale University with a passion for food, food justice, and sustainability. We were lucky to have her enthusiasm and excitement for our mission with us this summer and look forward to continuing to have her on our team in the months and years to come.
My love for the kitchen is real – so real that at some point or another I read every single cookbook in my household from cover to cover. I probably should have been doing homework, but if it weren’t for all that productive procrastinating, I wouldn’t be here today interning at Spoons Across America.
I was drawn to Spoons Across America because I share the organization’s belief that an appreciation and understanding of food starts at the table. The act of cooking is an exercise in generosity and service. It takes time to go to the market, plan a menu, gather friends, clean the house. There is something so undeniably vital, spiritual, and essential to gathering around the table with other humans, and celebrating life over a home-cooked meal. That’s the way to get any message across – through sheer visceral enjoyment and connection. I was eager to engage in a kind of work this summer that would allow me to share my passion for the power of food as a source of conviviality, and think about this issue in a more cerebral way.
In a perfect world, there is always an excuse to be in the kitchen. Growing up, cooking dinner for my family acted as a kind of homework break. Being in the kitchen and handling ingredients – whether chopping onions or rolling dough –provided a moment of respite. Schooldays were draining, (as any workday can) but in the kitchen, there was a distinct purpose to my work: to cook dinner, to make it tasty, to make it healthy, and to enjoy it with my family. It was a place where I knew my role, and a world I was fortunate to grow up exposed to. And so, when my algebra II homework got old, I’d find myself baking homemade granola or experimenting with uses for asparagus butts.
I was fortunate to grow up exposed to good, seasonal food as a way of life, and I appreciated that fact more and more every day. So in my junior year of high school, I left home to attend a semester program in Vermont called The Mountain School. There, forty-five other students and I lived and worked on an organic farm that we also called home. We birthed sheep, took classes, grew vegetables, and mopped the dining hall. Never before had I felt so connected to a place, its land, its food, and its people. I came home more excited than ever about embracing the deliciousness of sustainability, and spent the next summer maintaining my family’s home garden and working on Waldingfield Farm in Connecticut.
Here’s the thing, though: trying to keep up with the summer harvest from just a half-acre home garden is harder than you might think. Even six people eating three meals a day out of the garden just won’t do it – the kale and zucchini just keep coming. And when we got sick of forcing bags of arugula on our friends (and their friends), I decided to learn about the art of jarring. I began preserving my family’s rhubarb, plums, and peaches in the form of jams and sauces, and pickling my cucumbers and carrots.
Some of my favorite days at Waldingfield were those spent running the stand in the Sandyhook farmers’ market. I loved the face-to-face aspect of it – answering the “what do I do with bok choy?” question, or teaching customers about the different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and sneaking samples of sungolds all day long.
That summer at Waldingfield led me to seek out a job during my senior year of high school with City Harvest, an organization that fights hunger in New York. There, I worked as a nutrition education intern, giving cooking classes to children and their parents from low-income neighborhoods of the Bronx, imparting strategies for healthy cooking on a budget. I remember the first recipe I made with the class was carrot ginger soup; we chopped carrots with plastic safety knives and sautéed them on a hot plate that was set up on a table in the classroom. I can still picture one student, Robert, looking quizzically at a carrot in his hand, telling me he had never seen one with green leaves on its top. It shocked me at first. And though it took a whole afternoon of being the hands that made that carrot ginger soup, Robert was eventually open to the idea of tasting it. And when he did, he loved it. I relished the feeling of having successfully imparted enthusiasm for a topic in which I was deeply invested – of having made a positive change in someone’s life, and having communicated it through sheer deliciousness.
My work at City Harvest as well as my other experiences have revealed to me the nuances of a question I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time: can families like Robert’s ever make real, affordable, long-term change? Restaurants do it, companies do it, but can a lower income household also be a healthy and sustainable one? I realize that the answer to this question is one rooted in issues deeper than convenience and food cost; it is an issue of education and exposure and finding the right way to spread the word about how affordable, sustainable, and wonderful it can be to cook for oneself and one’s family. And I sure do hope to make a valuable contribution to answering those questions. Spoons has been just the place for that, and I look forward to seeing another year of successful food literacy programs for kids.
Posted by Ali