Last weekend marked the annual Slow Food DC community potluck. In addition to the usual array of friendly people and delicious food which I’ve come to expect at these sorts of things, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of folks I somehow hadn’t crossed paths with before… one of whom warmly welcomed me to her preschool class to speak a bit about Slow Food and sit in on a food education session. Yes, food education classes for 3 and 4-year olds! I was intrigued, having never worked with such a young age group before myself. (You see, most food education programs, such as they are, begin with 3rd graders.) So this past Wednesday, I headed out to Patterson Elementary. What I discovered was simply fantastic.
After I introduced the idea of “slow food” — taking the time to share ideas over homemade meals — and encouraged the youngsters to share their favorite foods to make and eat with friends and family, Vera (or as she is known to students, Auntie Oye) asked the student chefs who’d helped to prepare the day’s snack of fruit salad and guacamole to name some of the ingredients. “Cilantro!” I heard. “Apples!” “Raisins!” “Yoghurt!” A 3-year-old that can identify cilantro? These kids were good. After snack, it was time for the day’s special guest, Chef Herb, who along with his technical work as a Nutrition Educator at UDC also happens to be a food sculptor.
I was as intrigued as the kids as he proceeded to show us a wide variety of animals made out of fresh fruits and vegetables: a pear parakeet on a grape and cantaloupe swing, a mango and orange squirrel, a kiwi fruit and kale bat. To my amazement, students collaboratively were able to name nearly every fruit and vegetable on the table. (None of that “can’t identify tomatoes not in ketchup form” for these smart young students!) Class ended with Chef Herb carving a watermelon rose right before our eyes. As he worked, students clapped, danced, and sang along to a song whose refrain was, I was tickled to learn, “I like cous cous, I like cous cous!” Some of the kids were really belting it out, too. As we chatted afterwards on our way back to Northwest DC, Vera insisted that the success of the program at the school was due in large part to the ongoing enthusiasm of Ms. Murphy and Ms. Pringle who work with the kids at the school, reinforcing the ideas and positive health habits daily.
I left with a big smile on my face, hopeful that folks like Vera — Culinary Storyteller and Nutrition Educator with UDC herself — can reach more groups like this. I should mention that she’s always on the lookout for guest chefs and speakers to help get her proteges excited about fresh foods and healthy living….