Week two of Operation Food Search/Cooking Matters

Eek!  Nearly two weeks since my last post and over two weeks since my last post about the internship!  Kind of gives you an idea of how busy I’ve been!

A little backtracking for this post, because I want to finish writing about my time with Operation Food Search/Cooking Matters, even though I’ve had a short rotation since then.  To start, I ended up with two posts going up on their blog!  The first, “Children and Cooking,” is about my experience assisting with one of the in-classroom presentations and getting children to help in the kitchen.  Originally, the draft for that became a lot longer than we originally planned, so I split it into a second entry, “Eat seasonally and save money, too!”  Go check ’em out!


The first chili

My three classes/demos that I led my last week of that rotation… Well, I didn’t set anything on fire!  The first demo went well.  The recipes (a sweet-potato chili and a chile sweet potato dip) were well-received and there was a good discussion afterwards.  The little bit of left over chili that I brought back was enjoyed by a couple of people in the office.  The second demonstration didn’t go quite as well.  I made two different dips and “pancakes” (really more like hashbrowns) and only one of the dips was a hit.  Why the difference in receptivity?  Different audiences.  I made a really basic mistake and forgot to take into account the fact that the second demonstration was for children.  So!  Big lesson learned there: Don’t forget to pick your recipes for your audience.  While the food wasn’t a huge hit, the children did seem to have fun helping me and were all eagerly volunteering and competing to yell the answers first, so at least that part went well.

The pretty popular dip

The pretty popular dip

Now, the third demonstration.  Heh.  Overall, this one went well.  It was in a group rehab home that also provided counseling services for those that didn’t live there and we had a pretty decent crowd attend.  No one really wanted to volunteer, though, so I and the RD overseeing me did most of the cooking.  Again, we made a chili and a dip, figuring the chili was perfect for the cold, rainy weather that day, and the dip would be good to talk up for serving at football or hockey watching parties.  The dip was the same as the first demonstration, but the chili was a different recipe.  We started with the Cooking Matters recipe Turkey Chili With Vegetables, but then doubled it, used one can of black beans, one can of kidney beans, only one pound of turkey, and added one large cubed sweet potato.  So far, so good…the mistake happened with the chili powder.  If you check out the original recipe, you’ll see that it calls for “chili powder.”  Well, I used what I saw was the chili powder, but it came out on the spicy side!  While a few people liked it that spicy, it was too spicy for some.  This recipe had been made many times before and wasn’t that spicy, so we looked at everything a little closer.  Turned out, what I had used for “chili powder” was actually “ancho chili powder.”  D’oh!  See, “chili powder” is a combination of spices (ancho or jalapeno chilis with cumin, garlic, oregano, and salt) so it’s not as spicy as “ancho chili powder” which is only dried, ground ancho chilis.  Whoops!  So, lesson learned? Always, ALWAYS double check your ingredients– not just that you have them, but also that they are exactly what the recipe calls for.  The original plan for the discussion was to discuss portion sizes, but we also ended up adding a bit on how to save a recipe.  (For example, if your chili ends up too spicy, add extra tomatoes and beans, bulking up the chili and spreading out the spiciness.)

The rest of my time with OFS/CM was spent working on papers and having debates such as “Should people on food stamps be restricted from purchasing things like soda?”  Something I forgot to mention in my last post about this rotation was that prior to the start of the rotation, I had to partake in the Food Stamp Challenge.  The rules for our set-up are slightly different than the $4.80/day most challenges use.  For one week, all you have to do is write down everything you eat and about how much it cost.  Then, for the second week, you are limited to $21 for the entire week (or $3 a day.)  I highly suggest anyone who wants to work with those who are food insecure try the challenge.    Actually do it and no fudging!  I know of one person who just gave up right away when she realized it meant she couldn’t have her favorite organic lettuce mixes.  The Challenge isn’t doable for everyone and some people don’t need the Challenge because they’ve already lived it.

For me, the Food Stamp Challenge was doable because as a poor intern and after years as a poor student, I don’t spend a whole lot on food- just the occasional splurge.  But participating in the challenge meant absolutely no splurging.  For example, the first week where I was just tracking what I spent?  I had an expensive glass of wine.  Couldn’t do that my second week or I would’ve blown my budget for days.  It is possible to spend less than $3/day/person on food and still meet your nutritional needs, but it takes a lot of planning and self-control.  I ended up going to the library and looking through cookbooks that were all about cheap recipes.  I also ended up coming across Budget Bytes, which is now one of my favorite blogs.

I have read some of the criticisms of the Food Stamp Challenge and I understand the limitations of it.  For a brief look at some of the problems with the Food Stamp Challenge and similar challenges, please read this post.  In the essay I had to write about my experience, I pointed out that it wasn’t realistic because unlike those who are using SNAP funding to survive, I didn’t have to figure in time to travel for acquiring food, cooking food, overhead costs such as electricity, and a whole slew of other other things that go into feeding oneself.

I had a blast working with the Cooking Matters team at Operation Food Search.  My time with them has me re-considering the possibility of going into community nutrition.  At the very least, I’ll want to somehow be involved with public health advocacy.  And isn’t this what the internship is supposed to be about?  Finding out what field of nutrition you’re best suited for?  We’ll see what the rest of the rotations hold for me.


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