Big Rig Classes Go Big in Long Beach

Big Rig Classes Go Big In Long Beach

Thu 20 Oct 2011

Story by Amanda Armer

“After-school fun” has taken on a whole new meaning in Long Beach, with the presence of Jamie Oliver Food Foundation’s “Big Rig Teaching Kitchen” in the neighborhood.

“Some of the kids say, ‘My parents don’t actually believe I’m doing this,’ said Program Manager Lisa Fontanesi. They were surprised their kids would choose to spend their free time on the “Big Rig,” a kitchen on wheels, learning how to make their own lunches and cook spaghetti and meatball dinners from scratch.

Parents changed their minds once they saw the Big Rig in action at Long Beach City College and talked to their children about their new skills in the kitchen. Some of the parents even wanted in on the fun themselves. The Big Rig originally intended to provide instruction to 8-17 year-olds, as it did in Los Angeles, but the team quickly acknowledged that that it was just as important to educate adults and seniors. Everyone can benefit from the hands-on cooking lessons and basic nutrition information.

The "Big Rig Teaching Kitchen” moved to Long Beach in September, and has just about doubled its weekly classes since its Los Angeles run, with 320 people on the truck per week. The expanded program is also rich in ethnic diversity, much like Long Beach itself. There are two exclusively Spanish-speaking classes per week. There is also a Khmer-speaking teacher on staff for the Cambodian population that attends the cooking lessons.

The lessons include two recipes per class, and an hour-and-a-half passes quickly as participants learn about nutrition, cook the recipes, and then enjoy the food, proving that cooking is actually much simpler and faster than one might imagine.

For ingredients, our trained chef-instructors know there is really no comparison with the hands-on experience of picking fresh vegetables and herbs for immediate use. While the truck had hosted a couple of garden classes during its stay in Los Angeles, the Horticulture Department of Long Beach City College has generously planted a section of their garden specifically for the Food Truck’s students.

“I’m indebted to the Horticulture Department,” said Fontanesi, as she described the garden. There are fresh beets, dill, chives, lettuce, radishes, and much more for participants to observe growing in the ground, whether or not it is time to harvest. There are also free-range chickens to liven up the scene, which provide eggs for pancakes - as well as a holistic lesson on the cycle of life, as they eat the food scraps that students discard after their class.

Just as there are many simple ingredients in a recipe, there are many hands dedicated to making this project successful. Besides the Horticulture Department contributors include:

The Growing Experience, a 7-acre urban farm run by Jimmy Ng and the Housing Authority of the County of LA.
Kelli Johnson from the Green Lab Urban Farm who have also done their part by providing produce from the local farmers markets and their site to the weekly recipes.
The Building Healthy Communities Hub and Long Beach Alliance for Food and Fitness who have been key in community outreach.

The first five-week course session in Long Beach ends, October 17-21, then picks up with its second five-week round of classes on November 7, and Fontanesi estimates a total of 1000-1500 participants will experience the “Big Rig” before the end of its Long Beach stay. The program brings friends and families together, teaching them that healthy living can also be fun. “People really enjoy taking the classes. It is fun. The point of what we are doing really gets across.”

For those who are interested in being a part of the Food Revolution and benefitting from these educational classes are encouraged to contact

About the author: Amanda Armer is a talented undergraduate student and volunteer for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.


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