Food For Thought On Food Revolution Day.Thu 13 Jun 2013
Story by Natalie Montanaro
Fueling the Furnace before Final Exams
How one ambassador teacher gave her students food for thought on Food Revolution Day.
Here at Chongqing Technology and Business University in China, I teach my college students about a host of assorted things related to their majors of finance, business and international trade, which will someday affect their futures and help them to be successful- all in my native language of English. The real passion of my life though is to impart the wisdom of a healthy lifestyle and a love of the world of the kitchen to others whom I meet in my travels and at home.
Enter Food Revolution Day, May 17, 2013. The second annual day of action for the Jamie Oliver Foundation was just the ticket to introduce a menu of new foods to a dozen young people who were eager to see what all the fuss was about.
Not only was the day a success since they all pitched in to learn about how to make dishes they’d never even seen before, but we were able to have great dialogue, in two languages no less.
Our talk centered around cooking skills, what kinds of foods are best for energy as well as budget, and how our diets were both so very different. I pointed out to them that there are many fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts along with other good things available here, and all we needed to do was to look at them in another way and learn how to put together meals which were satisfying, tasty, fresh and more healthy.
At first, they were apprehensive about using anything but a meat cleaver, the spices were unheard of in their experiences, and to try vegetables which still had a crunch- well that was a huge leap for them. Then they quickly got into the fun of cutting, slicing, dipping and mixing, moving and shaking their way through to a wonderful afternoon together.
Most students here in central China, rarely see anyone who is foreign; much less have an afternoon dinner party that they prepare themselves. In the dormitories, there are no stoves and so takeout and restaurants are the order of the day. I had a plan to show them a few tricks to make themselves a meal or two without a lot of heat and time.
Chongqing is famous for its stifling summers (that’s why it’s historically been called “the furnace”), its traditional super-spicy pepper sauces, its huge metropolis and its winding rivers and mountains. But if you were there with me for this special event, you’d have said what I’m saying now, that our international picnic banquet cooled the heat of this furnace and dispelled the myth that Chinese food is all that Chinese nationals love. Much to my colleagues’ surprise, they ate it all up and then some, asking many questions and looking on with wonder at the ways in which “American” food was not all about hamburgers at MacDonald’s.
Above that huge metropolis of Chongqing, we got our fill cleaning our plates of green beans with bacon and bechamel, primavera pasta salad, pickled potato salad, tuna antipasto with chick peas and lemon vinaigrette, cucumbers with tzaziki and walnut dressing, carrot and raisin tea cakes, buttery tomato herb sandwiches, tropical fruit with yogurt and honey dip, and chilled watermelon coconut soup, topped off with fresh squeezed lemonade.
This volunteer ambassador felt as though she’d moved a few of those mountains just a bit. And the rivers...well, they will flow through this city as they’ve done for ages. But I truly believe that one day, the students here in China after their graduation will take the knowledge they acquired in their one-day cooking class with me and let that flow through their minds and hands into the minds and hands of their families, friends and children as food-loving-ambassador-cooks themselves. They’ve been asking me to share more recipes with them and I am glad to oblige.
Long after I am on to another country and another Food Revolution Day is on the horizon, I know that somewhere in the world, there will be a former student of mine sharing some valuable sense about eating and cooking with all the knowledge that they gained from our hours together. But it’s never a one-way street. I get the privilege of learning more of what makes us a community from them, even though we have oceans and time zones and languages dividing us.
It’s that very precious time around the table, sharing our love for good foods and mutual desires for a long life, that connects us every time. So in the end, it doesn’t matter if you call that vegetable spinach or bo cai,, it only matters that you know how to cook it and share it in a way that will make them smile and remember the benefits of eating for life.
About the author: Natalie Montanaro is the volunteer Food Revolution ambassador for the Kingdom of Tonga, now working as a university teacher in Chongqing , China. In her free time, she has shared her love of cooking with very many adults and children whom she’s met while visiting and living overseas, most recently in the South Pacific and Eastern Europe with the US Peace Corps. Visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FoodRevolutionKingdomofTonga for a look at what’s cooking and http://ireport.cnn.com/people/RomaniaScene to learn more about the culture, tastes and times of the places she’s called home.
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