Teaching Food Education One Child At A TimeFri 03 Jan 2014
Story by Sarah Curl
Introducing our January Ambassador of the Month!
Ambassador of the Month is a feature that we’ve launched in order to highlight the amazing volunteers we have around the world. Ambassadors who have been chosen show an unwavering desire for change in their communities. They are fighting for real food and food education skills and donate their time every month to make this happen.
The Ambassador of the Month for January is Mira Jarrar from Amman, Jordan. When Mira is not cooking with her husband and their three children, she is running her business, Mira’s Young Chefs (MYC). Mira explains that MYC “offers hands-on, educational and fun cooking classes for kids, taking them on an interactive food adventure by teaching them different international dishes and exposing them to a variety of ingredients and cooking techniques.” Mira is extremely passionate about food education and this is why she is our Ambassador of the Month. Please meet Mira Jarrar!
Tell us a little about why you wanted to get involved in the Food Revolution?
I have been holding cooking classes for children for 4 years, since I started my business, Mira’s Young Chefs in 2010. It’s important to me that children enjoy working and creating in the kitchen and that they feel a sense of accomplishment when they do. I want them to learn to be adventurous and willing to experiment with and try new foods. They need to grow up in families and schools where they are encouraged to eat and enjoy healthy food. Children need to learn this when they are young because it will affect their eating and cooking habits in the future.
Immediately before I applied to be an Ambassador, I held an event to raise money for the dental clinic in a camp set up for Syrian refugees on the Jordanian-Syrian border. I learned that the clinic was in desperate need for equipment and tried to figure out how to use my skills to help. Cooking for people and sharing food is something I learned from my mother, who passed away two years ago, and I wanted her to part of my initiative in some way. Instead of just asking for donations from our friends, I decided to have fun with it and offer a cooking class, using some of my mother’s favorite recipes; those requested the most by our friends and family. With the help of my friends, we set it up, charged people for attending and auctioned off the kitchen utensils and equipment necessary to make the dishes. All proceeds were sent to the camp.
I have been a fan of Jamie Oliver’s for a long time; I love his message of cooking with a purpose and substituting healthy ingredients for harmful ones. I learned about the Food Revolution program from his TV show. Watching him challenge the food policies of local governments and school systems for the sake of children’s health really affected me. His ideas seemed to reflect my personal and professional goals and I wanted to become involved. I loved the work I had done for the camp and believed that becoming a Food Revolution Ambassador would help me expand my food education and community service activities by using my passion for cooking.
How has the Ambassador Program helped you accomplish your goals?
Being part of the Ambassador Program lends credibility to the message that I want to spread; to bring food education back into schools and homes. Schools here in Jordan are not generally interested in extra-curricular activities such as cooking and when they do take students into the kitchen, they teach them how to cook pre-packaged food such as hamburgers. I want students to be exposed to variety, to learn easy, practical techniques that will help them at home. Convincing schools to introduce these ideas is not easy, but using the Food Revolution name and concept helps.
What have you been able to achieve since being an Ambassador?
I’ve introduced the Food Revolution ideas and Jamie Oliver’s cooking tips into my cooking classes. I’ve also started discussions with local schools on how I can help to improve food education in their classrooms. Recently, I worked with a group of women to cook dinner for families on a day when most Jordanians were fasting. Each of us cooked a meal for our families and a meal for a needy family in a refugee camp. We delivered the hot meals to the families before they broke their fasts at sunset. I also participated in a fundraising bake sale at my children’s school to raise money for the King Hussein Cancer Center (Jordan’s main cancer hospital). I try to do these types of activities on a regular basis and to involve my children whenever possible. I focus on healthy, interesting meals and snacks; especially the recipes I learned from my mother.
My work as a Food Ambassador has gained the interest of my community and my friends, who have come up with some great ideas to support me. We are all learning more about the Food Revolution and developing creative ideas together on how to implement it.
What real food initiative are you currently working on in your community? How's it going?
In addition to the cooking classes I give to children, I continue to cook the meals I learned from my mother and pass out her recipes to friends and family. This is her legacy and the reason I am so passionate about cooking. I am also preparing the toolkits I will present to schools regarding food education, healthy eating and cooking skills and how they can use these skills to serve their communities (this is a requirement for graduation in some Jordanian schools) and holding a Food Revolution Day planned by the students, which could include cooking for, or with, needy families or holding bake sales to raise money for charity. One of the institutions I will work with is a school for mentally and physically disabled children here in Amman.
Tell us a little more about the real food movement in Jordan.
I think it’s important to mention that in Jordan, the Mediterranean Diet is still widely followed and families still cook their meals at home. Olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, hummus and fresh herbs are still daily fare. Processed and fast foods are becoming more widely available and more common, but I believe that it’s possible to reverse this trend. In one of my classes for 8 year old girls, I showed the Jamie Oliver video demonstrating how chicken nuggets are made. The girls were shocked and one of them actually went home and convinced her best friend to change her birthday party menu to include healthier choices. Many times, I face an issue with the parents of my students; they seem willing to accommodate their children’s picky eating habits, rather than try to find creative ways to change them. However, I have found that when children understand the health benefits of what they are eating and are preparing the meals themselves, they are likely to give the ingredients they claim to hate, another try.
Find out more about our Food Revolution Ambassador program and apply to become one here!
About the Author: Sarah Curl is the Food Revolution Community Manager for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation (USA).
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