How Teaching Kids to Cook Can Change the Future
"Just to open their eyes to teach them that there’s so much more outside of this small world that they know. I hope it instills in them another layer of adventure and wonder and awe.”
Cora Cowles, a mother of two who lives in Detroit, had an epiphany after her children were born. First came the inevitable rearranging of priorities—that's when she realized she didn’t want to waste any time, she wanted to spend as much time as she could with her children and be in their lives as much as possible. There was also something else. With an interest in healthy eating, Cora saw in her children a pair of pint-sized conduits to the future. She would bring them into the kitchen, she decided, and put them in the thick of things from an early age. Show them their way around a mixing bowl and saucepans, teach them how handle ingredients and prepare a meal. But she didn’t stop there. Why not welcome even more kids into her kitchen? At scale, perhaps such an endeavor could pay compounding dividends—making a dent in problems like hypertension and obesity and diabetes in her city by teaching the next generation a better way of eating and living, one kitchen and one meal at a time.
Cowles turned her idea into a program she calls The Kitchen Crew, which launched in the Motor City in early 2017 and is closing out the year with bigger ambitions. For starters, she’d like to secure a permanent brick-and-mortar space in Detroit that the program can operate out of, since it’s spread out across a handful of commercial kitchen spaces at the moment. Cowles would also like to have an adjacent garden, where participating kids can grow their own produce that’s then brought into the kitchen to prepare.
The Kitchen Crew's first class was held in Cowles' living room in February. She invited some friends who had children of their own, and that first group of half a dozen kids made gnocchi with pesto and crispy prosciutto, shortbread cookies and snickerdoodle ice cream, all from scratch.
Classes are offered for children in and around Detroit who are between ages 5 and 15. They usually run about two hours and are scheduled on the weekends—every second Saturday of the month, with classes sometimes held between those dates as well.
So far, it’s word of mouth that’s propelling things forward. The Kitchen Crew has an Instagram presence—@thekitchencrew—and a pretty straightforward plan to help raise a new generation of health-conscious foodies in a city that’s been exchanging a story of decline for one of renewal and promise.
“It’s the health outcomes, that’s one thing,” Cowles said about her motivation for the program. “It’s also ... awareness, I think is the right word. I have kids sometimes who are like, mashed potatoes don’t come from a box? And you don’t fault them. The parents do the best with what they have. I get that. But I want them to understand: No, potatoes come from the ground, and this is how you make them into mashed potatoes.
“Some kids have never seen, I don’t know, a papaya. Just to open their eyes to teach them that there’s so much more outside of this small world that they know. I hope it instills in them another layer of adventure and wonder and awe.”