Teaching Slow Food to Fast Learners
Matt Sporer and Sarah Garcia joined the CIA’s Slow Food student organization to make a real difference in the world. And what better way to accomplish that goal than to teach future generations the importance of quality food in their lives?
That’s just what these dedicated and passionate CIA students have been doing, thanks to a serendipitious connection they made on campus. “It was Sustainability Day, and Sandy McKelvey was there,” says Matt. “We got talking, and she told us about this great event nearby at Haldane Elementary School.”
As executive director of Hudson Valley Farm to School, McKelvey was involved in various culinary education intitiatives in the area, and she saw a great opportunity to pair these eager young chefs with the Chef in the Classroom program at Haldane. So she invited Matt and Sarah to teach a cooking class to the students there.
The two embraced the project with gusto. “Matt and I had a blast, brainstorming and coming up with all our recipes,” Sarah said of their prep work for the class. “It was a great learning experience for us, writing recipes, portioning them out for home use, and then making large quantities to serve to 400 students.”
Matt was just as enthusiastic about the project. “For each day, we choose a seasonal item such as butternut squash, then Sarah and I go to the Rhinebeck Farmers Market and recipe-test to make sure it’s good for a child’s palate,” he explains. “Then we plan the class itself. You can stretch kids’ palates by getting them involved—they shed their inhibitions, open their minds. We set up stations, pass things around, let them get their hands dirty, and ask them a lot of questions. Each child has a role, and everyone has a chance to do something.”
The chance to work with such young, impressionable minds has made the experience incredibly rewarding for these two CIA student-teachers. “Each class is filled with such wonderful children,” Sarah says. “They’re so eager to learn, to help, to taste whatever we prepare that day.” Matt echoes that sentiment. “It’s a fantastic program for the kids,” he says. “We cook it, they eat it, and then we go to the caferteria to meet with the lunch workers about how to make these recipes work for them every day. Eventually the staff and the kids were excited about it. One eight-year-old even went home and made one of our beet recipes himself, entirely from memory!”
That’s kind of the same way Sarah developed an interest in food. “When I was six years old, I was stealing cookbooks from my mom’s bookshelf and reading them, making cake from scratch and anything else I had the ingredients for,” she recalls. “My grandmother had a Mexican bakery throughout my childhood, and I was always around, lending a hand where I could.”
Matt’s “aha moments” regarding food came a little later in life. “When I was a high school freshman, I saw Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock’s documentary film) and loved his passion and devotion,” he says. “ So I cut out fast food from my diet and was eating vegetables, but was still not entirely healthy. Then I picked up a copy of my mom’s Moosewood Cookbook and cooked my way through it. That’s when I started to become passionate about cooking.”
While the two students have each taken different routes to the CIA—Sarah first studied theater in college while Matt explored creative writing and anthropology—they both have a shared goal of linking the pleasures of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment.
“Within my first few weeks at the CIA, I became interested in the farm-to-table movement, and in recognizing the importance of where our food comes from,” says Sarah, who would become vice president of Slow Food CIA. “As a nation, we’re too often searching for fast, convenient, high-fat, over-salted foods. Yet what’s really important are the nutrients, colors, freshness, and quality of what we eat.”
“At the end of the day, it comes down to what makes sense,” adds Matt, the Slow Food CIA president. “It’s a national effort to eat better, to cook fresh, to help farmers…but we need to see more of it at the local level. The biggest issue is how to make this dream happen fiscally and realistically. Yes, local milk does cost more; yes, we can’t get everything from local farms—but with the help of modern technology along with good local practices, we can make it work.”
The reaction of the fourth and fifth graders at Haldane? “It’s a party in my mouth!”…“I want to make it every day!”…“I’m in heaven it’s so good!”
Clearly, Matt Sporer and Sarah Garcia are making it work—one young palate at a time.