Outside of the Classroom: Kristen Richards and Cooking Matters

by Kristen Richards

In 2004, my friend, an Americorp VISTA for the Eastern Massachusetts chapter of Share Our Strength, asked if I would be willing to teach the cooking skills I had learned in professional kitchens on a volunteer basis for Cooking Matters, a sub-organization of Share Our Strength. She explained what would be expected of me: I’d teach a group of people at high risk of childhood hunger and malnutrition (including low-income parents and their children) healthy cooking on a budget. My interest was immediately piqued.  Although this seemed like an ideal non-profit venture for me given my love for food, I had no idea how much this organization would come to mean to me.

Kristen Richards

After seven years, I have taught the Cooking Matters (formerly known as Operation Frontline) course to eight groups of parents, teens, and children.  During the courses, a nutritionist and I travel to a Boston neighborhood (Chelsea, Roxbury, Charlestown, and East Boston, to name a few), teach a group of 10 to 16 participants basic nutrition, and then demonstrate how they can cook healthy, tasty, and culturally appropriate food on a limited time and dollar budget. Throughout the course of the six weeks, the participants’ understanding and appreciation for their health seem genuinely transformed. In week one we get to know the participants, most of whom declare that they “hate cooking” or “only like fried foods,” but by week six, almost all of them are excited about cooking and are proud to show their families what they have learned from Cooking Matters.

Kristen, second from right, and fellow volunteers

While the mission to end childhood hunger in the United States can seem hopeless at times, Cooking Matters chips away at this problem by improving the nutrition of smaller communities across the country. Additionally, by providing participants with knowledge rather than food supplies, those in need are better equipped to make a positive change in their diets and lifestyles. They’re also more likely to do so when they understand that fresh and healthy food can be enjoyed by all, even with limited time and funds.

Cooking Matters is constantly looking for more volunteers to fill the chef and nutritionist roles for their courses. If you’re interested, or have any questions, feel free to contact me at kricha612@gmail.com.

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