For our next 2% for Justice commitment, we are proud to announce our support for Columbia’s Double Discovery Center. Chef Yadira Garcia, our Head Chef & Educator and a prior participant in the DDC program, is here to tell the story of her work with the organization earlier this year.
"Cooking con Corazón & Community During COVID-19"
By Chef Yadira Garcia
2020 and 2021 have taught us many things. That, like the seasons, the only constant is change. That family and community are everything, and many times, are all we have. And more than ever, that education and empowerment, coupled with a commitment to passing down our ancestral history and traditions, is vital to the continued survival and identity of BIPOC communities.
As a Brown woman, educator, activist and Chef, adversity has become more of a friendly companion to me than a hated foe, taking on different shapes through the changes and spaces in life which I occupy, meanwhile never completely dissipating. When the pandemic came, as an educator already developing and running food justice and food equity programming for schools and my community, it quickly became clear there was no clear manual for doing this work in these times. Nonetheless, front line action was needed more than ever, especially related to food and nutrition. I remember a colleague then mentioning, now famously -- “schools may close, but stomachs will not”. Besides working to keep adult and senior community members fed, I felt called to do something for our school kids, who infamously fall through large bureaucratic gaps and cracks when it comes to receiving adequate services, especially around health, wellness and healthy eating.
So, this past spring, through the combined efforts of Columbia University Double Discovery Center, culinary and agricultural programming created by myself, and the partnership of Loisa (through organic Latin seasoning kits donated to all participants), those visions and wishes came true -- we developed a pilot online cooking program where students and their families participated directly from their cocinas!
As described on their website -- “the Double Discovery Center works with low-income, first-generation college-bound youth from Harlem and Washington Heights to help ensure their success to, through, and beyond college. We leverage and coordinate University resources to provide students with a comprehensive network of support that includes Academic Enrichment, College & Career Success and Healthy Minds & Bodies.”
For six weeks, our program lived up to the DDC’s promise by empowering youth students to tap into stories of their own families cooking, examine how companies produce food and market to our communities, understand the effects of highly processed diets on our communities of color, experience what it’s like to reclaim culturally relevant eating without the crap, and even learn how to use hydroponics to meet the challenges of city quarantine living by growing herbs on their windowsills. All simple yet deeply revolutionary acts, taught in context of a climate that challenged our health wealth and survival daily.
One student, Oscar, 17, from Washington Heights, became so enthused about the journey of his oregano plant, from seed to germination, that he named it “Lebron” and vowed to continue to grow herbs for his family’s favorite dishes, like pollo guisado. He also gained an unexpected sous chef with his six year old sister, who never missed a class. He noted it was the most time they had spent together in recent months. Also, he worked with his mom to scale-up the recipes so he could make them for all six people in the house. Not only did Oscar thoroughly enjoy the accolades he received for his new skills, his mom was also happy to see the sibling-duo collaborating, plus she also got a night off in the kitchen!
Oscar's story is just one of many deeply special stories I have collected, and a testament to what’s possible when we create the space, receive the resources and take the time to allow the curiosity, reverence and inter-generational connections to take root naturally. Also, when students see educators that look and come from the same places like them. Yet, it was also the first time these interactions were happening directly in the heartbeats of their homes, their kitchens, instead of a classroom or community space. Again, adversity became a friendly companion, insisting we rise to the challenge and create connections that were different and new, but equally powerful. Each week as the students received their kits with Loisa seasonings, fresh local ingredients, seeds/growing kits and recipe cards to their homes like they were on an episode of Chopped - the joy was palpable. Even through digital connections, there was a definitive collective buy-in that said “Yes! Eating real food that makes us feel good while looking and tasting like the dishes we grew up with is not only possible, but it is our divine and communal right!”
At Loisa, when we talk about feeding tradition, it’s about more than making great products and sharing new recipes. It’s about holding and creating space to honor where we came from, while also honoring our future, including a new generation of youth who will be responsible for passing down family traditions, both new and long-standing. I am thankful for what we’ve done with DDC, and look forward to the continued impact we can have through more educational partnerships that deliver direct results for the health of our hoods and our gente.
En Solidaridad, Chef Yadi
Join us in supporting the DDC by donating here.