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This summer, I am leading the cooking demonstrations at the Kid’s Culinary Camp at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. While I love my job and have an amazing and fun time being in the kitchen every day, the value of this camp is not lost on me. Throughout my time at Duke, I am continuously astonished by how few of the other students I know feel comfortable cooking for themselves. Many people I encounter lack confidence in the kitchen, from not knowing staple techniques like steaming rice to not being willing to handle raw meat. Even though as a college student one can get by walking laps around the Brodhead Center until something piques their interest, this lack of a connection to what we are eating is a far reaching issue.

Cooking experience is valuable at a much deeper level than just being able to feed yourself. Cooking forces people to take on a bigger role in managing their nutrition. You can go to Tandoor every day and eat their Chicken Tikka Masala because boy, it sure is great, but only when you try to make the dish yourself do you learn how much butter, cream, and salt is needed to make it taste that way. Cooking for yourself gives you a better appreciation of what’s in your takeout meal and lets you make more informed dining decisions. In this current wave of fad diets and indictments on the fast food industry in response to concerning obesity levels, a simple way to combat this is empowering yourself to cook at home and interact with your food.

I recognize that in this regard I am an exception; I have been cooking for what seems like my whole life and enjoy it as a social activity and way to explore my curiosity. With no widespread availability of cooking education in the US school system, the onus of learning these vital skills falls on families in which parents might not have the time, money, or experience to adequately teach their children basic kitchen skills. I appreciate my role at the culinary camp because I have the opportunity to teach these children skills they can use to take control of their nutrition and health later in life, and maybe inspire in them the same connection to food that I have myself.

Messy hands after breading chicken!