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Students Hit the Road in New Culinary Cocurricular

Students Hit the Road in New Culinary Cocurricular

When NMH science teacher Clare Knowlton developed the cocurricular course Culinary Adventures: Learn to Cook and Understand Food Systems, she knew she wanted to offer students fun, hands-on cooking experiences. More important though, she wanted them to become conscious consumers. 

Offered for the first time this winter, the Culinary Adventures curriculum includes cooking lessons, nutrition and farming basics, food-oriented service projects, and constructive dialogue with celebrated chefs and restaurateurs – this trimester, Seamus Mullen ’92 and Natascha Sherman Hess ’96. 

Students shopping in a grocery isle

While the cooking component is important to the curriculum, Knowlton wanted students to walk away with a clear sense of inequities in the food system. “It’s important to convey that food is a pretty biased system with a lot of issues to it. So one of my main goals for the course is that they begin to consider where their food comes from when they are handed a plate.”

Knowlton assumed the students would be excited about making pizzas and poke bowls with culinary professionals but wondered whether they would be equally enthusiastic about service trips, like visiting the Northfield branch of Franklin County Community Meals to help package food for community distribution.

For Valerie Champagne ’24, the service trips have been among her favorite parts of the experience. “There’s been a lot of time off campus,” she said. “It’s been about 50/50. I took this class mainly out of curiosity. I’ve been learning a lot and have really been enjoying it.”

During a recent “Bonus Bag Brigade Daytrip,” students were divided into two groups at the local Stop & Shop, where they worked with a $35 budget to build a batch of nutritious, non-perishable snack bags. The exercise gave them a chance to put some of their newfound nutrition expertise to use. “We had a few sessions with people in the culinary environment,” said Nina Lobo Tomiatti ’27. “Some of them told us how each ingredient would affect our bodies in a good way or a bad way. I feel like we have learned a lot about nutrition.”

Tomiatti’s group brainstormed over containers of nuts in the produce department before deciding to move to cheaper items in the snack aisle, where they debated the taste and price points of honey pretzels and protein bars. 

students color brown snack bags in classroom

Both groups navigated the fluorescent isles with efficiency as they discussed the merits and drawbacks of each item. Rae Rubin ’24 said she had already developed her grocery-shopping skills before taking the class. “I’ve shopped with my mom a lot because I am a vegetarian,” she said. “This class has also taught me to cook some meat-based meals. I think that’s a skill I can use.”

After the shopping trip, the students headed back to campus to decorate and stuff brown bags destined for area children. 

Culinary Adventures wrapped up earlier this week. Knowlton hopes that the learning will continue beyond the time frame of the course. “I've been sending out videos and recommendations for episodes of shows, podcasts, and links to shorter things that are less dense and academic,” she said. (Since the class is a cocurricular, there’s no assigned reading or homework.) 

“wanted to open the door to more great journalism and media about these topics.. ... There’s a lot more to learn.”

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