Dining With Miss Lil: Live Cook Off for Teens in Harlem

Three weeks ago in the journal Pediatrics, a federal study stated that type 2 diabetes, and pre diabetes rates are soaring among American teens. Check this out, the number of adolescents’ age 12 to 19 years old with Type 2 diabetes or pre diabetes nearly tripled from 9% in 1999 to 23% in 2008 while the percentage of overweight / obese teens remains steady at around 34% percent, even during that nine year period. This has serious long term public health care risks and costs for this country. How are we going to help America’s youth?

NYC’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to limit the portion size of sugary beverages sold in select businesses. NYS’s former Governor David Patterson wanted to tax non diet beverages to close the state’s budget gap when he was in office. Should the government legislate or access taxes to combat America’s obesity epidemic? Then I got invited to cover an event that gives me hope.

On Wednesday, June 6, 2012 the Teen Battle Chef Live Healthy Cooking Competition was held in the Schomburg Center in Harlem. The adolescents that I interacted with confirm my belief that when you expose our youth to alternative choices they will expand their horizons and incorporate new practices into their lives.

This was a made for success event presented by EmblemHealth, Family Cook Productions and the Metro Manhattan Chapter of the Links, Inc. Other supporting organizations were Northside Child Development Center, Abyssinian Development Corporation, Fresh Direct and Circulon Gourmet Cookware.

Former NYS First Lady Michelle Paige- Paterson, a Director with EmblemHealth kicked off the program by introducing Lynne Fredericks, Executive Producer with Family Cook Productions who is the creator of the eight week nutrition education through hands off cooking program. Our host, Star Jones was introduced and she summarized her journey with weight and cardiovascular health issues. Dr. William Gillespie, a pediatrician from EmblemHealth spoke briefly about how this matters and makes a difference. I must note that EmblemHealth care professionals were out in full force supporting this event in numbers; they do care as people. The competition had four judges: Gov. David Patterson, and three chefs: Marcus Samuelsson, Roble Ali and Walter Hinds.

This program also had an intergenerational component to it; the two teams were coached by senior citizen volunteers, Mr. George Stone and Mr. Abdul Osman. They worked with the teams over the eight week program, and during meal time they shared stories of their life experiences with the kids.

But the stars of the night were hands down, the kids. The two teams that competed were Team Kenyan Greens which prepared Kenyan Style Mixed Greens and Team Black Eye Peas & Collards which prepared Black Eyed Peas, Collard Green & Golden Beet Soup. They even had to add a secret ingredient into the dish, Rhubarb. They had 10 minutes to prepare the dish.

Prior to the competition there were three tables set up outside of the auditorium that were staffed with Culinary Brigade members from all of the participating schools and programs that provided recipe samples for the two dishes fixed for the cook off plus a third dish, Spicy Corn Salad.

How successful was the competition? I’ll let you judge by the following comments that were made to me by the student participants during the event:

  • I ate cookies, chips and cakes before I entered this program. I used to be closed to trying new things. Now I am more active and I eat stuff like guacamole. My Mom also has more faith in my cooking skills when she sees me cutting up vegetables and I don’t hurt myself.
  • I am eating more veggies and less junk food. I know how to hold a knife, and I like trying different foods now. I have even lost ten pounds since this program started.
  • I am confident in cooking new dishes because I have changed my way of cooking. I read over the ingredient list and recipes first. I’m even thinking about a career in culinary arts.
  • We even tried some meatless meals, and I got filled up. I didn’t it was possible to fill up without meat. Boy was I ignorant back then.
  • I have broadened my horizons past Hispanic food only. I like Indian food and sushi.
  • I am more excited to cook at home, and try to share what I have learned about healthy cooking with my family. Mt little brother still doesn’t like vegetables, but at least he is trying. He does like corn.

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