In an earlier post this week, I wrote about the Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County’s “Healthy Eating” program targeting low-income women at the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport. The event was meant to promote the healthy benefits of fresh produce. Today, I had the privilege of witnessing it.
Wrapping light sweaters around their shoulders and bristling at the thought of a five-block walk, about twenty-five women made their way to the Marina Village Farmers’ Market for a field trip to the south end of town. They listened to a short lecture by Heather Harrington, an assistant extension instructor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut. She and her assistant talked about ways to use healthy foods in cooking. With paper bags donated by Trader Joe’s, they loaded up on poblano peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, end-of-season corn, apples and pears.
When these women have to feed their families on what little they make, fresh produce may not be at the top of their grocery list. Some of them need to take as many as three bus transfers just to get to a farmers’ market. But yet each of these women stood captivated, listening intently on how to make a great dinner.
“All you have to do is open [the pepper] up by making a slit,” said Analiese Paik, founder of the Fairfield Green Food Guide. “Put rice inside with some veggies. It’s kind of like surgery! It’s a lot of work, but it’s good!”
Suddenly, the conversation started flowing. They chattered away about how each of them liked to stuff peppers or use them in a dish with other meats or leftovers. “Who likes spicy food?” asked Paik. Several hands went up followed by a chorus of laughter. These were not women who didn’t know how to cook. These were women who forgot what it was like to be excited by food.
When one student asked what to do with the yellow squash and zucchini, Michel Nischan, President and CEO of the Wholesome Wave Foundation and Executive Chef at the Dressing Room in Westport, had a good answer. He told her to sprinkle salt over the diced pieces and let them sit to macerate in their own juices. “You can add it to salsa and it’s delicious!”
The outing was just the first phase of the Junior League’s healthy eating initiative. In November, Paik plans to do a hands-on cooking demonstration with fresh foods. Her hope is that these women will see how easy it can be to add locally grown fruits and vegetables to your everyday cooking.
For more information about this program or to volunteer to help, contact The Mercy Learning Center at 203-334-6699 or e-mail them at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Analiese Paik and Jennie Julio.