Diversity and inclusion are critical concepts for youth to understand and put in practice (Tirell-Corbin, 2015). According to Skuza and Russo, youth come into contact more now than ever before with other cultures. The implication is that youth development professionals have wonderful and important opportunities to provide programming that prepare youth for interactions with those of different backgrounds (2014, p. 5 & 11). In 4-H, we focus on life skills related to Healthy Lifestyles, Citizenship and Leadership, STEM, and Workforce Preparation (Myers, 2012). Every program offered through 4-H should be intentional with regards to these four areas. What better way to promote acceptance and connectedness, while addressing our mandates, than in the kitchen? Cooking with others makes an interactive educational vehicle for many life skills as shown in this Volusia Magazine video episode from November 17, 2019 (https://www.volusia.org/news/volusia-magazine-TV/?video_id=25118).
In January 2020, twelve cooking classes were offered: three two-hour sessions every Wednesday, reaching 10-12 youth ages 5-17 per session. Classes ‘visited’ South America, Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia. Recipes were found online and lesson plans were developed using ServSafe® principles and 4-H Common Measures and Essential Elements. Classes were taught by the UF/IFAS Extension Volusia County 4-H Agent in the Extension Office’s kitchen with the assistance of parents. A fee of $5 per class was charged per participant to purchase necessary supplies. Efforts were made to find recipes that (1) were representative of the culture and region; (2) had ingredients that were affordable and accessible; (3) could be completed in a two-hour time period and easily replicated at home; and (4) had a balance of nutrients (MyPlate). Copies of recipes were e-mailed to all participants. Related curriculum include: Foods With An International Flavor; Food, Culture and Reading; and Foodways: A 4-H Folk Patterns Project.
Youth (n=32) were evaluated by observation according to a prepared check-list (knowledge/skills) for correct use of kitchen tools, proper washing of hands and equipment, and handling and storage of foods. Life skills, such as communicating, problem-solving, accepting differences and contributing to a common goal were evaluated by observing behaviors. Youth were also assessed using guided discussion. The 4-H’ers inferred that people around the world are very similar (attitude): (1) they bond over food; (2) frequently use the same ingredients to create meals; and (3) define their cultures by the foods they eat (Vedantam, 2017). Participants learned the names of the foods they prepared, such as: pepparkakor, ratatouille, arepas, poori, and fassolatha, and tried foods and spices they had never tasted before. Time was spent on the history and cultural significance of the foods prepared. For example, youth came to know that Greek families eat fassolatha each week; arepas are the American equivalent of sandwich bread and is prepared differently in each region, and that pepparkakor is a traditional holiday treat, much like our gingerbread.
Each week, participants reported that they had prepared items from the previous class for their families; one teen has expressed his intentions of becoming a professional chef; and several have reported teaching skills and concepts to others, for example: using a knife correctly to cut food items.
Cooking classes are part of the Volusia County 4-H SPIN (Special Interest) program and are offered throughout the 4-H year. There was overwhelming positive response to this series of lessons and the best of all conclusions, thirty-two youth asking “When are we doing it again?” The larger implication is that youth taught at a young age that diversity and inclusion are valuable will grow up to be more aware and appreciative of other cultures (https://child.unl.edu/cultural-diversity). Educational programs, such as Navigating Differences: Cultural Awareness, developed by Washington State University, 4-H Youth Voices, and WeConnect from the University of Minnesota, are providing structure, outlets, and direction for Extension educators.
The United States population will expand by 100 million over the next 40 years; most of the net population growth will be among its minorities (U.S. Census, 2010). “Therefore, it is important for youth development professionals to show youth that they are participants in a global society, inspiring in them a sense of understanding and confidence in relating to and connecting with other people, and helping them to develop a global skill set that they can use now and in the future” (Skuza, Russo, 2018).