Time and time again here at Oldways we have the chance to meet with people that are truly inspirational and working to make a difference in the world. When Alissa Bilfield walked into our office a week ago, it quickly became clear she was just this type of person. Passionate about food and culture and determined to make a difference, Alissa is the founder & director of a nonprofit called The C0okbook Project. This fledgling organization is educating youth across the globe about food and its connection to us all. As soon as we spoke with Alissa we were blown away by all they have already accomplished and couldn't wait to do a Q&A for the blog so she could share with others what The Cookbook Project is all about.
Oldways: Can you give a little overview of The Cookbook Project for those who may not know about your organization?Alissa: The Cookbook Project uses food culture as a way to engage youth about sustainable consumption, nutrition, and cooking skills. We partner with youth organizations worldwide to host hands-on cooking workshops, and we conduct local leaders' trainings on-site and online to help further spread awareness about the connection between food, health, and the environment.Oldways: There are a number of programs the Cookbook Project has developed and implemented across the globe, but we would love for you to tell us about your most recent workshop in Harlem, NY, right here in our "backyard".Alissa: Our most recent domestic workshop in Harlem took place right before Thanksgiving at the Polo Grounds Community Center on 155th street, right across from Yankee Stadium. We partnered with Children's Village and LitWorld to work with a group of underserved youth to improve their literacy skills. The connection between food culture, recipe development, and practical reading and writing skills was a focus of this workshop. As a way to cap off the learning experience we hosted a final food culture group meal that was shared with participants' families where we prepared several cultural dishes that were enjoyed by all! Some of the dishes included a Honduran mashed plantain dish called Machuco, Callaloo-style Collard Greens, Puerto Rican Spicy Black Beans and Rice, and a scrumptious sweet potato pie! The workshop not only taught the participants many valuable 'hard' skills, but most importantly helped to develop communication, cooperation, and leadership skills amongst the group.Oldways: What are some of the projects you have in the pipeline?Alissa: We have several exciting projects that are happening. We are heading to Haiti on December 21st to facilitate an on-site Local Leaders' Training in conjunction with a Youth Education workshop in the eastern border town of Anse-a-Pitre. In addition we will be working on two more domestic Local Leaders' trainings here in Boston this winter, as well as piloting a semester-long curriculum enrichment program in conjunction with a public school. And I will also be traveling to South India in February to lay the foundations for a pilot vocational cafe project!In terms of programming, we will also be kicking off the FIRST Pilot Online Local Leaders' Training Program on January 30th, which will train 50 leaders from all over the world to be able to implement Cookbook Project workshops.Oldways: Where do you see The Cookbook Project in five years? Ten years?Alissa: In five to ten years we hope to have built up a strong network of international Local Leaders via the Local Leaders' Program. This will be our army of ambassadors, who will work on a regular basis to lead Cookbook Project Workshops and other educational enrichment programs at the local level. In addition, we envision returning regularly to work with a base of organizations aligned with our mission so that we can make a lasting impact and develop far-reaching programs like the Vocational Cafe Project that we are currently working on developing.Oldways: How can people who care about kids and good food become involved with your organization?Alissa: If you care about kids and good food, you can get involved at the grassroots level by submitting an application to train as a Local Leader, or by donating and supporting our work financially!