Free cooking class in Chicago aims to change life expectancy for black people

Chronic heart disease, cancer and diabetes are among the main reasons why black people have a shorter life expectancy than their white counterparts, especially in Chicago. A free cooking class is now trying to bridge that disparity.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Good Food is Good Medicine is one of three initiatives of The Good Food Catalyst and was introduced last year. According to its website, GFGM is an innovative program that combines community listening, collaborative education, cooking and mentoring to reduce high rates of diet-related illness while reducing associated health costs for the underprivileged. Chicago communities.

In addition to free cooking workshops — now offered at a food incubator and test kitchen in Garfield Park — the program will offer free exercise programs, mindfulness/stress seminars and open discussions with doctors and nutritionists.

A free cooking class in Chicago has begun that aims to bridge the wide gap in life expectancy between minorities and their white counterparts. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Dr. Ed McDonald, co-founder of Good Food is Good Medicine and a gastroenterologist at UChicago Medicine, told The Tribune that the cooking classes were intentionally offered in areas most affected by food deserts and red lines.

“These are areas where healthy food options are overwhelmed or overwhelmed by unhealthy options,” McDonald said, The Tribune reported. “So these same areas that we call food deserts are technically food swamps where you have an abundance of food, it’s just unhealthy food. And these, again, are also majority African-American neighborhoods.”

Heart disease, which is more common in Black, Latino and South Asian communities, replaced the coronavirus as the leading cause of death in Chicago in 2020. While systemic problems such as housing discrimination, limited access to health care and lack of fresh food options in large parts of the city have also contributed, many groups in Chicago want to spark change by using free cooking classes that creatively combine food education with healthy eating tips.

“If we start throwing fresh vegetables into these apartheid food districts, it’s not going to change everything,” said Jeannine Wise, co-creator and head chef of GFGM, according to The Tribune. “What [studies] it was found that teaching [people] cooking also helped. Because if you don’t know what to do with fresh vegetables because you’ve never had them around, then it doesn’t help to have fresh vegetables for no reason.”

Five students enroll in the workshop, where they practice baking and grilling before enjoying a lunch of grilled salmon, grilled chicken wings and vegetables with indoor buffalo sauce or pesto made with nutritional yeast in place of parmesan to help it retain its quality vegan. .

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“I learned how to be creative and make things for myself at home (that are) a little healthier, but still taste good,” said participant Janet Yarboi.

Yarboi, who told The Tribune she enjoyed meeting others in the community and learning healthy cooking methods, maintained that “seasoning is everything to me, and I really can’t sacrifice seasoning.”

Wise, whose pronouns are they/she, noted that the current health topics for the recent GFGM meal were diabetes, sodium and cardiovascular disease.

“Some of our favorite foods are fried. And it’s only right to eat fried food, because food is about pleasure and enjoyment and community, right?’ they said, the Tribune claimed. “However, if you eat fried foods as a standard, you are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.”

McDonald discussed a wide range of topics as they ate, including the effects of genetically modified foods, the dangers of cooking red meat at high temperatures, and whether nutritional issues that impact gut health can be passed on to future generations in a similar way. .

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Both Johnson and Wise agree that neither of them ever suggest that people remove certain foods from their diet, preferring instead to provide suggestions for replacements.

“Yes, we’ll teach you healthy cooking, but we’ll never say you’re doing something wrong. We are never going to take food away from you. We will only add,” Wise said, according to The Tribune. “We eat food for a variety of reasons, and many are deeply psychological and emotional.”

McDonald plans to use new funding to test the success of Good Food is Good Medicine by looking at whether participants’ diets change after the courses end. In the meantime, Wise is trying to expand its curriculum to additional Chicago neighborhoods and is also developing a Spanish language course, partnering with pre-existing community organizations whenever possible.

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