Teens in Portland, Oregon, are acquiring vital job and life skills through a free culinary after-school program called the Portland Kitchen. Students are learning how to cook food and preparing for the food handlers’ exam, but the program’s founder, Abigail Herrera, says that the Portland Kitchen is not a cooking school. Instead, she refers to the program as “primarily a job skills program.” She cites soft skills that participants are gaining, including learning how to work together as part of a team. In addition, cooking provides an opportunity to improve skills in mathematics, and other academic subjects.

The Portland Kitchen is modeled after a Washington, D.C. program called Brainfood, which uses food as a youth development tool. The organization’s goals are promoting “active learning, self-reliance and healthy living to empower youth as resources in their own community.”

Emily Liedel of Civil Eats reports:

Both programs are centered around the idea of “youth development through food,” and Dahm, like Herrera, adamantly rejects the suggestion that he runs a cooking school. Unlike programs like the Sprouts Cooking Club in San Francisco, which prepares youth from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds for a career in the culinary arts, neither the Portland Kitchen nor Brainfood sees that as their goal, any more than a basketball camp for struggling youth would claim to prepare participants for careers in the NBA.

Brainfood has been using food as a youth development tool for 15 years, and has reached thousands of students. The Portland Kitchen launched in late 2013, and has served about six dozen youth.

(Note: For one hundred years, the 4-H Youth Development Program has used cooking projects as a way to teach youth about citizenship, leadership and life skills. It currently serves six million youth. In California, leadership for 4-H is provided by the University of California; learn more here).


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