If only people could stick to eating the kinds of foods stuffed into a pair of refrigerators at the Buffalo Museum of Science, and growing in five raised garden beds just outside the windows in the museum’s new Bite Size Science kitchen.
That’s the whole idea of this new cooking classroom, which is designed to bridge the gaps between food, science and healthy decision-making.
“People say they hate science but love to cook. Well, cooking is science,” said Karen Wallace, who oversees the kitchen as part of her job as museum director for science, learning and interpretation.
“That really is the emphasis of this kitchen,” Wallace said. “It really is a kitchen lab. It’s designed to change behaviors, to get people to eat healthier – to understand the different foods and how they are important to the body.”
The inspiration for this kitchen was to extend the lessons of the “Explore You” and “Artifacts” science studios, which focus on healthy bodies and international culture.
“Food is a unifying concept,” Wallace said. “This also is a way we take ethnic foods and show you how to make them healthier.”
Wallace is working with Suzanne Platino, facilitator of learning at the museum, and a host of local, health-conscious chefs, who spent the tail end of the school year teaching children more about food and its connections to health and science.
They will continue that work this summer with a series of classes open to the public and designed for those ages 10 and up – including adults.
“We’re just getting started. That’s the exciting thing,” Wallace said. She said the kitchen also will be used with museum Discovery Camps all summer long, as a way to get a better sense of programs that could be offered to schoolchildren from across the region in the museum next school year.
“Kitchen Nutrition Mom and Me” classes start Tuesday and other summer classes are entitled “Seasonal Cooking: From the Garden to the Table,” “Go Veggies” and “Delicious, Health Boosting Desserts.”
Register for the classes under the “Learn more” tab in the Bite Size Kitchen section at sciencebuff.org, or by calling 896-5200, Ext. 338; classes cost $5 for museum members and $7 plus museum admission for nonmembers.
“We have diverse populations showing interest: moms who have kids wanting to learn how to cook, people who are trying to take more control of their health through the foods that they eat,” Platino said. “But how do you incorporate more healthy foods when you don’t know how to cook?”
Platino and other staffers have spent recent years looking to open the culinary eyes of children from the Buffalo Public Schools, including the Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School next door to the museum. Schoolchildren have picked blueberries, then come back to the museum and made jam. They’ve also made their own mozzarella cheese, and visited an urban farm.
“It’s really great to get kids learning, in particular those who may not be familiar with healthier foods, or organic foods, or even foods that come right from the ground,” Wallace said. “We’ve had kids who’ve never eaten an avocado or had a desire to eat an avocado, but once they became invested in making guacamole, and tweaking it, making their own recipe with ingredients they like, they loved it, every single one of them.”
Raised garden beds sit outside the Bite Size Science kitchen, including one that has produced strawberries in recent weeks. Lettuce, beans, tomatoes, peppers, peas, beets, squash, and fennel and other herbs also grow outside.
“The more they’re invested” in the preparation, Platino said, “the more they’re willing to give it a try.”
The Ralph C. Wilson Foundation sponsors the kitchen and has paid for equipment and supplies. Artisans Kitchens and Baths built the cooking lab, and Rich Products, General Mills, Julie Deuble and the James H. Cummings Foundation also provided funding.
Those who’ve supported the project see the big picture, Wallace said.
“Really something the whole community is striving for is health. Healthy community, healthy people, healthy environment – it all works together.”
It’s also really about “making science very evident in everyday lives,” she said, “and it’s always great at the end to talk about something you can eat.”
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