By Alex Levy, MBA 17
I’ll admit it. When I woke up to the sound of my alarm and driving rain early on a Saturday morning, I had a strong urge to hit snooze and roll over. I was scheduled to be at Bay Leaf kitchen, the non-profit where I’ve been serving as a non-voting board member for the past few months, in an hour to volunteer at one of their cooking classes.
As I lay in my bed, I realized that it wasn’t just my grogginess and the dread of rain keeping me under the covers. I was nervous. I was planning on driving to an unknown part of SF that people often say is dangerous. I was going to be working directly with kids during a cooking class and helping shape their relationship with food. I was stepping into an uncertain situation, and my half-awake brain searched for excuses.
Despite the rain and the uncertainty, I was able to wrest myself from bed and make the drive over to the Bayview. I would be helping out with the Roots class, which is a weekend class taught by Bay Leaf Kitchen to help 3-5 year olds learn cooking basics and develop a love for food early. The underlying rationale is that if these kids develop a connection with their food from a young age, they are much less likely to eat processed foods and develop metabolic disorders.
The class was a remarkable, eye-opening, and fun experience. I was blown away by how curious and excited these pre-kindergarteners were about carrots and grapes. One student, Becks, had developed a particular affinity for chard, and set about creating a chard salad with lime and sesame seed dressing. The result honestly tasted like something you’d be proud to serve to houseguests, if not something you’d be served in a New American restaurant. As the students shuttled between the cooking area and garden, seeking out particular vegetables and herbs, I couldn’t help but be excited by these kids’ enthusiasm for healthy and fresh food.
The 3-5 year olds were assisted by another group of students, which Bay Leaf refers to as Junior Chef Helpers. This group of middle-schoolers has been through other Bay Leaf programming, and came to the Saturday classes to mentor the younger group. These Junior Chef Helpers were amazingly patient and thoughtful in guiding and instructing their young mentees, and they were clearly excited to cook and create an awesome, nutritious lunch. It was plain to see how this type of mentorship could create a virtuous cycle; the Junior Chef Helpers gained further confidence and excitement, and the younger “Roots” looked up to this group, who in turn reaffirmed their budding love for cooking and fresh produce.
After the Chard salad and cauliflower stew, the fried potatoes and cauliflower grape dessert had been cooked and consumed, and the makeshift kitchen cleaned and packed away, I was incredibly recharged about the Bay Leaf mission. I had always believed that cooking education could positively impact health, wellness, and nutrition in children, but seeing the impact on individual 4-year-olds made it real.
One of my goals when I started at Berkeley-Haas was to develop a lifelong habit of community service. I joined Bay Leaf’s board through the Berkeley Board Fellows program to work towards this goal. Previously, I had done plenty of community service on a one-off basis, volunteering in soup kitchens, food banks, and nursing homes. I had trouble sustaining this involvement, so I thought that getting involved at the strategic levels of a non-profit might be a great way to develop personal investment and long-term involvement. What I realized was that to truly feel invested and involved, I need both. I enjoy being part of the board-level discussions, but also felt tremendous satisfaction helping a small group of 4-year-olds for two hours on a Saturday morning.
I’m ecstatic that I got out of bed that Saturday. I feel a renewed sense of engagement with Bay Leaf, and got some great chard salad too (thanks Becks!).