Light a Fire 2016: Best New Nonprofit

Curriculum of Cuisine Teaches Portland’s High School Kids Healthy Choices

The new nonprofit puts real chefs into local classrooms.

By Ben Tepler October 10, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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In a city that touts itself as one of the country’s great food destinations, there’s no good reason why kids should inhale Pepsi and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on a daily basis. But that was the reality that Maggie Michaels faced as a longtime Portland Public Schools teacher who struggled to keep her high school students engaged during fructose-fueled afternoon classes.

“The fast and processed food industries spend millions targeting the high school population,” says Michaels. “What are we spending on food education? Until Beyoncé sells broccoli, we’re not going to win.”

After three years of summer school test runs, Michaels launched the Curriculum of Cuisine last year. The program puts real chefs into area classrooms, all while fulfilling core requirements. At Grant High School, Alliance High School at Meek, and Milwaukie High School, students were able to see their textbook drudgery with fresh eyes, learning about food justice, basic knife work, and cooking theory, and getting an immersive look at the industry from working pros.

During a 2012 summer school pilot program, all of the participants—83 percent of whom had failed at least one core class during the prior school year—were able to make up class credits through TCC.

“Many of our students don’t have fresh, healthy food choices at home,” says Meek teacher Joe Ferguson. “For a lot of them, it was a completely new experience.” 

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