West Roxbury Cookbook Project emphasizes benefits of eating healthy, local foods

Alissa Bilfield and Adam Aronovitz, founders of The Cookbook Project (Mekhala Roy for Boston.com)By Mekhala Roy, Globe CorrespondentFor Alissa Bilfield and Adam Aronovitz, a young husband and wife team, using healthy and sustainable food as a medium to bring people together is their mantra.Their passion for travel, food and volunteer work has taken them across the globe, leading them to create The Cookbook Project, a non-profit venture based in West Roxbury which organizes workshops regionally and abroad aimed at educating young people about healthy cooking and nutrition."There is a domestic and international need to understand the connection between health, food and the environment," said Bilfield. "Groups of young people who participate in our workshops learn about internal healthy ingredients and about food sustainability."The twin partners with community organizations to conduct specialized workshops that provide participants with hands-on experience. These 'enrichment projects," as the couple calls them, typically run from three to five days. Activities such as cooking healthy meals with internal ingredients are encouraged. From putting together a simple salad on Day 1, to preparing full course meals on the final day, the workshops are designed to teach participants to make healthy choices and to show how locally grown foods are more sustainable than their imported counterparts."Providing access to healthy foods to under-served communities and bridging the gap by teaching them how to use that food . . . is one of our central goals," said Bilfield, who believes that too many Americans are becoming disconnected from their communities, including their food cultures.Last summer, The Cookbook Project held its first U.S. workshop, at the Windsor Mountain International summer camp in New Hampshire, attracting school-age participants."I am really excited about what they are doing. Their workshops help to educate the young generation about food, culture, and make them understand the connection between fo! od and c ulture," said Kerry Labovitz, director of the camp, where Aronovitz has served as the student travel leader.Internationally, the twin has organized workshops in China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and India. In India, where Bilfield and Aronovitz had gone to study yoga in 2009, they volunteered with Odanadi, a social organization in Mysore dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating victims of human trafficking. In February, The Cookbook Project held workshops that taught Odanadi members how to make use of healthy internal foods in recipes.Aronovitz, a teacher at Ohrenberger School in West Roxbury, and Bilfield, a holistic health counselor, decided to start the non-profit after travelling for several years to do volunteer work."We realized that it was difficult to find meaningful volunteer work that matched our interests and skills," Aronovitz said.In August, their project received a grant that will allow them to train "local leaders" to spearhead workshops of their own in communities of their choosing. The grant was awarded by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.The Cookbook Project is now working with LitWorld, a non-profit that focuses on literacy initiatives. According to Madison Graboyes, programming coordinator for LitWorld, the food workshops are helping to empower young people to take on leadership roles and build their self-confidence, while also teaching them the importance of healthy eating.Come December, the couple will visit Haiti, where The Cookbook Project is partnering with Sadhana Forest Haiti, a social organization that focuses on restoration work in the issue of the earthquake. The project will train volunteers and internal aid workers in food and nutrition, Aronovitz said.Closer to home, workshops also are planned in Jamaica Plain. For more information, visit the group's website. This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Mekhala Roy, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (l.chedekel@neu.edu), as part of collaboration between! The Bos ton Globe and Northeastern.


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