Cooking It Up: Hartford, Health and History
Hartford Public Library
Hartford Public Library, through its Hartford History Center, provided 10 cooking demonstration programs that framed nutrition not just as a health and wellness issue but as a cultural and community topic, connecting people with information and knowledge that could enrich their lives. This program was designed to foster an understanding of the vital relationship between food preparation as it relates to social memory history and cultural tradition, and deliver health and wellness information to our older adult community in a creative learning format.
Eating well is important at any age but health issues and physical limitations sometimes make it difficult for seniors, the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, to get the nutrients they need for a balanced diet. Some of the most common reasons for poor nutrition in older adults include: a decrease in the senses of smell and taste which can affect a person’s ability to taste and enjoy food; side effects of medication; poor dental health; lacking money to pay for adequate foods; forgetfulness; and, depression. Since many seniors aren’t eating as much as they should, the food they do consume must be as nutritious as possible. There is abundant evidence to show that an optimal level of nutrition can extend lifespan and improve quality of life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that “poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging.” Promotion and adoption of preventative measures can help reduce the potential for costly health programs and preserve health. “Cooking It Up: Hartford, Health and History” appealed to the senior population and promoted healthy eating, the use of more seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables and the recalibration of family favorite recipes that adhered to the traditional flavor but provided 21st century modifications. Those improvements included (but not be limited to) the introduction of healthy fats (nut butters, nuts, seeds and oil), whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread, oats and whole grain cereals), fresh fruits and vegetables (canned and frozen were also suggested as good choices) and protein rich beans, legumes and meat and diary products. Opportunities similar to “Cooking It Up,” cooking demonstration programs delivered through the lens of social history with an emphasis on nutrition and that are free and open to the public, were non-existent in the Greater Hartford area. “Cooking It Up” was another avenue by which Hartford Public Library delivers equal access to high quality, lifelong education targeted to Hartford’s older adult community.
Hartford Public Library presented a series of 10 cooking workshops, each featuring a chef from a local restaurant preparing a healthy meal or dishes. The participating restaurants were selected based on their individual history in the city and their ability to reflect Hartford’s ethnic cultural traditions as expressed in food. In addition to the chef, a professional nutritionist was present to provide supplementary commentary on the meals' preparation. Attendees were encouraged to bring in family recipes for the nutritionist to recommend ingredient substitutions to make them healthier, while keeping their traditional flavors. A facilitator (moderator/producer) hosted the workshops, working with the chef, nutritionist, and audience members to maintain the flow of conversation. When the dish was ready, it was shared by all. The 10 cooking demonstrations were taped and made available on Hartford Public Access Television as well as formatted for online viewing at www.hhc.hplct.org . The audiotapes and corresponding materials were entered into the library’s Hartford History Center’s special collections as a unique compilation of Hartford restaurant and neighborhood history. “Cooking It Up” provided a lens through which to examine Hartford history while at the same time fulfilling the library’s mission to connect people with health and wellness information and knowledge that could enrich their lives. In addition, by capturing local restaurant history, the Hartford History Center was able to collect narratives for the special collections that reflect a richly diverse social history.
Pre- and post- surveys of the “studio” audience showed that 100% of the respondents reported an increase in knowledge of health and nutrition in meal preparation following the program; 100% of the respondents reported an increase in their knowledge of a technique or skill related to healthy food preparation; and, 100% of the respondents reported an increase in knowledge of how to modify recipes to make them healthier.