A recipe for happiness

“It’s as easy as making a decision and sticking to it,” said Krista Cook, MSc Candidate, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Cook’s attitude toward her commitments has helped guide her academic career; taken her from Kingston, Ontario to St. John’s, Newfoundland by bicycle; and opened her mind to a unique volunteering experience with Growing Chefs London.

In the summer of 2013, Cook and her friend made a commitment to visit Newfoundland after finishing their undergraduate degrees.

Instead of driving or flying, they decided that bicycles would be their main mode of transportation. They bought bicycles, began training and preparing for the trip, and by July 2013 the pair left Kingston. Thirty-five days later, they arrived at Gros Morne National Park in Labrador and made it to St. John’s shortly after that.

“The trip had some of the hardest days I’ve ever had to get though, but I’m so proud of us for making it all the way,” Cook said.

Cook is now an MSc Candidate in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Her thesis topic focuses on the relationship between childhood obesity, diet and food environment. Food literacy, a new term that refers to the knowledge and skills an individual has that enables them to make healthy choices regarding diet, is also an important part in her research.

“Food literacy is something that should start in childhood, but many kids are missing out on it. Improving food literacy is one of the main goals of Growing Chefs London,” explained Cook.

It’s not a coincidence that Cook’s volunteer experience with Growing Chefs London ties in well with her research interests.

“During the past few years I’ve tried to focus more on the things I’m interested in, and healthy diets and food knowledge have emerged as part of that effort,” said Cook. “Growing Chefs embodies many of the values that I believe are important to being healthy and happy, and I wanted to get involved with the organization.”

Cook volunteers with adolescents at the London Intercommunity Health Centre (LIHC) on Thursday evenings, as well as occasionally volunteering for one-off events, such as the Grickle Grass Festival, a sustainable living festival and fundraiser in support of Growing Chefs Ontario and the Children's Museum.

Growing Chefs educates youth about local agriculture, food production, cooking skills and kitchen safety. During their lessons, the head chefs focus on incorporating local or seasonal produce and choose recipes that are economical and versatile.

“My role is to pitch in wherever someone needs a hand. I’ll help with meal prep, supervision, dish washing and encouraging the kids to try new skills and get involved,” explained Cook. “I also have the opportunity to learn just as much from the head chefs as the kids do each week.”

Cook believes finding activities and interests for which she is passionate about are paramount to genuinely enjoying her experiences.

“I think that sincere interest and passion shines through in the work you do, and that makes a positive difference in your life and others’ lives,” said Cook.