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Black Girls Cook: how one nonprofit is raising the next batch of confident, top tier chefs

By Aria Brent,
AFRO Staff Writer,

Food is a vital part of any culture, but the rich history behind many of the foods enjoyed and created by Black people is what makes it one-of-a-kind. Remembering and passing down the recipes for Black food has long been crucial to preserving Black culture and Black history.

And while cooking may seem like a lost art to some, 

Black Girls Cook (BGC) is doing their part to teach the next generation of young women the history of Black foods and how to cook them. 

“Initially, for me, it was just getting into the kitchen with the girls, having a good time and sharing some recipes with them,” said Nichole Mooney, founding executive director of BGC. “[I was] helping them understand the importance of having a better appreciation of their foods and realize that it was more than just cooking.”

Mooney founded BGC in 2014 with a mission to teach adolescent girls of color self-actualization techniques and life skills through the use of culinary arts and edible gardening. At the time of the organization’s founding, Mooney was living in New York, but relocated back to Baltimore and continued the program there. Today, the initiative is also operating in Miami, Fla.

BGC offers year-round programming that teaches young, Black girls life skills such as gardening, healthy eating, the basics of cooking and how to budget for groceries.

This year’s camp has been split into two four-week cohorts where participants will learn how to cook their favorite cultural meals, learn the fundamentals of growing their own edible garden, and create basic skincare products with ingredients found in the kitchen.

Campers will also take field trips to local, Black-owned businesses that further the lessons taught in the classroom.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 15.8 percent of the 465 chefs and head cooks in the American food industry in 2022 were Black. The same year, Black people over the age of 16 comprised 17.7 percent of all general cooks, while 69.4 percent of the 2,012 general cooks counted were White.

“It’s important for them to see women that look like them in this field, enjoying what they do and being passionate about it. Everybody eats food and [cooking] is a skill that you’re going to need when you go out in the real world,” said Tellita Crawford, chef instructor for this year’s camp. “I think food and learning about the basis of food is very important for these ladies’ livelihood.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, “African American women have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight compared to other groups in the United States. About 4 out of 5 African American women are overweight or obese.” 

I’m their explanation of the problem facing Black women and girls BGC states that “Black women not only carry more weight, but they start piling on extra pounds years before their White counterparts. Research suggests the problem starts early and it has a lot to do with the convenience foods girls consume during childhood years.”

The organization is working hard to reverse health disparities in their target population in Baltimore City. There are Black residents in neighborhoods of every quadrant of the city struggling to eat healthy and lead healthy lives while also living in food deserts. 

Throughout the program, Crawford has taught participants how to create recipes from scratch, using ingredients grown in a garden.

“We’re going to be going over how to read the recipes because some people don’t know how to read them and that’s important. We review the nutrition facts and learn how to read the ingredients and the calories. Today, we did a worksheet where they had to name the different utensils, pans and different stuff like that,” Crawford explained.

Crawford shared that she’s enjoyed exposing the girls to new foods and expanding their knowledge of culinary arts.

In addition to learning about culinary arts and the many aspects of it, the camp focuses on building relationships among the participants.

“I really like the people here. We’ve all become really good friends and it’s fun being with them,” said 14-year-old Spirit Rahman. “ I’ve also enjoyed learning about planting, like what’s involved in it. I’ve learned that if you really want to be a good cook, then you have to know where your food comes from and how it’s grown.”

Mooney understands that every camper isn’t going to leave the program aspiring to work in the culinary arts. She just wants to ensure they’ve gained the knowledge and skills they need to make food with a purpose.

“I think it’s important to provide kids with all the knowledge in the kitchen as well as the historical references and the connection to the Black community,” said Mooney. “That’s the overall goal.” 

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