Food security is a primary issue affecting UCR’s student population. A study conducted by the Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) in 2015 found that 62.5 percent of UCR students experienced some form of food insecurity. However, despite this concerningly high statistic not much has been done to combat the issue on campus.
Highlander Chefs, a student organization devoted to providing students with healthy and easily accessible food alternatives, hopes to change that. The organization, which now receives funding in addition to advising from the UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) — an initiative whose main focus is to find a long term solution to the global issue of food security, health and sustainability — holds three quarterly events that serve to not only provide students with engaging cooking demonstrations, but to spread awareness of the club and its objectives.
The group, which was founded in 2013, has recently come under new management, since all its previous board members are now graduating fourth-years. The new president, second-year cell, molecular and developmental biology (CMDB) major Rohan Kamath described the transition as something that was initially difficult, but has become progressively easier. “At first it was a bit stressful, since I went from being advertising chair to president,” Kamath explained. “But now, with the board members I have, and how reliable they’ve been, the process has become a lot easier.” As acting president, Kamath is also working toward possibly branching out the organization to other colleges and universities; in hopes that Highlander Chefs can eventually be a statewide, or even nationwide club.
Fellow second-year and CMDB major, as well as the event coordinator for the organization, Antonia Swift also expressed her satisfaction with the group dynamic outside of meetings and event planning. “It’s a good atmosphere,” Swift explained, with a chirpy and cheerful demeanor. “Not only are the demos we do fun, but we have our group chat which is always active; so we’re constantly communicating and staying in the loop with each other.” Swift also noted the student-mentor relationship between sophomore members and their upperclassman counterparts. “A lot of us are pre-med, including the seniors, so it’s been really helpful to gain some insight in order to prepare for the future.”
When asked what attracted them to cooking, members gave a variety of answers. President Kamath described cooking as a way of exchanging cultures. “Experiencing someone cooking food from their own unique culture, or maybe even someone from a mixed background mixing different cultures together in their cooking is like an artform,” Kamath described. “When someone cooks, they’re doing more than feeding themselves or others, they’re telling a story.”
Another second-year, Co-Vice President Aidan Wong, sees cooking as a medium for socialization in addition to remedying mental health. “Food is something that brings people together,” Wong expressed. “Everyone likes to eat, everyone likes to try new foods; so eating and of course cooking is something that everyone has in common.” He went on to explain how cooking serves as an outlet for stress and his concern with the lack of access to it that many students have. “Whenever I cook and see people enjoy my food, I feel happy because it gives me a sense of accomplishment,” Wong stated. “If you look at the stereotypical college student, who’s living off of ramen noodles and other microwaved food, they’re being denied of that experience and happiness that cooking can bring.”
The members also had a few choice words for any students interested in joining the organization. “Come with a positive attitude,” Wong suggested. “Because while the club duties can be fun, they can also get tedious. You may enjoy cooking, but once it becomes a job, it’s not always as enjoyable.” President Kamath issued a word of caution to anyone interested in the club. “There are gonna be times where you’re gonna work. There’s no real way around that,” he explained. However, Kamath also reassured that while hard work is inevitable in the organization, the support is there to match it. “If you ever have any questions or need advice, our members will be there to help you.” He went on to express that the club is completely free to join and always welcome to new members.
Those interested in finding out more about the organization are welcome to visit the club’s Instagram page @highlanderchefs as well as their email: firstname.lastname@example.org if they have any further questions or are interested in joining.