Think Tank

Aug 20, 2018, 11:20
Teaching Inclusion, Tolerance and Respect
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Teaching Inclusion, Tolerance and Respect

A teaching joy is to witness self-enlightenment which helps change the world – one student at a time.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

We have a tremendous opportunity as culinary educators to be the change that is needed and the voice of acceptance in kitchens. There is plenty of historical evidence that many people tend to fear or disregard what they don’t know or understand. The charge of education is to enlighten, inspire, question, and discuss those things that are grey in students’ minds. Culinary education provides a perfect setting for this type of inclusive discussion simply because we provide an opportunity to practice what we discuss and study. 

One thing I have always admired and cherished about the food business is the atmosphere that encourages diversity and inclusion. There are, however, plenty of examples of food establishments where individuals, chefs included, fail to understand the practice of respect and inclusion. This has been very clear to most of us who have spent time in a commercial kitchen and never more so than today. Those work environment “traditions” that I referred to in last month’s article can no longer be tolerated. It is our responsibility as educators to openly discuss and demonstrate through practice topics such as inclusion and cultural appreciation in our classrooms and kitchens. The attitudes and practices we insist on in our setting will likely become the standards by which our graduates live in the workforce. This can be the beginning of real change; change that will serve the food business well into the future. 

Real teaching comes from an understanding that knowledge only takes place when individuals connect with the subject matter, when they feel the relevance of what is offered, and when they become self-aware. To this end, we cannot train people to truly accept, understand, or appreciate others for whom they are – we can only set the stage for them to become self-aware. 

Here is some “food for thought” in this regard:

Become the Portal for Appreciating Others
I think we all realize real cooking is more than mastering technique. Real cooking comes from a deeper understanding of what and why as much as how. The best cooks are those who understand the ingredients, appreciate the source, study the history and traditions of those who developed a style of cooking, and those who make a connection with the people of a cuisine as much as a dish itself. 

I commonly use the example of Chef Rick Bayless who is considered one of the finest proponents of true Mexican cuisine in North America. Chef Bayless and his wife lived in Mexico for many years – studying the people, the culture, and the natural ingredients of Mexico before he attempted to replicate that cuisine in Chicago. He will always reference this “deep understanding and appreciation” as the most important ingredient in his cooking.

In your classrooms you will typically find diversity of ethnicity and culture that needs to find a forum. Try building assignments that push students to research their family heritage, ask grandparents about their lives, the foods they grew up with, and how their parents and grandparents may have honored their heritage. Bring those discussions into the classroom – they are rich, enlightening and fascinating. Never introduce a classic dish or a cuisine without including some connection with history and culture. If it doesn’t exist in your classroom mix then bring people in from the outside to talk about this.

So many cuisines came about not from extensively trained chefs in high-end restaurants, but from the poor, the farmers, and the blue-collar workers, who had to build flavors with minimal budgets using ingredients readily available and inexpensive. This is true in France, China, Italy, Germany, Austria, the American South, and Mexico. Understanding and appreciating a people’s environment and their culture will play a huge role in understanding how to treat a dish and cook with heart and soul.

Encourage Open Discussion
Every class should begin and end with an opportunity for students to talk about what they know, what they perceive, and why they feel and think the way they do about another culture, race, or gender as it relates to food and cooking. This is an obligation that all teachers share – open discussion, if controlled, can lead to better understanding and appreciation.

Focus on the Value of Team Learning
Very few academic programs provide a forum for team learning to the level that cooking does. How the faculty member builds those teams is critical – try to build diversity into your team exercises – match team members not because they are similar, but because they are different. 

Bring Diversity to the Classroom and Kitchen
Think about your guest lecturer and guest chef programs. Certainly it is important to bring in people who complement your lessons and who are accomplished in their field. Try not to overlook the importance of diversity and culture. Bring in women chefs, chefs and managers who came to the U.S. as immigrants, those who lived the culture of a cuisine before they attempted to cook it. Set the stage for the connections to come to life.

Practice Zero Tolerance – Call It Out
Any time an instructor turns his or her back on a comment or action that portrays a culture in a negative way, insults, demeans, or bullies another person because of their gender, race, or cultural background – that instructor is perpetuating the “poor traditions” of the kitchen. This new student generation will not accept that environment and the law will not permit it. Practice zero tolerance in the classroom – it is the legal standard in the workforce and we must prepare our students to be the example for others.

Acknowledge Different Thoughts While Setting the Example for Inclusion
People are certainly entitled to their beliefs and their way of thinking, but the instructor must be the standard bearer of what is right. Listening to opposing thoughts is essential and your role should never be to impose your beliefs on others, but you can be, and must be, the perfect example of what is right and what is now deemed appropriate.

Remember, one of the joys of teaching is to witness self-enlightenment and helping to change the world – one student at a time. 

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER


Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..