Students undertake spiritual journey through the culinary arts

Contributing writer

Picture a big bowl of tri-colored pasta salad with vegetables, brimming with multi-colors, tastes, shapes and textures.

Now read this description:

“As different as we are, we are ALL called to be disciples of God. We all have special gifts, talents and charisms that blend so beautifully with our neighbor and help build up the Kingdom of God. When you take a big bite of this pasta salad, be reminded of your calling, the value of your neighbor and mission of the Kingdom.”

“Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

This is just one of many “menu” items found in the lesson plans for Food to Faith—A Spiritual Journey Through Culinary Arts, a new home economics class offered at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese.

Theology teacher Miriah Harris, who created the class, has a passion for teaching theology and loves cooking.

“This new culinary class merges my two passions into one,” Harris says. “It’s a way to add faith aspects, which underlie all that we do, into cooking.”

In this course, students view cooking/culinary arts through the lens of history, art, science, math, psychology and faith.

Harris, who also teaches sophomore and junior theology, received permission to develop the curriculum last spring and worked on it over the summer. She wanted to revive the home ec class by pairing it with a new way of presenting theology.

“I love teaching theology,” says Harris, who is in her third year teaching at Mater Dei. “This is a new way of presenting theology to kids, maybe a way that is subtle but impactful. It’s fun to bring Christ into each of the recipes.”

The class is structured with each unit called a “menu.” Each menu is based on a topic of theology, such as sacraments, including reconciliation, confirmation or matrimony.

“For matrimony, the menu is a marble cake. The two flavors of the cake are baked together. Two joining as one,” Harris says.

For Holy Orders, the class will make a shepherd’s pie. For Confirmation, 12 fruits of the spirit salad.

Later in the semester, the class will make unleavened bread, which will become the Body of Christ at Mass, which will be held just for the class by Father Chuck Tuttle.

Currently, 11 students are taking the class, and 15 are enrolled for next semester.

Senior Will Cox, 17, of Trenton, is a cook at a restaurant in Breese, where he does food prep. He is applying what he is learning in this class at his after-school job.

“I’ve learned proper knife skills, how to hold a knife and 10 different techniques. I had no idea there were so many ways to cut vegetables.” Cox says. “I use these skills every day at work.”

He says he has also learned how to read a recipe and that when writing the recipe, the order of ingredients is important. “If the order is wrong, it could mess up the dish,” he adds.

He says that he now knows the proper way to measure flour, by lightly filling the measuring cup and leveling off the top to get an accurate measurement.

“These are skills that we will use our entire lives,” Cox says. “Something we do every day, like eating, we can tie back to God and embrace the spirit of God.”

Cox’s favorite recipe has been learning how to make mild yellow mustard and the connection to Matthew 17:20.

“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Senior Jaidyn Kreke, 17, of Bartelso, says this class is a good way to learn life skills and how to cook for your family.

She says they have discussed the difference between processed and refined foods, and whole and organic foods.

“Know what you are eating so you can make the best food choices for your health,” she says.“We’re learning life skills but also faith,” she says. “This class teaches you more about your faith and where it comes from.”

Besides tying faith to the food they are making, the course is designed to emphasize the understanding that cooking and eating are at the core of maintaining good health. Students are gaining an understanding of meal planning, food prep and cooking techniques.

“Students will have the chance to get their hands dirty in the kitchen and sample their culinary masterpieces,” Harris wrote in the class description. “By the end of the course, students will feel at home in the kitchen, see the profound role food plays in the Bible and our faith, and will have gained a necessary life skill.”

“Eating is from the earth, of the earth. I hope the kids can see that eating good food – food that is good for us – has an effect on us,” Harris says.

“We have an emotional connection to food,” she says. “We need to be aware of the reason we are about to grab a particular food to eat. It’s more than I am hungry, and I want to eat something.”

Harris hopes the students, as they go forward in life, will remember the faith stories that are shared with each recipe they make in class. When they eat or make pasta salad, for instance, the message from Matthew 28:19 might be remembered.

“I hope the students know that faith and God infuses every aspect of their lives,” Harris says. “Basically, the students are a bunch of cucumbers waiting to become pickles when brine infuses it.”

She explains that statement in the recipe for making refrigerated dill pickles:

“Isn’t it crazy how through just a few simple steps, cucumbers became a new creation…pickles! A delightful addition to a hamburger or just a yummy snack. In a way, we are all a bunch of cucumbers with the potential of becoming pickles. When we let God infuse every part of ourselves – mind, body and soul – we are changed! We are made a new creation through Christ!”

Harris adds with a laugh, “I hope they never look at a pickle the same way again.”