Despite what many believe happened in the Garden of Eden, a great many people enjoy biting into the fresh crispness of a raw apple.
Chef Carlos Thomas, however, doesn’t find it to be so delicious.
“But I love applesauce,” he told members of the Woman’s Club of Upper St. Clair. “I love apple juice. I love baked apples.”
As guest speaker for the club’s November meeting, Thomas spoke about Feed the Hood, his Pittsburgh-based program aimed at overcoming food insecurity, teaching about proper nutrition and preparing students for careers in the culinary workforce.
One of the main goals is prompting people to eat more healthfully, and his educational and professional experience as a chef has provided him with numerous tricks of the trade.
“We are taught the skills to manipulate food. That’s how we got applesauce. That’s how we got baked apples,” he said. “So how can we do that with other foods with kids? How can we teach them how to manipulate food so that it’s in their diet? They’re getting their nutrition from it. And they like it.”
Many youngsters – adults, too – have come to prefer eating what’s not particularly good for them, for the most part because that’s pretty much all they know.
“In lower-income neighborhoods, we have a lot of corner-store, bodega-type markets that pretty much sell bad food,” Thomas said. “People aren’t going and eating fresh food because they’re not surrounded by it. They have no clue that this is better for you.”
Partnering with other nonprofit organizations, including the federally funded Pittsburgh Community Services Inc., Feed the Hood provides meals for people who face food insecurity, the number of whom has grown as a result of this year’s health-related circumstances.
“Throughout COVID-19, we’ve been able to serve over 20,000 meals through several distribution sites,” Thomas said, and prior to Thanksgiving, he and other chefs had prepared more than 1,000 more for the holiday.
The meals, of course, are brimming with nutritional value.
Thomas said his hope is to get people’s taste buds acclimated to better food so that when it becomes more readily available, “these healthy alternatives are welcomed and not turned away.”
Regarding its educational component, Feed the Hood uses peer-to-peer mentorship to help ready young people for careers in fields such as restaurant and hospitality management, manufacturing and production, multimedia and advertising and community service.
Thomas’ own career includes running a catering company that he calls Confluence, drawing on the idea that: “Food really brings people together.” He earned an associate degree from Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts – Pittsburgh and is a certified professional in food safety.
In 2016, he founded Feed the Hood after a Westinghouse High School teacher told him that for many students, school lunch represents the final meal of the day.
Naturally, Thomas wants to do what he can to end those types of deprivations.
“Food can make us feel better. Food can do something to us to make us carry on through whatever life has to offer,” he said. “Feed the Hood is just trying to get a little bit more of providing the research and providing the manpower that it takes to show our people need to eat better.”