Jodi is a 32-year-old mother of a fussy three-year-old who lived in a pleasant suburban home. Japanese by heritage she purposely never learned to cook. “My mother was basically a slave to my father,” she explained. “I figured if I never learned to cook that couldn’t happen to me.” But after she lost her high-tech job, she found herself with deeply reduced income and days alone with her son. The least she could do was get dinner on the table and try feed her kid something other than fish sticks. “But as someone who has never cooked, I have no idea where to even start.”

Before the project: Jodi and her husband bought most their food in bulk, resulting in a packed fridge, freezer and pantry, spilling over into the garage. They purchased condiments by the gallon, including mayonnaise that had a sell-by date of a year prior. We found five-year-old steaks in the freezer. For lunch, she made her most ambitious dish: a curry that started as a cube. When mixed with water, it formed a sauce that she mixed with simple vegetables and Minute rice. “I’m such a bad Asian!” When I asked if she had ever read the label, she replied she hadn’t and was stunned to find that MSG was a primary ingredient. She sat down defeated. “Is there any way I can make this without a cube?”

After: Jodi donated much of the processed food from the pantry to a local food shelter after reviewing the expiration dates. She moved with confidence in the kitchen and wielded her knife like a pro. She made bread, roasted a chicken and sautéed brussel sprouts undaunted, even though she’d never made them before. “I’m getting to be an expert on what to do with leftover chicken,” she bragged. She showed off a sheath of recipes she’d collected and tried from a local supermarket. She used to buy frozen waffles, now she makes pancakes from scratch.

Jodi’s takeaway: “I’ve learned to like cooking, something I never thought I would do. But I still don’t want to be put into a role that it’s always my job.” Her son was still picky, but at least if he eats chicken nuggets, they’re made from scratch. “I want to know what’s in what I’m feeding my family. I never thought about it before. I would never let a food in my house without reading the label first.”

Jodi’s most impactful lessons: The whole chicken, vegetables, knife skills, no-knead bread.


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