Philadelphia library using culinary courses to boost literacy

Those looking to put their online culinary courses to good use should consider moving to Philadelphia, where food enthusiasts are partnering with the Free Library of Philadelphia to boost literacy, nutrition and, in turn, quality of life. Using several million dollars in both public and privately donated funds, the library recently added a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen that includes 16 burners, a walk-in refrigerator and several video monitor banks where demonstrations can be watched up close.

The incredible efficiency and modernity of the kitchen stands in stark contrast to the city itself; nearly half a million Philadelphian adults read at or below an eighth grade level. Those 500,000 people represent nearly a third of the city’s total population. Having finished construction on the kitchen, the Free Library of Philadelphia has partnered with several organizations, including the Center for Literacy and the Penn State Extension School, to boost literacy through culinary arts.

Already anticipating participants numbering roughly 2,000 per summer, the library intends to use the practical applications of cooking already being used in the daily lives of many adults to teach other life skills. The belief behind the program, according to Michael Westover, CEO of the Center for Literacy, is that this style of learning will suit the minds of under-literate adults.

“It’s an opportunity to put learning into context,” Westover told Lehigh Valley Live. “Adults learn best when they’re doing.”

Penn State Extension is developing a program to take place at the library that focuses on reading ingredient lists, calculating percentages, creating budgets and conducting basic arithmetic equations. In addition to this, Jose Garces, a chef who operates eight restaurants in Philadelphia, intends to run a program in the kitchen that teaches literacy to Spanish-speaking restaurant workers. Garces’ program currently enrolls roughly 70 restaurant employees from across the city, but this new kitchen space should allow ample room for expansion.

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