Charlie Cart, the handy kitchen on wheels used to teach school children about food and cooking, is making its way into public libraries. Currently in 38 libraries across the country, the carts are used online or in person to boost culinary skills and share recipes and nutritional information.
“Libraries started taking notice early on,” says Carolyn Federman, who founded the Charlie Cart project in Berkeley in 2015. “They’re well networked and share information across regions.” She adds that librarians generally have the flexibility and autonomy to bring in new programs and that food education has become more of a priority for libraries. As one example, during the pandemic, the Berkeley library hosted a program called Farm to Shelf, in which a cookbook author films a recipe being prepared on the Charlie Cart. Later, a virtual conversation with the author allows patrons to bring their questions directly to the chef.
The pandemic-driven need to go online has been a boon to the Charlie Cart, allowing many more people to participate. Federman notes that 175 people turned out on Zoom to meet cookbook author and chocolate maven Alice Medrich, a number that the library couldn’t have easily accommodated in person.
To better serve local communities, libraries have also developed creative partnerships with food banks, which have had to serve increasing numbers of individuals and families due to the pandemic. Staff at food banks became aware that not everyone coming for supplies knew how to use the available foods. Bringing the Charlie Cart into the food bank has been a great way to demonstrate how to prepare foods in tasty, nutritious ways so that precious food does not go to waste.
Federman sees cause for optimism about education related to food. “In the past, nutrition education was disregarded,” she says. But now, she adds, the general population is taking note of food education as a critical piece of health and well-being. As a result, politicians are paying attention and introducing legislation, including a bipartisan bill recently reintroduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to establish a pilot program to fund food education in schools.
The Charlie Cart is playing its part, now at over 200 sites (including schools, libraries, food banks, and senior centers) in 39 different states. Read more about the development of the cart: here
Read our review of Carolyn Federman’s children’s cookbook here.
Photos: Marianna Nobre @maricotanobre