Online cooking class heating up for spring semester

Madelyn Crawford

Cooking with Purpose, a semester-long online cooking series, is back up and running for the spring.

The series, led by Office of Sustainability staff, focuses on preparing food that is healthy and affordable. Twenty students meet over Zoom for three of the five sessions throughout the semester, the first and fifth sessions held in person, to make a meal together. 

During the sessions, students learn to make meals with groceries normally available for cheap and found in food pantries on campus. Lentil tacos, overnight oats, chickpea salad, skillet pizza and peppermint ice cream are some of the dishes that students learn to make during the class. 

During the last session, students have the opportunity to socialize, trade recipes and dig into some delicious meals.

“That’s a little less about cooking and more about community building,” said Department of physics and astronomy professor Carla Ramsdell.

Ramsdell oversees the Cooking with Purpose program. She originally approached the Office of Sustainability in fall 2021 with an idea for an online food-making course. 

It was quickly approved.

“We build community, we expand knowledge about food prep … and it’s this big collaboration,” Ramsdell said. “The three things we’re focused on are that the ingredients are inexpensive, healthy and environmentally friendly.”

The series is available to all students, no matter their food security. However, students who actively utilize campus food pantries because of food insecurity are especially encouraged to partake.

Cooking with Purpose was originally online due to COVID-19. Ramsdell said that it will most likely stay that way.

“There’s a theory that when students are cooking in their kitchen with their own pots and pans, they’d be more apt to do that again someday,” Ramsdell said.

Ramsdell said her hope is to equip students who may encounter food insecurity in the future with the skills to navigate the issues as they arise.

The Office of Sustainability staff and students work together to schedule and plan the series. Dates, recipes and intensive planning are all a focus of the team.

“It really is a collaboration,” Ramsdell said. “So many people are involved.” 

Ethan King, a junior nutrition and foods major, and was originally a part of the Cooking with Purpose cohort in spring 2021.

King’s favorite part of being in the class was how easy and simple the meals were to prepare.

 “It was good for students that were trying to get into cooking more,” King said.

King became a student leader for the series in the fall 2021. He manages communications with the students and leads one of the online classes. 

“I feel like when people think of healthy or sustainable cooking, they think of really complicated things, or expensive ingredients,” King said. 

Cooking with Purpose provides students with eco-friendly, healthy cooking options without the fear of expensive ingredients.

Jennifer Maxwell, sustainability program director for University Sustainability and leader of the Mountaineer Food Hub and Free Store, said she values the importance of the class as it educates students who may have fewer food options available to them.

“Forty-three percent of our students have experienced food insecurity at one time or another,” Maxwell said. “People don’t realize that food insecurity comes in all forms.”

Maxwell and the Office of Sustainability staff made the program possible and supported it throughout the years. In addition to maintaining it, the staff ensures that the ingredients used in the courses are available in campus food pantries.

“The ability to be able to educate around preparing high quality, healthy food on a budget is really valuable,” Maxwell said.