The award-winning documentary, The Kitchenistas, follows the lives of women leading a movement in Southern California to reconnect their community to healthy, traditional foods.
Women receive the title Kitchenista when they graduate from Cooking for Salud, a bilingual culinary program at Olivewood Gardens in National City, California. Olivewood Gardens is a nonprofit dedicated to garden and nutrition education. They were designed initially Cooking for Salud to help women bring healthy whole food cooking into their homes.
The Kitchenistas actively engage with their community through events and by speaking at local government meetings to address the National City’s high rates of obesity and diabetes. San Diego County, which includes National City, estimates that more than one in three children in the county are overweight or obese and half of the adult population are prediabetic.
Cooking for Salud participants obtain a deeper understanding of food when they emerge as Kitchenistas. They learn, through experience, what makes food healthy and develop confidence to navigate the use of new ingredients and new techniques alongside traditional ones. The film provides a glimpse of the eight-week course which includes tutorials from professional chefs, nutrition classes led by an in-house doctor, and training on public speaking and advocacy.
One of the women the film follows is Patty Corona, Director of Cooking for Salud and Kitchenista from the program’s first graduating class. “Our mission as Kitchenistas after we finish the program is to go out into the community and share what we learned in the program with the people we love,” Corona tells Food Tank. She goes on to explain that “this program teaches you to have a better relationship with food, to learn what you are eating and beyond traditional cooking methods…is love, support, the role model, the sisterhood and all the challenges that all of us graduates face when we want to start making changes at home.”
Corona grew up on ranches in Mexico, where healthy food was a way of life. The standard diet was homegrown and home cooked and came together through community effort. When her family later settled in National City, their food habits suffered from a lack of access to fresh produce.
The documentary highlights the fact that healthy eating is more complicated than a matter of choice. Access to familiar ingredients, adaptation to life in an urban environment, and generational knowledge are significant factors. “The Kitchensitas film showcases several aspects of creating lasting health changes – education, human connection/shared experience, cultural connection, and support,” writer and producer of the film, Mary Ann Beyster, tells Food Tank.
Beyster and the film’s director, David Romero, are both native to San Diego County. Beyster notes that “it’s a privilege to explore and highlight what is occurring in our county.” She adds, “there is an important and growing role for grassroots, peer-led, and culturally sensitive food solutions…my hope is that viewers will be inspired to look for these programs in their community, volunteer and support them, and if they don ‘t exist, find a way to create them.”
Community driven change is at the heart of the Kitchenistas’ holistic food movement. And this film provides a window into the relationships that make their community strong. “The story of the Kitchenistas shows how small changes in our homes, schools, and cities occur over generations,” Beyster tells Food Tank, “and yet, also occur daily over one tasty, healthy meal at a time.”
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Photo courtesy of Ellyse Briand, Olivewood Gardens