Rene Cox and Stephanie Grindstaff show Sandy Bly the proper way to use a meat thermometer. Photo by David Grace.
KINGSPORT — Smoke rolled off the grill like fog rolls off Bays Mountain after a rainy afternoon.
Trays of buns were stacked high under blue tents.
Off to the side, a woman clad in black pants and a gray shirt danced with children, teaching them Zumba.
All of this was part of the Tennessee Nutrition Consumer Education Program, or TNCEP, which was held at the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Center on Thursday and was sponsored by the Sullivan County UT Extension office. The program is federally funded and was administered by UT.
“This program targets our SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants and our SNAP eligible participants,” said Extension agent and county director for the Sullivan County Extension office, Shirlene Booker. “We’re targeting youth and adults, children from the Boys and Girls Club, Parks and Rec and parents from Kingsport housing.”
The educational project had a few goals it wanted to reach. It wanted to educate participants to become more aware of the importance of healthy eating, the importance of food safety, understanding food safety principles and introducing people to different cooking methods.
The cooking methods that were introduced were grilling and batch cooking, also known as cooking with a crock pot. Booker and a coalition of groups chose grilling because of the season and chose crock pot cooking because it would encourage parents to plan out meals.
“Many times when parents don’t take time to plan meals, we end up going through fast food, and I’m not saying you can’t eat healthy at fast food,” Booker said. “But when we think about our economy and the price of groceries today, planning is very important for families
Along with the UT Extension office, 14 other organizations participated in the event. Some of those participants included Food City, Red Cross and the United Way.
Participants entered into the gym from outside and went around to different tables. Each table had educational materials on one of the goals, such as food safety. Once a participant made it around all of the tables, they headed outside to grab some food and water.
Some of the booths were emphasizing fruits and vegetables. The approach for fruits and vegetables was simplistic so the children would understand it. If a plate was half-full of fruits and vegetables, that is enough, because most children understand what a plate looks like.
Other booths were promoting food safety, such as checking meat with a meat thermometer. Booker emphasized it is very important to check meat with a thermometer because people can’t really look at meat and know if it is cooked to the proper temperature. Undercooked meat can particularly affect the elderly or pregnant women. Goody bags were given to participants that offered meat thermometers.
Some of the foods offered at the event were big orange burgers, BBQ ribs, fruits, vegetables and purple people eater, which was a combination of blueberries and pineapples cooked in a Dutch oven to make a cake.
One group that came out for the event was the Victory Center, an adult mental health program that offers recovery education and job training for adults with mental illness.
“It’s good community event to show community resources for our members that they might not otherwise have access to,” said program specialist for Frontier Health, Michael Morris. “This is a good set-up that we can bring them to for easy access to resources.”
Booker estimated around 200 people showed up for the event. It took around four months of planning and a whole lot of food to pull off the event. Booker hopes the people who participated came away with a better understanding of food safety.
“What we want to do is offer nutritional education in order for people to make behavioral changes that will better their lives,” Booker said. “That will make for healthier individuals, healthier employees thus we’re going to have a healthier community and a healthier county.”