Maggie Michaels: Founder of Curriculum of Cuisine

Maggie’s work revolves around one, delicious thing: food. After spending a decade working as a Language Arts teacher at a Portland, OR high school, Maggie launched The Curriculum of Cuisine to share food knowledge and essential culinary skills with youth around the city. Since the program is on hiatus due to COVID-19, Maggie is now working as a catalyst for food justice and social wellness by amplifying the work of various nonprofit organizations.



Where did the idea behind The Curriculum of Cuisine come from?


While I was working as a full-time teacher, I realized we missed the mark in giving students the life skills they needed, and culinary skills are a big part of that. Not eating well in the morning limited how successful my students could be in class, and I wanted to know why. I took a one year leave of absence to do research about what I was seeing in schools in terms of food’s impact on students. One thing led to another, and I ended up having the opportunity to do a pilot iteration of the program. I eventually turned The Curriculum of Cuisine into an actual nonprofit and learned how to operate it on my own. We spent nine years working in several schools and school districts, serving over 1,000 kids. I never had enough money to meet the demand, so now I’m working to figure out how I can be of service to everyone who wants to take part in the program. I never intended on being a solo entrepreneur, and my goal is to always keep learning. Now, I work as a catalyst to help organizations and businesses subvert those hurdles that I overcame when launching this.


How does food affect students' lives?


If you aren’t getting nourishment, your mood and behavior will suffer. That’s not my opinion, that’s science. We all know this, and we have the science and data to back it up, yet our educational systems still aren’t meeting those needs. I think it’s very important to teach youth socio-emotional skills and mindfulness, including culinary learning. There’s a prominent social perspective created through advertising that teenagers only want to eat Hot Cheetos and other junk. That has not been true through my experiences. Teenagers love vegetables and want to make meals for themselves when they have exposure to healthy foods. I noticed the difference in students’ mood and success when they had Doritos and Diet Coke for breakfast instead of eggs and toast. We aren’t taking the time to ask questions and listen to what these teenagers want, and instead just listen to what advertisements are telling us they want.


What is food justice?


In my educator brain, I use the words “food justice” and “food education” interchangeably. We cannot have food justice until we have a fair living wage, racial equity, and food accessibility. At the core of all of this is education. We have to be teaching and learning in a lifelong way about food: our relationship with it, how to cook it, how to find it, and how to use it to better ourselves. What we put into our bodies affects what we can do, what our mood is, and what our energy levels are. The very least we can do for our high school students is give them what they need to succeed, and they need these culinary skills. We know for a fact that everyone has to eat, so why don’t we take food justice more seriously? Culinary education should be a core class that is implemented into school curriculum as a life skills course; it would be an acknowledgment of us all being whole beings.


What is your favorite part of your job?


So many people told me that what I was trying to do was impossible. They told me, “You can’t turn a classroom into a kitchen,” and “Real chefs won’t want to participate,” and “You won’t find the money.” On a personal level, it’s been really rewarding to say, “Yes, I can do this,” and always find a way to work around the impossible. Seeing kids find foods that they truly love is inspiring. It’s a wonderful feeling to be in the classroom when kids are cooking, everyone is excited and smiling.