Associate Director, Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, University of Minnesota
Early in her career, before focusing on teaching food skills, Kris Igo worked in restaurants and wine retail—where eating food is regarded as a pleasurable and communal experience. “Spending time with local chefs inspired my interests in cooking and new flavors,” Kris explained. “Being a wine educator taught me the power of terroir, which is a French term to describe place-based flavors and a sense of local and cultural pride in food traditions.”
Now, in her role as the Associate Director at the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, Kris is able to continue to integrate her love for food and community into her work. The Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute works to increase and sustain the University’s impact in the interdisciplinary arena of food, agriculture and health through research, learning, and community engagement.
“I often say that the pleasurable act of eating brought me into the work, but what keeps me coming back is the community experience of the common table. Family meals, shared lunches with colleagues, and preparing food with youth—these are all spaces where walls come down and where real conversation occurs,” Kris said.
Building New Habits; Building Community
One of the food skills strategies that Kris is most proud of through her work at the University is the Institute’s cooking course for undergraduate students. The course provides students with the knowledge, critical thinking, and technical skills necessary to make food choices based on nutritional, environmental, and local and global societal issues.
“While cooking skills are definitely a focus, what we’re really trying to do is teach students to build new habits such as how to carve out time to feed themselves,” Kris told us. “We’re also trying to change students’ taste preferences to be more embracing of whole and unprocessed foods.”
The course is also building community. At the end of each weekly lab, students share a meal together. This creates a space for students to pause from their busy lives and connect with each other.
Start Where You Are
When students look to Kris for advice on how to get more involved in food skills work, she tells them to simply start where they are. “Look at your organizations, friends, and your workplace and create something,” Kris explained. “You could start a cooking club or ask your employer about planting a community garden.”
Kris suggests finding what you’re good at and what you like to do. “If you’re willing to do the work and take charge, you’re not going to be turned down,” she said. “As you take those first steps to create something, you’ll be led to the next thing.”