Bridgeport resident Mona Jackson is a woman on a mission. The former restaurant owner and nutritionist wants to tackle the problem of child obesity and she wants to do it in unique fashion: She wants to educate entire families about proper nutrition and a healthy diet.
Jackson has founded Cook and Grow, a new organization designed to educate Park City families about food, cooking and healthy eating habits.
“We’re brand new; we need to get the word out,” she explained in an interview with the Independent. “I hate seeing these children totally overweight. I’ve done research on child obesity and let me tell you, it’s scary.”
Jackson’s first step with Cook and Grow was to plant an impressive garden on the grounds of the downtown Burroughs Library. She explained that to date the garden has yielded a great deal of fresh food including tomatoes, parsnip, garlic, carrots, cabbage, radishes, sweet potatoes, thyme, oregano and basil.
“It was an extremely healthy bounty,” Jackson said.
Cook and Grow has hosted fundraisers at locations such as the Discovery Museum and at her garden in the library, but Jackson noted the most important way to spread the word is to talk to people directly.
“I want to talk to the school principals and let them know what we’re doing, to let them know about our program,” she said. “These children can eat very well. There are a couple of schools with great salad bars in their cafeterias. We need more of that.”
Given her extensive background in cooking, Jackson believes she can put her finger on why child obesity has become such a major health concern.
“It’s basically about family and culture,” said the Cook and Grow founder. “What you grow up eating you basically always eat. How do you know whether or not you like something if you’ve never even tried it? It’s the perception created through the family question that limits diets to fast food and junk food. Try Brussels sprouts with bacon, sometime. Not many people do, but they’re delicious.”
Jackson and Cook and Grow already have a fan in an extremely high place: First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I knew one of her big causes was fighting childhood obesity and so I wrote to her,” Jackson recalled fondly. “And she wrote me a personal letter back saying that she loved the idea. My goal is to try to get her to attend one of our functions.”
The First Lady announced last summer that she is participating in an effort to set the world record for jumping jacks to help promote physical fitness, and that is surely a first for a First Lady.
For her part, Jackson is sure Cook and Grow will continue to grow.
“I want to put Cook and Grow on the map, and not just in Bridgeport,” she said.
Jackson encouraged those interested in the program to check out her website at www.cookandgrow.org.