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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Meet the newest Cooking Matters coordinator, Vani Sohikian

dorothy hernandez

Still only 23 going on 24 (her birthday is in a couple of weeks), Vani Sohikian has already worked at the top levels of food policy, to interning at the USDA to working in U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's office. But the public health professional believes it’s work at the ground level that matters, which brought the Dearborn native to Cooking Matters. Vani is our newest Cooking Matters coordinator. Along with coordinating classes, she will also be the main point of contact for volunteers in terms of recruitment and training. The Dearborn native earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and zoology. During her undergrad studies, which she says were heavily nutrition-based and offered her a different perspective on the field, she partnered up with a professor of nutrition evolution. This experience led her to pursue her master’s in public health. It was during her master’s program that she worked with the USDA as an intern in the child nutrition division in summer 2010. She worked primarily on HealthierUS School Challenge, which is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Vani explained the HealthierUS School Challenge is a voluntary initiative to make schools a healthier environment for the students in a variety of ways, from making lunch menus healthier, offering fruits and vegetables every day, serving whole grains, cutting out convenience foods such as chips and other snacks and including nutrition education and physical education. Schools who meet these criteria are then awarded designations from bronze to gold. Her duties entailed reviewing applications and updating the website, on which she would post tips from gold-designated healthy schools. It was during this internship that she started to question the legislative process. Her next internship brought her to Sen. Stabenow’s office. During her time there, not a lot of major legislation was pushed through and she saw firsthand the role partisan politics can play in constraining the process. As a coordinator of Cooking Matters, she says she gets to see impact of her work immediately. “Telling someone how to eat healthier and see look on their face, it’s really rewarding,” she says. “It’s really exciting to give (participants) simple tips and see how that can change a person’s view,” she said, adding “it’s exciting to see a whole staff passionate about what they do.” Her goal as a Cooking Matters coordinator is to reach those who may be reluctant to sign up for a Cooking Matters class. “There is a big population who aren’t willing to take it but would really benefit,” she says. “We are not reaching this audience.” When she is not thinking about how she can play a major role in finding innovative solutions on solving hunger and obesity from a public health perspective, she likes to play tennis and is starting to cook more and experiment in the kitchen. She says she’s learned that life doesn’t always turn out according to plan (“I thought I would end up at the USDA”) so for right now she is focused on doing “whatever I can to maximize reach to people. The goal is to see food access, obesity and hunger not be major issues.”