Chef and teacher Cindy Gershen, founder of Walnut Creek’s Sunrise Bistro restaurant and the Wellness City Challenge non-profit, created a remarkable Sustainable Hospitality Program at Concord’s Mt. Diablo High School. Focused on the science of food through culinary arts, gardening, and nutrition, the program is now an integral part of district’s curriculum and an Innovation Center for programs that can be replicated.
Cindy prepares young people for employment as professionals in the healthy food service industry. Students are taught to prepare nutritious meals that are served to other students including campus sports teams and faculty members. The curriculum incorporates the “do no harm” revolution taking place in the Hospitality industry promoting standards of business good for the environment, workers, and consumers. Another part of the curriculum is the “state of the art” growing technique utilizing vertical tower gardens in classroom and outdoor environments.
Cindy’s senior class focuses on Career Technical Education (CTE) through topics such as farm-totable and farm-to-cafeteria with hands-on experience on the process of planting, growing, and harvesting produce and entrepreneurship through catering. Her students also promote health and wellness through a district wide “Water Drinking Campaign”.
She continues to expand youth education programs with a recently started culinary, growing and nutrition program for 4th graders.
In her new role as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for Mount Diablo Unified School District, Cindy is launching Educatering to support the healthy food needs of the cafeteria, administrative staff, and local community through student driven recipes and products by providing non-packaged, nonprocessed healthy food. Her goal is “Teachers in the best condition to teach, and students in the best condition to learn.”
Cindy’s programs are remarkably effective in creating social change. They merge theories and principles with hands-on professional level activities. And her programs take a prevention approach to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes occurring in our schools. She continually reminds students that they should “Eat well to be well out in the world.”
Her non-profit, Wellness City Challenge, hosts the Annual Contra Costa County Mayors’ Healthy Cook-off. Students from her programs team up with local officials as “sous chefs.” Local leaders become advocates on building healthy communities through the education system. Also through Wellness City Challenge, an after-school program supports at-risk youth by covering topics such as nutrition and culinary education, personal empowerment and entrepreneurship.
Several state and local groups have given Cindy awards for her health and wellness advocacy including the California Assembly District 14 “Woman of the Year” award. Cindy is also co-author of the The Fat Chance Cookbook (Hudson Street Press January 2014) with Robert H. Lustig, MD, a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH Program at UCSF), and author of the bestselling book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.