Chef Boy

At THI, we regularly say “summer is the hardest time of year for many students.” Unfortunately, we say it so often because it is reality for far too many children. When schools close, many children don’t have easy access to food. So, as summer draws closer, nonprofits, schools and congregations across the state are gearing up to offer free meals to kids during the summer. In this blog post, Shamethia Webb reminds us that childhood food insecurity doesn’t always look like we expect it to, but that summer meals still meet a need in an important way.

Chef Boy

By: Shamethia Webb

I’m not the best cook.

But the spreads I prepare each night are palatable enough for my niece and nephews, age eight, nine, and 11.

I’ve been told I’m the best cook in the world. This from a nephew who likes to put mustard on his black beans.

And that I season fantabulously, a conflation of the words fantastic and fabulous—high praise from a budding pre-teen.

I’ve even managed to make spinach—the super food that most resembles tree leaves and who’s appearance on dinner plates has prompted my nephews to accuse me of trying to feed them yard waste—a welcome addition to entrees.

I’m not the best cook, but I know how to prepare flavorsome and filling meals that will satisfy persnickety adolescent palates.

And every now and then—buoyed by an energetic, “You’re an awesome cook Aunt Meme!” I’ll wheel out my miniature barbecue pit (“Napoleon”), stack charcoal in the adult version of Lego-building, and prepare to show the entire neighborhood that I am, at the very least, a mediocre cook.

The barbecue must smell appetizing enough anyway since, without fail, at least half a dozen of my niece and nephew’s friends from the neighborhood turn up hoping to be offered a plate.

And the reader could assume that this is where the account of food insecurity would begin. That I would begin detailing how I had to feed ten or so children with two loaves and barbecued chicken.

But s/he would be wrong.

These were kids I knew from my neighborhood. Most of these weren’t food-insecure. Just wanted a chargrilled substitute for the meal that was being offered at home. Nope, no multitude of hungry kids to describe.

But there was one little boy, maybe six, whom I didn’t know. He was visiting. Someone’s cousin. And he stood and watched as I prepared the grill and gathered materials. Even when the other kids grew bored and ran off to play, he stayed and observed as I began adding food to the pit.

He was fairly quiet until I added the hamburger meat to the pit. He perked up, piped out:

I’ve cooked that before!

I was confused.


I’ve cooked that before. That meat.

This hamburger meat?

Yes. I’ve cooked it.

You saw someone cook it?

He gave me one of those exasperated looks young children often levy at uncomprehending adults.

I cooked it.

When I could only stare at him blankly, he explained, sharing that he’d taken a pound of ground beef and cooked it in the microwave because he was hungry.

He seemed proud that he was able to accomplish such a complicated task but admitted that he was disappointed that the microwaved meat didn’t taste as good as he’d hoped.

I’ll have to season more better next time, he commented.

He encouraged me to season my barbecue before being distracted by a developing game of football and wandering off.

I’m not the best cook.

But six-year-olds? They’re not the best cooks either.