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Promoting food literacy with Carolyn Federman: how innovative mobile kitchens can help U.S. children make important food decisions

Carolyn Federman of The Charlie Cart Project on the Speaking of Phenomenal Podcast

Episode 6 of the Speaking of Phenomenal podcast brings Carolyn Federman, the founder of the Charlie Cart Project, a non-profit that helps children across the U.S. access food education through innovative mobile kitchens. Having started as a solution for the cooking classes Carolyn was giving as a volunteer at her children's school, the Charlie Cart Project now has almost 500 carts spread throughout U.S. schools, libraries and community organizations and has recently started collaborating with the White House to end childhood hunger in the country by 2030.

Coming from a family that loved to eat and cook, Carolyn got inspired by the chuckwagon of the American prairie, mobile kitchens used by the French during World War I, and, most importantly, by the work she had done previously at the Edible Schoolyard Project, a program founded by her mentor Alice Waters, a chef and activist focused on helping people understand where their food comes from.

During this episode, Carolyn passionately describes to host Amy Boyle the Charlie Cart Project's goal to empower educators throughout the country so they can help children make important decisions about food, which involves tasting new produce and making the most of them. "We have such a challenge with malnourishment in this country," she reminds us, listing challenges like racism, social inequity and lack of knowledge, which prevent adults and children from eating well. "What we want to provide with the Charlie Cart Project is an antidote," she says.

When educators purchase the program, they get access to the mobile kitchen and a curriculum containing 54 lessons with seasonal recipes that use universally accessible produce. Every time a cart enters a room, children and educators push desks together and improvise a prep kitchen. "While they may not be using a hot plate or a burner, they are still measuring, mixing, tasting, smelling, chopping, so they're doing all the really critical components of putting these recipes together," Carolyn says.

From the challenges with manufacturing the mobile kitchen to the Charlie Cart Project's recent partnership with the Vita-Mix Corporation to help the White House end childhood hunger in the U.S. by 2030, Carolyn shares how this journey of almost 10 years has taught and inspired her as a professional and at a personal level. Having traveled to many states and meeting people who care about their communities, she acknowledges the beauty and goodness present in the world, even during difficult times.

Carolina Baldin is a freelance journalist from Brazil. Having worked in law, policy and regulation, she is passionate about everyday stories that illustrate larger issues. She graduated from a master's program at Northwestern University in 2023 and became a guest blogger on the "Speaking of Phenomenal" podcast blog in March 2024.

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