BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large South/Central Bureau email@example.com
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth - Natasha White thought she knew all the ways to cook chicken.
That was until she participated in the recent nine-day 'Innovative Skills Training in Food Preparation for Community Development and Economic Empowerment' seminar at Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School in Elim, North East St Elizabeth.
Guided by trainer Jennifer Esty-Davis, White discovered crispy oven fried chicken — soaked in whole milk and crusted with breadcrumbs and crushed corn flakes.
"No oil. She (Esty Davis) put it in the oven with a little bit of water under the tray and the chicken on top of the grill ...," gushed White, as she described the cooking process.
Supervised by food and nutrition consultant and development specialist Dr Heather Little-White, and funded by the Constituency Development Fund assigned to Member of Parliament for North East St Elizabeth Raymond Pryce, the food preparation seminar had 37 female participants.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, during which participants received certificates, Pryce said the programme came out of the recognition of the central role of women in society and the need for them to secure employment in order to protect families and develop communities.
"We understand that if you are going to develop a community you must do so one family at a time, and unless women are involved you can't develop communities," said Pryce.
The first-term MP, who represents the ruling People's National Party, has plans for a similar programme later this year. The only problem is that the future session is already oversubscribed, with over 70 applicants.
With schools reopening in September, space and logistics could present a problem, but Pryce insists that a second batch will be trained "before the end of the year". Also, Pryce dreams of "higher" and additional levels of training to include housekeeping and childcare for the women of his constituency.
Participants at the Elim seminar spoke of their hope that certification will allow them more of a chance at employment in hotels, restaurants, or overseas programmes, as well as prepare them to start their own businesses.
"I have plans to open my own business and some of the other girls do too," said Natasha White, who was the valedictorian at the closing ceremony.
Little-White, who has been running the food and nutrition training programme in conjunction with members of parliament since 2008, says it has had proven employment value.
"People are getting jobs as a result and we are encouraging them to start their own businesses ... because food is big business," she said.
Supported by the GraceKennedy Group, through Grace Kitchens, and other sponsors such as Jamaica Broilers and Jamaica Egg Farmers Association, Little White says her programme concentrates on better, healthier nutrition using locally produced foods.
"Countries like Jamaica must use agriculture to stimulate the local economy through local food consumption and have value added to them to maximise nutrition at the household level and create new tastes from our food.
"Each day I lament that we have so much in terms of food, yet we do so little with it. Where have all the guavas gone, or the custard apples, or the rose apples — to make exciting products," she said.
Esty-Davis told the Jamaica Observer Central that in addition to helping women widen their knowledge regarding food and drink preparation, the training programme also sought to emphasise etiquette and social graces.
Gender sensitisation was also weaved into the training sessions with social activist delivering presentations aimed at lifting self-esteem and helping participants to value themselves as women, said Little-White.