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Karen Jacobs: Communicating Love and Teaching Through The Art of Cooking

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crowd of eager students gathers in the living room drinking freshly made tea and conversing excitedly among themselves. On the dining table lays an arrangement of various colorful fruits and vegetables. The kitchen countertop is lined with exotic ingredients such as Japanese dried seaweed, red miso paste, sesame oil and water chestnuts. As a lady with curly brunette hair and bright red lips walks into the room, all eyes turn to her as she cheerfully shouts, “Hello, everybody! Welcome to my home, and welcome to Sargent Choice Test Kitchen!”

Sargent Choice Test Kitchen has been hosted by Professor Karen Jacobs in her apartment for five years. Every Wednesday night Jacobs, the faculty-in-residence at StuVi2, teaches students how to make dishes from recipes developed by the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center. Before the Sargent Choice Test Kitchen, Jacobs offered cooking workshops in her previous apartment at Warren Towers. In 2009, when she moved into new apartment at StuVi2, Jacobs approached her colleagues at the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center about having students test the center’s recipes. The Sargent Choice Nutrition Center creates recipes that promote healthy eating for students at Boston University. The test kitchen serves as method to gauge how content students are with the center’s recipes and also a medium for students to try cooking healthy recipes from scratch. In the past, some recipes that were made in the Jacob’s test kitchen have become a part of the regular cycle menu offered in the Boston University dining halls.

One of the most popular recipes that Jacobs teaches students how to make is brown rice sushi accompanied with miso soup. Once Jacobs has handed out the recipe sheets and gives the students the list of prep work that needs to be completed, everybody in the room tries to find a task they can help with. Many start finely slicing the ingredients that will go inside the sushi roll while others start to prepare the miso soup. Jacobs has been making this sushi recipe for years. Her purpose for always offering this seemingly difficult dish is to demystify how to make a Japanese sushi roll.

“Cooking is about communicating love,” according Jacobs,  “I love traveling and making foods from different cultures and then sharing it with the ones I love.”

Her grandmother taught her how to cook intuitively and Jacobs, in turn, taught her three children how to cook in the same manner.  She has traveled to several countries around the globe and has been to China in particular eight times.

“Cooking is a natural communicator,” said Jacobs, “it crosses people of all cultures and those with and without disabilities.”

Jacobs is the occupational therapy director at Boston University and has taught at the university for thirty years. She graduated from the College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College in 1979. As a clinical professor, Jacobs found a way to weave the concepts of cooking into some of her classes. This week her students in her OT513 Analysis and Adaptation of Occupation course had a lab activity in her StuVi2 apartment. The activity was centered on “task analysis”, in which activities are broken down into simple steps and evaluated for their level of complexity.  The purpose of this week’s lab was to analyze the how accessible her apartment would be for an individual with a physical disability. Students assessed the heights of sinks, kitchen appliances, and shelves and judged how convenient it would be access for an individual sitting in a wheelchair. Another task was to make black-bean fudge brownies. The purpose of this task was to see how easy or difficult it would be for an individual with a physical disability to use kitchen appliances such as a food processor or an oven.

The students found this lab to be very practical and it really opened their eyes to see how inaccessible some parts of the apartment were. Before they had started the lab Jacobs had mentioned to the students that the apartment was approved as handicapped accessible, but according to Britt Howe, “after evaluating the apartment. We found a lot of things that were barriers [for physically disabled individuals].” Howe is first-year graduate student in the occupational therapy program. Howe said that this week’s lab allowed her to put herself in her potential clients’ shoes and see things from a difference perspective.

By inviting students into her home and applying cooking into her personal and professional life, Jacobs’s main goal is show that faculty are approachable and that cooking transcends all aspects of one’s life.

“My home is opened to everyone,” said Jacobs, “I want students to see how important cooking can be in their life like it is in mine. Cooking is who I am. It’s my identity.”

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