Finding Voice

By Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

In the heart of my upbringing there was one constant: healthy food. It was not just sustenance, it was nourishment. While chaos often reigned in my childhood home, the kitchen was where my mother and I could connect around the simplicities of cooking, a place to be creative where expression was safe. Cooking alongside my mom was and still is a joyful experience, a time when I feel our connection and bond.

In my adolescent years, food became a tool to achieve and maintain health. While my peers were drinking Coke out of Twizzler straws, I became curious about all aspects of nourishment. Even in the carefree atmosphere of the 1980’s, eating clean felt urgent.  It was during summers spent working in the kitchen at  Naturally Good Foods that I found my path. Cooking became more than just a learned skill; it became my mode of expression. Words felt unsafe, so food became my language.

Despite enduring constant mockery from my family, even within the confines of the kitchen, my culinary creations never ceased to impress. They say the way to a person's heart is through their palate, and so, a lingering hope persisted within me that by nourishing them with my dishes, I might elicit the same love and acceptance in return. Yet, ultimately, it became apparent that this was a language they couldn't comprehend—a language I instead chose to share with others.

Communication serves as the cornerstone of human interaction.

So it’s no surprise that the kitchen became my stage and my classroom. It’s where I am able to give my deepest self to others and where I, in turn, feel heard. But this is not about me. It's about the transformative power of discovering one's voice and how it can empower others to do the same.

Communication serves as the cornerstone of human interaction. For some individuals words can evoke a sense of danger, while for others, verbal expression is simply not an option. Hence, discovering alternative means of correspondence becomes imperative to fostering connections, which are ultimately the essence of a fulfilling life.

I have taught countless cooking classes, helping people find a new language around food and ushering them towards healthier. Yet my most profound work began nearly a year ago when I was asked to teach a cooking class to autistic adults, about half of whom are non-verbal and many of whom had limited palates. 

Cooking transcends words; it is a universal language of connection and nourishment.

I soon realized that my role wasn't about imposing my culinary dialect onto others, but rather about embracing theirs and adapting my knowledge to pave a collective path forward. After nearly forty sessions, a student who once only consumed fried foods now tries everything from vegetables to salmon. Another young man, known for his impulsiveness around food, remains engaged and composed during our cooking sessions, demonstrating remarkable focus and skill. During a chopped salad class, one student expressed his aversion to cold salads, prompting us to create a warm version. He eagerly sautéed his vegetables, including romaine lettuce, and relished every bite. For a student who has limited dexterity therefore can't use a knife, working with a chopper allows him to share his passion for food with classmates and express his joy. Additionally, a student with exceptional culinary talent has become my assistant and recently secured a job at a local restaurant. These stories are just a glimpse of the countless transformations that occur. Ultimately, cooking transcends words; it is our universal language of connection and nourishment.

Reflecting on my journey, food is more than just fuel—it's a powerful expression of love and connection. Leading cooking classes, especially for diverse learners, has confirmed that food creates connection, fosters acceptance, and builds community. In a world where words can falter, it remains a universal language, a way for each of us to discover our own voice.

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