Food Literacy Hero
Jumping jujubes! We are delighted to name Payam Fardanesh this month’s Food Literacy Hero. Payam is the founder of Silk Road Soda and a Food Literacy Genius from our inaugural class. He not only volunteers his time teaching kids about fruits and vegetables, he’s also hosting a very special fundraising dinner, Silk Road Persian Night at Formoli’s for Food Literacy Center on Feb 2 at 6 p.m.
Before he and his family moved to the United States when he was 10 years old, Payam spent his early childhood in Iran honing his passion for fresh fruits and vegetables with his grandmother leading the way. She taught him how to meticulously pick the freshest produce at the farmers market because they were not only selecting them for family, but also for potential visitors to their home.
“Fruits and vegetables are proudly displayed in every Persian home, and you cannot sit down in the living room or kitchen without the host or hostesses selecting, picking, and peeling a fruit or vegetable for you,” explained Payam.
Prior to becoming a Food Literacy Genius, Payam had already demonstrated his passion for fruits and vegetables by creating a social media following on Facebook and Twitter called FRUITACULAR. His aim was to help his followers select fresh produce the Persian way, which is to only buy seasonal fruits and vegetables preferably from a farmers market, and to select fruits by smell rather than by looks.
When Payam had an excess of tangerines from his tree, his friend suggested that he share them with Amber Stott who needed produce for food literacy classes. They clicked immediately because of a shared vision of food literacy and their love of healthy foods. It was around the same time that the Food Literacy Genius program was starting and Payam sent in his application.
Payam doesn’t just teach food literacy in schools, he lives and breathes it! Not only does he shop at the farmers market, he also loves to cook. He began to cook Persian food seriously at the age of 25 relying on his sense of taste and his memory of the flavors from his grandmother’s cooking. Through trial and error, he has soon perfected the dishes.
“I have two full-blooded Persian half-sisters and they call me Mrs. Fardanesh when I cook, and I take this as a huge compliment,” Payam said.
At the Silk Road Persian Night fundraising event, donors will get to taste one of his favorite dishes, Khoreshteh Badamjun, a tomato and eggplant stew served over rice. Payam explained that this is his to-go dish for when he has American company because all the flavors are familiar but they are combined in a unique way.
While Payam inspires many kids and adults to love fruits and veggies, his personal food literacy hero is Sophia Wax who works for the Natural Trading Company in Newcastle. He said that they always “geek out” on the different varieties of fruits and veggies, and he became a peach man because of her influence and enthusiasm for the fruit.
Payam’s enthusiasm for fruits and vegetables has certainly rubbed off on the kids he teaches! His favorite memory of food literacy class is when he introduced commice pear to the kids at Capitol Heights Academy. One in particular never had the pear before and hid in the corner while Payam sliced him off chunks of the pear until it was gone. He loved it so much that he didn’t want to share it. He encourages parents to introduce new fruits and vegetables to their kids through their sense of smell because he believes that our brains are comforted and intrigued by the scent of freshness.
Because of his passion for fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, his enthusiasm for teaching and his amazing support of our organization, Payam is our Food Literacy Hero! We extend a hearty “corn-gratulations” to a very deserving man!
Story by Heather Teoh
Photo by Marita Madeloni; Madeloni Photography