Food is essential to life, but many people around the world are unsure of where their next meal will come from, or unaware of the daily nutritional needs of themselves and their families. Volunteering abroad in cooking is a small step in a big direction, toward a world where everyone has access to affordable, nutritious, and delicious food for every meal. Cooking volunteer opportunities are flourishing for involved volunteers interested in harvesting, picking, or preparing food. Whether food is your one true passion or the issues of starvation and poverty resonate with you, there is the perfect cooking volunteer opportunity for you somewhere in the world.
Why Volunteer Abroad in Cooking
From the viewpoint of a developed country, we are privileged to have access to grocery stores open 24/7, along with access to social welfare programs, such as food banks and homeless shelters. For many, these options do not exist, and finding meals is a difficult and demanding task. It can be very humbling to aide in the efforts to feed those who might otherwise go without food, especially because a majority of those in starvation-level poverty are children.
Volunteers with experience in the food industry are always in demand with non-profit organizations that aim to provide food for those in need. On the other hand, if you are a chef-in-training or a professional cook, the appeal to volunteer abroad may come from the invaluable experience you will gain while preparing meals using new ingredients not previously available to you, or learning to prepare traditional food native to the country in which you are volunteering. Cooking in a different nation is undoubtedly an eye-opening experience that will expose you to new recipes and flavors; broaden your culinary horizon by spicing up your usual dishes or discovering entirely new ones.
Whether you’re choosing a nation based off an interest in their cuisine and available ingredients, or you are looking to help in a particular area of need, including areas recently affected by natural disasters, the perfect cooking volunteer experience is out there waiting for you.
Step away from the aisles filled with brightly colored sugar cereals and into a world where food is picked straight from the ground; volunteering in cooking in one of the many underserved countries in Africa will show you an entirely new perspective on cooking. East Africa, in particular, has limited access to resources, education, and nutritious food, and is therefore in greatest demand of cooking volunteers.
In Kenya, they frequently serve ugali, a porridge made from local grains, and sukumu wiki, a dish made of greens prepared in large quantities, to malnourished populations. Travel south to Uganda, where you can prepare a wide variety of stews made from vegetables, legumes, and chicken to communities that struggle to eat three solid meals daily. Lastly, volunteers traveling to Seychelles, an island off the coast of East Africa, can provide food and nutritional education with more of an “Under the Sea” vibe (thanks in large part to the variety of seafood dishes endemic to the region).
For those interested in improving their Spanish skills while volunteering abroad, Central and South America offer unique opportunities to do so. Some parts of Mexico are highly developed, however great wealth disparities exist, forcing many people, even in large cities, into starvation. Cooking volunteers in México will serve a variety of corn, bean, and chili pepper dishes to a mostly invisible population of poor inner-city children. Further South, Chile functions mainly on seafood dishes, and cooking volunteer opportunities often involve helping with the massive wine industry, either by serving workers or helping pick grapes. Becoming a cooking volunteer in Chile will likely be much more of “high-end” version of volunteering abroad.
Cooking Volunteer Programs Abroad
Every volunteer comes with their own set of skills and areas of enthusiasm, so each cooking volunteer experience abroad will look very different. Though most cooking volunteers are looking to be placed in a kitchen somewhere, there are abundant cooking volunteer opportunities involving every step of the food preparation process, from farm to table.
Institutional Settings. One of the most underserved populations across the world are children, so orphanage and group-home cooking volunteer placements are immensely popular. In these placements, cooking volunteer work will involve preparing large amounts of healthy food for children residing in the centers. Many orphanages also encourage volunteers to conduct educational outreach programs to teach young families about nutrition or provide them with healthy ingredients for their meals.
Shelters & Food Banks. Soup kitchens or other places that serve poor and homeless populations in large cities are always in need of cooking volunteers. In these placements, volunteers will help prepare food, while learning recipes from local volunteers and supervisors. Food banks help organize donated food into easily prepared meals, which often requires volunteers with cooking experience.
Nonprofit Outreach. Many nonprofit organizations focus their efforts on nutrition education in large cities where issues on the opposite end of the nutrition spectrum, from childhood obesity to malnutrition, are frequently present in large numbers because healthy food sources are not widely available, affordable, or accessible. These types of cooking volunteer programs will be truly eye-opening, and volunteers will find that sharing nutritional information is vital to community growth and development. Not to mention, the nutritional knowledge locals learn will stick with them for many years, allowing them to better feed themselves and their families.
Benefits & Challenges
For some, food is one of the main incentives to travel. But taking your passion one step further, by learning how to make new foods while helping underserved populations, combating world hunger, and alleviating malnutrition, may very well be one of the most impactful experiences of your life!
Fill a Need. Culinary skills are in high demand the world over, and yet cooks and culinary geniuses are rarely tapped to utilize their skills for the less fortunate. If you have vast culinary knowledge and are interested in traveling, there’s no limit to how many lives you may touch with your cooking skills by becoming a cooking volunteer abroad.
Broaden Your Knowledge Base. Though not the direct goal of cooking volunteer work, cooking in a new region is bound to expand your culinary knowledge. Whether it is access to fresh seafood in abundance or the ability to use a vegetable in a myriad of different ways, there is much information to be gained during any cooking volunteer program abroad.
Realize Your Place in the World. Helping others achieve fulfillment of their basic needs will be incredibly humbling. However, this may lead you to feel anger, confusion, and possibly guilt. In this way, cooking volunteer work can be a rollercoaster of emotions as you are exposed to disparities in the food industry on a global scale. Just remember: your suffering pales in comparison to the daily challenges being faced by underserved communities. Keep a straight head and vow to make good changes on your host communities, instead of retracting too deeply into your emotions.
Grab your apron, work on your fire hands, and take your able-body abroad to help hungry communities around the world. This is the 21st century, people, and there are enough cooking volunteer opportunities to go around. So, saddle up to a stranger’s dinner table, break bread, and share in a human exchange as old as dirt!