Meet the newest Cooking Matters coordinator, Vani Sohikian

March 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm Leave a comment


Still only 23 going on 24 (her birthday is in a couple of weeks), Vani Sohikian has already worked at the top levels of food policy, to interning at the USDA to working in U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office.
But the public health professional believes it’s work at the ground level that matters, which brought the Dearborn native to Cooking Matters.
Vani is our newest Cooking Matters coordinator. Along with coordinating classes, she will also be the main point of contact for volunteers in terms of recruitment and training.
The Dearborn native earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and zoology. During her undergrad studies, which she says were heavily nutrition-based and offered her a different perspective on the field, she partnered up with a professor of nutrition evolution. This experience led her to pursue her master’s in public health.
It was during her master’s program that she worked with the USDA as an intern in the child nutrition division in summer 2010.
She worked primarily on HealthierUS School Challenge, which is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
Vani explained the HealthierUS School Challenge is a voluntary initiative to make schools a healthier environment for the students in a variety of ways, from making lunch menus healthier, offering fruits and vegetables every day, serving whole grains, cutting out convenience foods such as chips and other snacks and including nutrition education and physical education. Schools who meet these criteria are then awarded designations from bronze to gold.
Her duties entailed reviewing applications and updating the website, on which she would post tips from gold-designated healthy schools.
It was during this internship that she started to question the legislative process. Her next internship brought her to Sen. Stabenow’s office. During her time there, not a lot of major legislation was pushed through and she saw firsthand the role partisan politics can play in constraining the process.
As a coordinator of Cooking Matters, she says she gets to see impact of her work immediately.
“Telling someone how to eat healthier and see look on their face, it’s really rewarding,” she says.
“It’s really exciting to give (participants) simple tips and see how that can change a person’s view,” she said, adding “it’s exciting to see a whole staff passionate about what they do.”
Her goal as a Cooking Matters coordinator is to reach those who may be reluctant to sign up for a Cooking Matters class.
“There is a big population who aren’t willing to take it but would really benefit,” she says. “We are not reaching this audience.”
When she is not thinking about how she can play a major role in finding innovative solutions on solving hunger and obesity from a public health perspective, she likes to play tennis and is starting to cook more and experiment in the kitchen.
She says she’s learned that life doesn’t always turn out according to plan (“I thought I would end up at the USDA”) so for right now she is focused on doing “whatever I can to maximize reach to people. The goal is to see food access, obesity and hunger not be major issues.”

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Entry filed under: Cooking Matters, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

My Cooking Matters Experience Volunteer spotlight: Henriette Hajjar

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USDA Statement

This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This work is supported in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services, under contract number ADMIN-10-99011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Michigan Fitness Foundation or the Michigan Department of Human Services. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, these institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720- 6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more contact the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline at (855) ASK-MICH. Space-Limited USDA/DHS/MNN Credit Statement This material was partially funded by the State of Michigan with federal funds from the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by way of the Michigan Nutrition Network at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. These institutions are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. People who need help buying nutritious food for a better diet call the toll free Michigan Food Assistance Program Hotline: (855) ASK-MICH.

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