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Gimme Five: Jilah Kalil


As executive director of the new nonprofit organization Green Fork Academy, Jilah Kalil leads efforts to teach healthy cooking and food habits to children. Jilah started the organization after learning first-hand the power of cooking healthy food.

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?

As a child, growing up during the time of meat-and-potatoes meals and frozen dinners, I was overweight and endured much teasing from my peers. A health issue sent me to a doctor, who “scared” 20 pounds off of me. By learning to cook and eat healthy I lost all the weight; I did not have to have surgery and the teasing ended as well. Because of my background, I understood the power of cooking food to change the direction of someone's life, and I wanted to share that power.

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?

Green Fork Academy is providing programs that focus on cooking healthy, real foods on a budget to multi-generational communities, and combining these experiences with access to local agriculture. By teaching these healthy habits, we can decrease diet related health issues such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Changing the way a community eats is the fastest way to change their health.

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?

As a new nonprofit — we’re less than a year old — our accomplishments are small. To date, the biggest change we have observed from our program is how the young participants want to engage with their food in a more positive way. They want the knowledge of what good food can do for them and that knowledge is powerful.

Who is your role model in your work?

There are a couple of individuals who have helped shape my thoughts and actions with childhood obesity. The most prominent would be my mother. Although food knowledge was more limited when I was growing up, she always cooked our meals and we sat around the table for dinner every night. The most famous would be food activist and author Michael Pollan. His writings on the power of food, cooking at home and the family act of eating together have given me the courage and confidence to push Green Fork Academy and its cooking programs forward.

What game or sport did you play growing up?

Growing up in Miami, we spent most of days outside riding bikes, playing stick ball or hide-n-seek. Having a “free range” childhood is my fondest memory.

Click here to connect with Jilah Kalil.

Each week, our own Zach Brooks speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Zach’s profile and contact him.