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Gimme Five: Billy Mawhiney


As founder of the organization Time at the Table, Billy Mawhiney is leading the effort to help more people connect over family dinner. The organization also offers cooking classes that teach young people to prepare healthy meals and is planning to transform an urban landscape into fertile ground.

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?

I have worked with youth and families since I was 19 as work-study with a Boys & Girls Club. I’ve seen the decline in activity and increase in unhealthy food products marketed and sold to these children. When you see a cake mix for 99 cents and a bag of non-organic apples for $4.99… to a parent struggling to keep food on the table for their children, the choice is obvious. I want to skew this choice, or at least even the playing field. 

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?

I founded Time at the Table back in May 2010, which focuses on connecting families around the dinner table. We offer cooking classes for kids. In 2012, with the help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program, we found that 86 percent of children who participated in our cooking classes increased their fruit and vegetable consumption over the next 6 months. It’s proof that by simply getting your hands dirty (or in this case your child’s) and simplifying ingredients, we can make an impact. We hosted the first Family Dinner Conference in April 2013 on the campus of New York University, and over the next three years we plan to turn an empty lot on Main Street in Mitchell, S.D. into an outdoor education center complete with a greenhouse, outdoor teaching kitchen and raised bed community garden.

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

I could throw out statistics such as the number of kids who increased their fruit and vegetable consumption after taking our cooking classes (see above). The true measurement is when those kids bring their family back, and you see the excitement or simply a glow in their faces from simply making a better life. That impact is not necessarily measurable, but it is in those moments when you feel most validated.

Who is your role model in your work?

Chef Alice Waters once said, “My big goal in edible education is to make a program that is irresistible. I don’t want to prod anybody. I don’t want to say you have to do this. I want them to want to do it.” This type of teaching philosophy is a tradition maker and I cannot think of a better model.

What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up? What game or sport did you play growing up?

I grew up playing the basic sports kids in my community played: baseball, basketball, kickball, etc, eating peanut butter and jelly after school or a tomato out of the garden. It is evident I am a lucky guy who grew up in a house where the connection of food and family and community were all the same.

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