Naheda Slayih is a 62-year-old Palestinian-Israeli special needs educator with over 40 years of experience rehabilitating the blind and visually impaired. In 2015, Naheda developed a new project in Rome, Italy, TAA (Tocco, Annuso, Assaggio) – I touch, I smell, I taste – a cooking workshop to discover seasonal food, and learn about growing it and the environment. Through the production of simple dishes, the workshop aims to give blind and visually impaired children a fresh approach to sustainable diets and healthy eating.
“Living without sight limits you in one way, but there are so many other things you can do. You just need to learn the right techniques.”
Every two weeks, a group of 10-15 children and young adults meet in the parish of Santa Maria Regina Pacis in Monteverde, Rome where they embark on an exciting plant-based culinary adventure. For two hours, they discover the texture of different foods, their use and magical transformation by touching and kneading them. Participants immerse themselves in every aspect of the cooking process through touch, smell and taste - their key guides on this fun food journey. They chop, measure and mix, and then have fun playing and listening to music with a music therapist as the food cooks. At the end of each session, everybody sits down together to enjoy the delicious fruit of their hard work.
Naheda carefully replaces the ingredients in her ‘sweet’ and ‘savoury’ recipes to ensure that they are tasty, plant-based and healthy. She uses herbs to add flavour, oil instead of butter and halves the sugar content. By only selecting seasonal vegetables and limiting the use of plastic, she also places the environment at the heart of her initiative.
Naheda’s students have a new attitude to fresh seasonal produce, consuming it on a daily basis and spreading good habits with their siblings at home. They have become more confident in an area that often felt beyond their reach due to their disability.
“This workshop has opened my students’ minds to new possibilities like becoming a chef or joining a cooking show on TV. They want to show the whole world what they are able to do…this is an incredible change.”
Naheda plans to create a vegetable garden on the parish grounds to enrich the journey of discovery by connecting her students with the land, caring for plants and tracing the stages from planting to harvest. Her intention is to sell excess produce at the nearby market, in an effort to promote community integration and garner support for the initiative.
Naheda’s TAA project underscores the inclusive and social aspect of sustainable food chains. Her dedication proves that access to healthy food can empower marginalised groups such as disabled people and youth to bring about change.
Podcast: Kids, it's time to cook!