Marin Toscano spent a year and a half studying food culture in China and returned to Colorado with a new perspective on eating. Through her travels and studies, she says, she realized that food was more than simply nutrition. And so she founded Fooition (a combination of the words "food" and "intuition"), a community enterprise built around the idea that food culture is as important as nutrition. Fooition is already introducing culinary flavors and traditions to Denver while helping international refugees adjust to life in a new city.
"I wanted to emphasize the idea that nutrition is not just about what we eat, but also how we eat," Toscano explains. "Is there community around that food? And does it matter for our health? According to other cultures, it absolutely does."
After returning from China, Toscano began working with international refugees through Project Worthmore, which provides a medical clinic, fresh-food distribution and ESL classes, among other services, to assist recent arrivals to Colorado. Through the program, she met a Burmese cook and refugee named Zin Zin, and the two women teamed up to teach classes about nutrition and "the unique challenges of eating healthy in the U.S.," a new country where much of the food available is unfamiliar to refugees from Southeast Asia, Somalia and other strife-torn regions of the world.
Funding from the non-profit to keep the nutrition program going was extremely limited and it seemed the classes would become financially unsustainable, so Toscano created Fooition as a way to raise money to help continue her mission.
Fooition is not a nonprofit organization, but rather uses proceeds from cultural dinners to further its goals. Toscano and Zin Zin had taught classes for three months in 2015, giving cooking demonstrations and presenting information on where and how to shop for good food on a tight budget while steering away from junk food and unhealthy ingredients; through Fooition, they were able to start up the classes again this summer.
Toscano already knew Zin Zin could cook authentic and healthy Burmese cuisine from when she led the cooking classes. It wasn't until last year, at a birthday party Zin Zin held for her son, that it became clear she could also cook for large groups and make it look easy. That's when Fooition decided to host monthly Burmese Village five-course dinners to help fund the nutrition program, with the first scheduled for July 23.
"I want it to feel like a cultural exchange," Toscano says, so there will be a five-course dinner along with cooking demonstrations and traditional dance. The first Burmese Village dinner will be held at the Mango House, a refugee resource center at 1532 Galena Street in Aurora. Tickets are available for $80 until July 15, when the price will increase to $90. Sponsorship opportunities are also available for companies that want to purchase groups of three to eight seats for the dinner.
Toscano notes that Burmese cooking is distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines — Thai and Vietnamese, for example — that are more common in Denver, with influences from China and India and unique use of ingredients like dried squid, roselle leaf (a type of hibiscus) and salads made with tea leaf.
Her goal with Fooition is to use the culinary and cultural practices of Burma and other countries to demonstrate that traditional methods of growing, cooking and sharing food can make a difference in the community. Part of that goal includes a Meetup group called Foodies on a Mission to help Denverites "interact with the international community in meaningful ways."
For more information about the Burmese Village dinner and to purchase tickets online, see the Fooition website.