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Volunteer Spotlight: Heather Teoh

One of our favorite “founding volunteers,” Heather Teoh, is this month’s Volunteer Spotlight. Heather was introduced to Amber Stott through Kristin Thebaud, our pro-bono public relations consultant. Their mutual love for food made Heather a perfect fit to Amber’s niche. The rest is history!

In its infancy, Heather and Amber were the only “staff” of the California Food Literacy Center, both volunteering their time to bring the effort to life. Together they taught the nonprofit’s pilot food literacy lessons to 120 low-income K-5th graders.

Amber fondly remembers cooking with Heather all day for the nonprofit’s first party to raise money to file for 501c3 status. It is quite the undertaking to cook handmade sopes, roasted sweet potatoes, freshly stewed beans, and green Peruvian sauce from scratch!

Heather also worked as an intern keeping our website and social media running like a well-oiled machine. Though Heather already had a love for food, she improved her food literacy once she began volunteering for food literacy.  Not only did her cooking repertoire broaden but she came to appreciate food on a deeper level.

She reflected, “I have always loved food but never really gave much thought to whether the fruit or vegetable is in season or locally grown. But now… I’m much more aware and have been practicing it too. It’s not only good for the environment, but the produce tastes better too!”

The fun in becoming food literate is trying things you haven’t previously tried. As the saying goes, don’t pass judgment until you try it! Heather was previously turned off knowing the infamous texture of raw kale. But upon visiting a friend, she took a chance and tried a raw kale salad prepared with strawberries and goat cheese. She ended up really enjoying it, realizing that combining the right flavors and textures together in a dish make all the difference.

Usually however, pure curiosity encourages Heather to try unfamiliar food items. Of course she cautions, “…within reason! I have to say that I’m much more adventurous with eating unfamiliar fruits and vegetables compared to mystery meats and bugs!” She finds it particularly enjoyable to try new foods in her travels, reasoning that she never knows when she will have another chance to try food native to the country.  Being adventurous abroad also allows her to engage in the culture.

Heather understands that a lack of time is a common issue in considering a food literate lifestyle. But even when you don’t have time to whip something up from scratch, you can still enjoy healthy meals when eating out. In her three years living in Sacramento, she was impressed by how the community embraced locally grown and seasonal produce.  Some of her favorite local spots have menus that reflect that including Red Rabbit for their seasonal tapas and Quan Nem Ninh Hoa for their fresh rolls.

In regard to initiating a food literate lifestyle at home, Heather recommends starting small, perhaps maintaining a garden of indoor –friendly herbs. Likewise, taking small steps with cooking is another tip to acclimate oneself to food literacy.

For Heather, the most stimulating part of her learning experience was learning the art and science of creating a recipe.

She asserts, “I feel that the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to write and develop my own recipes, and I really appreciate Amber teaching me how to do it!”

One of her signature Singaporean dishes, Chinese New Year Yu Sheng Salad,  is a celebratory dish that she made to bring good luck to our nonprofit in our first year. In fact, the Sacramento Bee ended up running the recipe in its food section, and we still like to ring in the New Year by celebrating with this salad.

She’s also known for her fried rice noodles, and Hainanese chicken rice (poached chicken with ginger/garlic rice). She deems garlic the most versatile food item, noting that it complements various cuisines and has significant nutritious value.

“Heather is as much the voice of food literacy as I am” Amber compliments.  “Her joy, creativity and passion for this work rings through in everything she does! We have been extremely lucky to have her on our team, as this agency would not be where it is today without her.”

Heather, thank you and best wishes

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