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   Susan Miller | Veg Food Success Story

Veg Food Success Story
When Soybeans Talked and Teenagers Listened

By Susan Miller, Williamson County TEAMS Agricultural Literacy Coordinator Marion, IL

Imagine a class full of high school students eating and enjoying tofu and soymilk. An unlikely scenario, yes, but one I had the privilege of witnessing. As an agricultural literacy coordinator, I am responsible for teaching others about agriculture. Armed with a grant from the Illinois Soybean Association, I set out to educate high school students about soyfoods.

Normally, a teenage diet does not follow the guidelines of the food pyramid. Pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, soda and the like are the foods of choice for most. Healthy and nutritious foods fail against fast food and snacks. Even the health benefits of certain foods are of little importance to teenagers at this stage of their life. Changing the ideas and habits of teenagers is not an easy job. It takes more than facts, figures and persuasive talking. It takes food that has eye appeal, mouth-watering aroma and more importantly, a great taste.


Skepticism crossed several students' faces when I announced the program was about soybeans and their many food uses. I could tell doubts still lingered as we discussed the various food forms made from soybeans. Doubts grew larger as a container of tofu passed around the class, and we talked about the long shelf life of aseptic soymilk. The soybean's part in the fight against heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis sparked little attention. Finally, I asked if anyone had eaten any soybeans lately. No hands shot into the air and most gave me a look that said, "Lady, you must be kidding." However, their looks changed as they learned that Twinkies, French fries, and many of the their favorite foods contain soybeans or soy products.

Now came the ultimate test. Could I persuade high school students to try soymilk, tofu and soy burger crumbles? In the product's original state, highly unlikely. Disguised as the foods they loved, you bet. Keeping in mind teenage food preferences, I selected recipes that mimicked their favorites. To expose the students to as many soyfoods as possible, I picked a variety of recipes. Hot & Spicy Burrito Meat, Roasted Soy Nuts, Cherry Almond Muffins, Creamy Italian Dressing, Cranberry Raspberry Smoothie, Cajun Tofu & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza, and Breakfast Pita Pocket seemed to offer the greatest teen appeal. What teenager could turn down pizza, Mexican food, snacks, and dessert? None, I hoped.

We started our cooking adventure with the Cajun Tofu & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza. All was going well until it came time to add the tofu mixture. Interest turned into apprehension. Students asked, "What does tofu taste like?" My honest reply was that served plain, tofu was not exactly tasty. However, with additional ingredients mixed in, it could be quite good. I assured them that this tofu had plenty of spice and was not plain at all. Next came the roasted peppers and finally the mozzarella cheese. Into the oven it went and on to the next recipe. The Hot & Spicy Burrito Meat was quickly made up and left with a student to stir until heated through. By the time I measured the soymilk for the Cranberry Raspberry Smoothie, the classroom was filled with the delicious smells of pizza and burritos. If any doubts remained about trying these dishes, the aromas coming from the stoves erased them. Anything that smelled that good could not taste that bad. Reluctance gave way to a sense of adventure. A couple of students even decided to sample the soymilk plain. However, all wanted a sample of the thick shake-like Smoothie that I poured from the blender. Enthusiasm for soyfoods had caught on.

The teacher served the pizza and burritos amid ooohs and aaahs. They looked good. They smelled good. Did they taste good? The pizza vanished, and between mouthfuls the students assured me that it was "awesome". The burritos received mixed reviews, but most agreed that they were flavorful. Next on the menu came the Cherry Almond Muffins, Roasted Soybeans and Creamy Italian Dressing served with raw vegetables. Most of the vegetables disappeared without the dressing, so maybe that was not the best of choices. The students declared the Roasted Soybeans tasty and the Cherry Almond Muffins made with soy flour an instant hit. That only left the Breakfast Pita Pocket to try. None of the students had heard of soynut butter. After trying it, they proclaimed soynut butter better than peanut butter. Combining it with apple butter and apple slices in a pita quarter only enhanced its flavor. This won as their favorite.

The bell rang dismissing class and reluctantly the students left. "Thank you," and "That was great," came from those disappearing through the door. As new students came in, they questioned those leaving as to what had been happening. Their answers surprised me. The students enthusiastically shared information about the different forms of soybeans they tried. They even told the others about the everyday foods they consume containing soy products. Then they encouraged them to taste what soyfoods remained. The new students could not believe that these tasty products were soybean foods. All of the food disappeared in short time. Even some of the boys requested recipes. The soy lesson did not end there as the teacher asked for a recipe for soymilk ice cream. She thought it would make an excellent addition to the next week's lesson on homemade ice creams.

I came to convince one class to try soyfoods and ended up with two classes of soybean enthusiasts. The facts about high nutritional values and health benefits that I presented could not compete with the actual product prepared in a delicious way. That day, soyfood did the talking.
All of the recipes mentioned in this article are available here:


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