Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals, founded by Pamellah Oduor, seeks to revitalize community health by encouraging families to make wholesome, nutritious meals across Kenya. After witnessing a trend in lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes brought on by processed and unhealthy foods, Pamellah decided to use her knowledge and passion for cooking to inspire others to get back in the kitchen.
Pamellah was born in Siaya, located in the southwest region of Kenya. As the youngest, she spent many hours with her mother making hot, home-cooked meals and developed an interest in cooking. She moved to Nairobi to pursue a banking career where she witnessed lifestyle choices that are negatively impacting people’s health. According to The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology report, the number of people affected by diabetes is projected to rise from 21 million to 35 million during the next 20 years, which they believe is grossly underestimated. And the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reports that 47.1 percent of women in central Kenya are either obese or overweight.
Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals was established in 2013 and has more than 1.5 million members who are encouraged to adopt a sustainable diet, grow their own food through urban and container farming, and raise their own chickens. Members share recipes, stories, and pictures of their culinary creations. Initiatives like Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals that foster community and collaboration is one of a number of efforts, including The Smart Food Reality Show, that aim to promote better eating habits.
Pamellah says, “Kenyans are abandoning their cooking practices. Western influence has brought fast food restaurants and supermarkets to Kenya, making processed foods readily available. Busier schedules leave little time for people to cultivate their own food as they once did.” She says that because there are fewer farmers, the price of wholesome, indigenous foods such as sweet potatoes, cassava, and yams have increased. In addition, as women adopt new job opportunities outside the home, housewives, who traditionally cooked the meals, are declining in number, leaving no one to carry on traditional cooking methods that take many hours.
Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals encourages its members to grow and prepare their own food to reduce the number of harmful contaminants they are consuming through commercially grown fruits, vegetables, and meat. The current infrastructure system supplies sewer water for commercial irrigation that makes it nearly impossible for residents to avoid heavy metals and other toxins.
“Rising income levels in Kenya have increased the demand for meat causing poultry farmers to implement unscrupulous and unhealthy ways of feeding the birds. It has become common practice for farmers to give Antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs to chickens to help them grow faster. For this reason, members are urged to raise their own chickens.”, says Pamellah.
In addition to the health benefits, Pamellah believes in the power of food to spread joy and love, bring communities together, and help people forget their differences. In 2017 Kenya’s 43 different tribes were deeply divided over the election. Despite the political climate, the members of Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals remained united because of their shared passion for food and demonstrated acceptance and respect for each other.
Pamellah has also used food and the success of Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals to help those in need. For many decades the guidance and needs of young boys has been neglected because of the intense focus to support and protect girls. She started visiting and taking an active role in the Street Boys Rehabilitation Centre and has used her platform to educate the world about the suffering of young boys in Kenya. These efforts demonstrate how a difference can be made one boy at a time through education, sponsorship, mentorship, and guidance.
Through Let’s Cook Kenyan Meals, Pamellah has been able to teach people how to earn a living, change careers, and feed their passions. She has trained and mentored several individuals who run successful catering business. These efforts have changed lives, saved marriages, and sustained families.
“I believe food knows no tribe, religion, or political party and is a vital tool to maintain a long, healthy life,” says Pamellah.