Cooking Up Positive Change: Ann Butler’s Edible Education Provides Everything and The Kitchen Sink

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“Nearly 1 in 3 overweight or obese kids under the age of 18 faces the threat of early heart disease because of their weight,” according to the American Heart Association. For the first time in history, there are reports that this entire generation has a life expectancy less than their parents. Moreover, according to The Society of Neuroscience findings, teenagers who consume a low-quality diet are at an increased risk of developing depression by up to 80%. To make matters worse, the CDC reports that children get less than 8 hours of required nutrition education each school year.

Edible Education is at the forefront of tackling these issues head-on. Conceived and launched by the visionary founder Ann Butler, this innovative education initiative was created to help schools do better and help kids learn to cook so that, ultimately, they eat better. Edible Education is the intersection of food preparation and life skills education, offering a comprehensive curriculum designed to equip students with essential culinary knowledge.

Ann Butler’s journey into the world of culinary education began with a diverse background.

“Growing up, I was a ‘Becky Home Ec-ey,’’ She jokes. She applied those ‘home economics’ interests in her professional life. Ann has worked in fashion, the restaurant industry and as a culinary arts teacher at the high school level. It was during her tenure as a high school teacher that Ann recognized the need to instill healthy eating habits and cooking skills in children from an early age. “It is too late if you wait until they are teenagers! I said, ‘All right, I’m going to start a cooking school for kids.’” Ann shares, thus laying the foundation for Edible Education.


Transitioning from the traditional classroom setting to entrepreneurship, Ann Butler faced the challenge of starting her venture with minimal resources. “I had $3000.” Undeterred by financial constraints, she leveraged her passion and expertise to launch Edible Education in 2010.

“It was very real for me, as I had children; I taught in the schools, and then I was a coach for kids and l thought, ‘Well, you can’t perform athletically on Red Bull and Doritos. It’s just not going to work.’ They didn’t have any understanding of basic nutrition.”

She adds, “You know, you borrow and steal from the best. And I had worked as an extension agent for Virginia Tech, meaning land grant universities hire people in small suburban settings to go teach the people what’s coming out of the universities. And I was teaching cooking, and I said to myself, ‘I bet this could be a ‘for profit’ model.’ I started out of my garage with two of my former high school culinary kids.” She mailed 77 letters to private and public schools in Richmond, Virginia. “We said, we come to you, we bring all our cutting boards, supplies, and ovens. We don’t need your kitchens. I got picked up right away in the private school sector.”

Then she networked. “When you’re a business owner, they say the first thing you need to do is become an expert in your field, so I aligned with Chef Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama, who were championing the cause. I aligned with all the people that were speaking about it. It was the perfect timing, and it just really got the ball rolling very quickly. We were even invited to the White House.”

Ann partnered with Jamie Oliver as a Food Revolution Day Ambassador. “He was very big into children’s cooking, and he was looking for ambassadors in the US to spread the word. I got a lot of the community behind the efforts. We taught 800 students in one day.” It amplified the organization’s reach and cemented her position as a leading advocate for culinary education. Edible Education was given grants, such as the $85,000 grant from Anthem, which provided the necessary resources to expand Edible Education’s programs across schools, enabling thousands of students to benefit from hands-on cooking experiences. “It allowed me to quit teaching to focus full-time on creating a whole curriculum.”

At the core of Ann’s Edible Educational philosophy is an emphasis on experiential learning and hands-on experiences. By immersing students in practical cooking tasks and treating them as aspiring chefs, Ann ensures that learning transcends rote memorization and extends into real-world application. Rejecting the notion of “dumbing down” education, Edible Education empowers children to take ownership of their culinary journey, fostering a sense of confidence and competence in the kitchen. They have their own workstation, their own cooking tools, and they have opportunities to explore what works and doesn’t work for them.

As all new start-ups, Ann was fielding some challenges four years into it. “Oh my gosh, we were so tired of schlepping stuff everywhere.’” That challenge led to a critical innovative addition to her business model. “The Kitchen a la Cartcame into being.” It is a portable kitchen equipped with essential tools and a curriculum that enables the delivery of culinary education in schools. “Riverside Unified Schools has the Kitchen a la Cart in all their elementary and middle school sites, and the Santa Barbara Food Bank has four carts.”

Then the pandemic hit. “Students were at home,” but Ann didn’t let that stop her. “For two years, I had to pivot. A space next door came open. I planned to turn it into a commercial kitchen, but then I got it looking so nice that I thought, ‘Hey, why not open a restaurant.’ And I did. Once students came back to school, I handed the restaurant off, and I am back to making Edible Education and our Kitchen a la Cart equipment scale.”

Today, 1 in 5 children are obese. The key is education. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Schools are a priority setting for obesity prevention efforts because they reach the vast majority of school-aged youth.” Likewise, there is overwhelming evidence that teaching children culinary skills does improve nutrition and health. That’s where Edible Education comes in; it provides schools with everything and the kitchen sink.

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