By: Arsalan Barmand, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
San Diego, CA - Iranian American Bibi Kasrai's creative ways to battle obesity and promote respect for one's body are making waves in this coastal Southern California city. Her company, Harvard Cookie Girl, LLC (HCG), has not only been sought out by parents, kids and schools but by Nickelodeon as well. A former corporate executive, she relinquished her position and years of experience in favor of pursuing her passion for the benefit of her community.
In the spring of 2009, Bibi was relaxing at home after a chaotic day of cooking with her kids and their friends when she received a phone call from one of children's parents. "These cookies are excellent, and so healthy!" the parent exclaimed. "My kid told me they have all these different nutritious ingredients. How did she know?"
Bibi responded that she explains the contents and measurements as she cooks with the kids, and replaces simple ingredients like milk chocolate chips with dark chocolate chips (which are full of flavonoids).
"We want your food, too!" was the response she received.
Not long after, Bibi was delivering baked goods to a customer when the father opened the door, "Hey! You're the Harvard cookie girl!" he remarked, puzzled as to why an MBA from Harvard Business School was selling cookies.
From there, Harvard Cookie Girl was born.
Bibi left her job and set about writing a curriculum geared towards teaching kids how to respect their bodies while enjoying the sweet side of life. She cold-called a host of schools in her community and a handful expressed interest in her program. Before she knew it, she was teaching kids the benefits of making crepes versus pancakes ("Less gluten, which can clog the arteries and joints, leading to aches and pains, and we add Greek yogurt, honey or nuts instead of butter and syrup," she says), the science of measurement and the benefits of High-Density Lipoprotein (good cholesterol) vs. Low-Density Lipoprotein (bad cholesterol).
A gourmet chef with a self-professed sweet tooth, Bibi's passion for cooking can be traced back to her Persian background. Over the years, she has retained her family's recipes and thought hard about how individuals like her, with an ancestral history of diabetes and cardiac problems can enjoy succulent pastries and sweets while living long, prosperous lives. She found over time that cooking the same foods with healthier substitutes is a great way of beating the system.
HCG's workshops at 30 local public and private schools over the past year have allowed Bibi and her small staff to work with over 600 kids. Nickelodeon featured six of her recipes on their Parents Connect website, and Bibi is gearing up to visit 50 more schools in the coming year. She works hard to promote healthy living and respect for one's body in her local community, and has become a recognized local leader in the fight against childhood obesity.
Today, HCG is in competition for a $250,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project, which seeks to "refresh individuals and communities" nationwide. It is an excellent way to fund great programs across the board. HCG has until August 31 to garner the most or second most amount of votes to win. The competition is fierce with hundreds of projects vying for the two top spots. Individuals can vote once a day for their favorite projects (click here to vote!).
Bibi hopes to use the Pepsi Refresh grant to build her flagship store, a place where parents - who have been clamoring for her advice - can come learn her healthy recipes. She's already received sponsorship commitments from high-end kitchen appliance manufacturers Wolf (stove and oven), Subzero (refrigerators) and SieMatic (German kitchen cabinets). The funds would be used to open the store, hire a few full-time employees, and expand her programs to low-income schools, where the risk of childhood obesity is higher.
Bibi has a long track record of volunteering and fundraising for a variety for worthy causes. The most important to her, however, have been her work with the X-Prize Foundation, the myriad of non-profits in the San Diego area, and Dr. Ehsan Yarshater's Encyclopedia Iranica. Her steadfast dedication to the Iranian-American community is evident in both the aforementioned organizations as well as her strong support of NIAC.
Now, she needs YOUR help to continue and expand HCG's work to teach kids and parents how to enjoy tasty foods while respecting their bodies! "I learned that each of the 1,250 competitors are leveraging the power of their communities to go and vote for them each day, so your vote means a lot to me," Bibi said. "If my small organization wins, we can make a big impact both locally and nationwide on the issue of childhood obesity."
The Harvard Cookie Girl
Bibi Kasrai has worked many years alongside premier cardiologists, nutritionists and integrative health practitioners to know the value of good eating habits on your overall health. She too has struggled many years to keep bad cholesterol low, good ones high and overall level tolerable without the use of drugs. However, as a gourmet chef and someone who has a sweet tooth, she could never eliminate sweets from her diet. Coming from a family who has diabetes on one side and cardiac problems on the other, she often asked herself how could they enjoy long healthy lives while not depriving themselves? She thought the answer might be rooted simply in their diet. She kissed her Harvard MBA goodbye and left her corporate career as a non-profit executive to pursue her passion. This foodie started to examine the secrets of gourmet cooking along the Silk Road. She has captured the best of her Persian family's recipes and created healthy, gourmet pastries. (Shop our cart). Simultaneously, her passion for educating her kids and their friends about the value of healthy eating drove her to start an education program through schools. She pitched her philosophy to local schools and created a curriculum to modify children's eating habits through baking with a hands-on program. Her program has cleverly embedded messages about sanitation, healthy nutrition, chemistry, reading, measurements and fractions and engages kids into these subjects through fun.
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