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When you do what you love, it hardly seems like work, and for the last 32 years, Chef David Eason of Birmingham has spent his career teaching others about the importance of eating healthy, eating locally-grown products, and 4-H.
Eason, who has held many careers as a chef and caterer, has a heart for youth, and volunteers his time and talents educating Birmingham area youth about healthy eating. As chef, dietitian and lunchroom manager at Holy Family Catholic Academy in Ensley, Eason feeds 437 students twice a day. And, when a 4-H club was created in the school three years ago, Eason quickly got on board to volunteer for a program that meant so much to him as a youth.
“I loved 4-H and I was active in the program,” said Eason, who grew up in Hampton, Ga. “The most fascinating thing I did in 4-H was make a volcano that actually erupted. In my day, we had competitions at the county fair and it was a big deal.
“We set up exhibits representing our club and school and we competed against other schools,” said Eason, who attended an all-black school so competing against other schools in the county was challenging. “Being in an all-black school really challenged us to work hard and work to earn first place.
“Our motto was ‘don’t give up, whatever you have, go for it’ and it’s the philosophy I’ve used throughout my life,” says Eason.
While at Miles College, Eason worked in the college’s lunchroom, an interest that started in the kitchen with his grandmother.
Following graduation from Miles College, where he also played football, Eason tried out for Chicago Bears, and later came to Birmingham, where he was a correctional officer for 13 years. It was during that time he renewed his love of cooking, took classes and opened a restaurant.
In 1987, Eason won one of Memphis’ Beale Street cooking contests for his seafood gumbo and seafood pasta salad, two items that remain favorites in his catering business. His restaurant, Jones BBQ, closed after 22 years and Eason found himself wanting more.
While he continues his Birmingham Catering business, Eason has worked for the school system for the past 11 years.
“4-H really taught me to take pride in what I do and to do it to the best of my ability, and I’m glad to volunteer for 4-H,” Eason said.
Izette McNealy, 4-H Regional Extension Agent for Jefferson and Walker counties, says Eason is one of her most devoted volunteers. “He is always available to mentor and judge contests on the local, regional and state level, and he’s really a father figure to a lot of children.
“He loves 4-H and it shows by his support of the program and to the youth we serve,” she added.
Eason takes pride in teaching youth healthy eating habits and teaches them to think outside the box when it comes to eating. In addition to feeding youth locally grown fresh vegetables, he also educates them about personal hygiene and cross-contamination.
He is committed to his work, knowing that the school meals may be the most nutritious meal a child can have all day. “I try to prepare something healthy because school meal might be the only good meal they get.”
Eason also brings in uncooked vegetables to show how it looks fresh from the garden to provide yet another educational lesson. “The kids were fascinated when they learned peanuts grow below ground.”
His one rule for students – they must eat their vegetables before their dessert.
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