Benjamin “Ben” Pinon, a New York native and 2016 Ole Miss MBA graduate, is helping to bring nutrition education and positive food culture to the dinner table of Oxford families.
Pinon, the son of a nurse and a social worker, was almost destined to choose a path that would advocate for others. He was able to see the passion his parents put into caring for others as his mother specialized in helping those who were diagnosed with HIV, and his dad worked with troubled youth, many of which were receiving psychiatric care.
“Even though I’m a middle child, I have this big brother mentality,” Pinon said. “Maybe it’s from watching my parents, but I want to help people and look after people.”
Even though his parents were both hard workers, Pinon’s father made meal time a priority in the house while he and his siblings were growing up. This experience helped shape how Pinon would grow to view food and the role of food in human interaction.
“My dad was the cook in the family, and he kind of insisted that we were going to eat as a family,” Pinon said. “We ate as a family together almost every night when I was growing up. That was my experience, and I didn’t realize how unique and rare it was until other people told me that it wasn’t everyone’s normal.”
After he graduated from Cornell University with a degree in International Agriculture and Rural Development, Pinon knew he wanted to continue helping others, and he found the perfect way to do just that with an organization called HealthCorps.
HealthCorps, a nonprofit organization that works to give teens the skills to improve their physical and mental health, placed Pinon in Clarksdale, Mississippi. While in this position, Pinon worked as a traveling teacher of sorts. He would plan with teachers to guest speak in their classrooms and would give lessons on nutrition, fitness and emotional health.
Once his time in HealthCorps was completed, Pinon moved to Oxford where, while working full time on campus and earning his MBA, he helped to create a weekly cooking class, Food Club, at the local Boys and Girls Club. Pinon also pitched the Food Club to the MBA entrepreneur student groups, which resulted in over $3,000 being raised to help sustain Food Club for the kids of the Oxford Boys and Girls Club.
Currently, Pinon is the director of Food and Sustainability Programs at Magnolia Montessori School in Oxford. He cooks healthy meals for 40 to 50 children daily. In his free time, he is still involved with the Food Club at the Boys and Girls Club, he helps with the local city market, and he is participating in Leadership Lafayette.
He helped create an after-school cooking club at Oxford High School, and he recently formed a new working relationship with YoknapaTaco and will use the YoknapaTaco truck to host nutritious dinner pop-ups once each month. The truck will be set up in one of the normal locations, but Pinon will prepare unique and fresh items for customers.
Pinon is thankful for the experiences he had with food while he was growing up, and he is working diligently to ensure that others also have positive experiences with food.
“I cannot explain how much food has meant to me,” Pinon said. “My experience growing up, eating together at the table, it’s what made us a family. All of this is just me trying to give back what has been given to me.”
To interact with Pinon, you can follow him on Instagram.
Amy Goodin is a writer for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at argoodin12
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