“If you don’t have garlic, then it’s not Korean food,” ThM student Sanduk Kim told a group of fellow Korean Candler students in September. Kim and first-year MDiv student Eujin Kim were leading a class on cooking easy, inexpensive meals. On the menu: kimchi jjige with tuna, a fermented Korean dish with anchovy broth, and jeyuk bokkeum, a Korean-style barbecue pork dish with hot sauce.Watching as the leaders explained where to find traditional Korean ingredients and how to use basic equipment were 10 Candler students who had been resorting to fast food since moving to the United States to attend seminary. In traditional Korean culture, mothers do all of the cooking, so for some of these students, the class was a journey into uncharted territory.

But the journey into the kitchen wasn’t the only new world the students were exploring. The cooking class was part of a multi-faceted effort to teach them about money management and financial literacy, topics that are especially pressing to graduate students and those in the “helping” professions such as the ministry or non-profit work.

“The Great Recession has heightened the anxiety of students regarding issues of financial literacy,” said Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Mary Lou Boice. “We wanted to address this.”

So this fall, with the help of a 2010 grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Candler presented a series of seminars about financial management for incoming students that included sessions on debt management and financial organization taught by local financial advisers, as well sessions on cooking inexpensive, healthy meals. The sessions were specially geared toward practical applications to help students adjust to a limited budget.

For one seminar, entitled “Living Lean in Atlanta,” new students took a field trip to local grocery stores, thrift shops, and affordable restaurants so they could learn where to buy inexpensive groceries, toiletries, furniture and clothing. Following the excursion, current students and faculty calling themselves “Candler’s Cheapskates and Frugal Fannies” shared their tips for finding deals and saving money. Dr. Ian McFarland, associate dean of faculty and academic affairs, told students that he and his wife share one car and use public transportation. MDiv student and Christian rap artist Xavier Brandon performed “Not Tryin’ to Spend It,” in which he names popular daily deal websites such as Groupon, ScoutMob, and Living Social. New students asked questions, ranging from the best place to buy winter coats to how to set up carpools.  

Boice noted that all of the seminars funded by the Carpenter grant, including 2011’s “Simple Enough” series with Adam Hamilton and Paul Escamilla 81C 84T 87T, reflect Candler’s commitment to making theological education affordable. As Brandon noted in his song, “The money from doing ministry hardly pays the rent,” so it’s more important than ever that students understand financial basics and how to manage student debt. Financial literacy programs designed for graduating students will be included in the next phase of programming, according to Boice.

But it seems that even if students know how to balance a checkbook and receive scholarships to help make seminary affordable, they’re eager to learn more about quick, inexpensive meals that fit into busy study schedules. In addition to the “Dinner in a Flash” cooking programs like the one that Sangduk Kim and Eujin Kim taught, there have been “Poor Seminarian Cooking Demonstrations” throughout the fall. Held once a month, immediately following the last class of the day, students are instructed on simple recipes by Audrey Hindes, Candler's program associate for academic and international support, who is also an accomplished chef. Students leave with a recipe and ingredient list in hand, which they can also access via the Poor Seminarian cooking blog, http://candlerpoorseminarianscookbook.blogspot.com.

The message that the kitchen is a better financial and healthful choice than the drive-through seems to be taking hold. As first year MDiv student Kiwoong Kang said after the Korean cooking class: “Anyone can cook!”