Banana spoons and artichoke cups sound like lyrics in a children’s song. But in a new line of inclusive cooking utensils, these whimsical shapes also incorporate braille to empower the blind to quickly identify each implement.
“It was a lot easier to be able to read the sizes of the tools or the measurements,” says 12-year-old Batya Sperling-Milner, who was born blind due to a mutation called Leber congenital amaurosis.
At Sperling-Milner’s innovative bat mitzvah at Ohev Sholom Synagogue in Washington, DC last month, she introduced chanting from a braille chumash [Pentateuch] to a women’s Torah reading service. But together with a sighted friend, Josie Silverberg, she recently fed body and soul as she experimented with the Q.D. Foodie kitchen tools to make cookies.
“It was cool to actually know and read what each tool was instead of guessing based on their size,” Sperling-Milner says.
The tools are the brainchild of voiceover artist Marci Heit, who first envisioned them as cartoon props in a treatment for an animated kids show. The program, which she calls “Q.D. Foodie,” is still in development, but the products are already available online.
Besides the banana and artichoke designs, five other dishwasher-safe tools also bring the outdoors in. A carrot spoon, celery spatula and eggplant whisk pair with scallion and corn salad servers. Easy-grip handles on larger pieces make them sensory friendly. Priced at $49.99, the measuring pieces are equipped with braille.
“The tools are not designed as a special needs product at all,” Heit says. “They’re designed as an ‘inclusive product’ for everyone to contribute in the kitchen, bring everyone together and have fun.”
In her freelance work, Heit has voiced advertisements for Kellogg’s, Gap, LG, Smartbox, Goodyear, McDonald’s and other household names. She has also conceived of a number of other animated programs for kids. This is the first merchandise that has grown out of her show treatments.
“We try to include everybody within Torah values and that filters through Q.D. Foodie,” says Heit, who is Torah observant and resides in Silver Spring, Maryland. She sees the project as being in line with the mitzvah of not putting a stumbling block before the blind or “anyone else.”
Aliza Sperling, Batya’s mother, is a Jewish educator who considers Heit’s project an example to emulate.
“My kitchen is not equipped with braille tools,” she says. “On the regular market, it is hard to find kitchen tools that are inclusive for people with visual disabilities. I hope others learn from Marci’s example and design products that are inclusive for people with all kinds of abilities.”
In a strange twist, Heit conceived of the products while pregnant with her now 7-year-old daughter. She is sighted, but was born with vision concerns. She has worn glasses since 18 months and underwent eye surgery at age four.
Heit first imagined the produce-enhanced tools as cartoon props in her proposal for an animated show featuring a blind girl named Quinn Daisy, or Q.D., who wears star-shaped glasses and loves to cook with her friends in her watermelon-shaped treehouse using the playful kitchen implements.
“Something about them just made me want to have them in my own kitchen,” Heit says.
Last spring, a successful crowdfunding campaign raised more than $50,000 from 141 backers to realize Heit’s dream and underwrite the costs of creating custom molds. She began shipping product last month. It’s definitely been a long haul, Heit says.
Recent mention in Florence Fabricant’s “Front Burner” column in The New York Times brought in a flood of orders.
“It was great we got attention,” Heit says. “When the article came out, we didn’t even have inventory yet. We got it a couple of days later, but I sure wasn’t going to tell The New York Times not to print it.”
Q.D. Foodie kid-friendly designs also offer children an opportunity to take more pride in cooking and try new foods, says instructor Natasha Rosenstock Nadel, who introduced the utensils to nutrition and cooking classes.
“The kids love the curved shape of the eggplant whisk. It is very comfortable for their hands,” Rosenstock Nadel says.
Heit’s experience as a volunteer while previously living in Los Angeles inspired her to conceive of Quinn Daisy’s unique kitchen. At children’s puppet shows for “Kids On The Block,” a disability awareness program for elementary school students, Heit voiced a number of characters.
“The underlying educational message of the puppet shows, that kids are different but inside they’re the same, was very well received by the students,” Heit says.
That got her thinking about conveying the “takeaway” to a larger audience. Heit was also inspired by the positive outlook of a 90-year-old volunteer, Elda, who had lost her sight 20 years earlier to retinitis pigmentosa, but still loved to bake.
“She lived alone, her husband had passed away and her sons were grown, yet she basically continued to do all the things she had done before — other than drive,” Heit says. “She even taught people who were losing their sight how to function.”
More Q.D. Foodie products lay ahead, Heit says. Five items already in the production pipeline are slated for 2019, including a set of bowls.
“Regular kitchen tools are boring but these are so fun,” says Rebecca Babitz, 16, an 11th grader at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington-Girls Division, whose mother Shuly introduced the tools to their home. “You can say ‘I need the banana’ instead of just ‘I need the spoon.’ I’d recommend them for anyone who’s looking for a way to brighten their kitchen.”