Camp Shane participants

Q&A with Ziporah Janowski, Director of Camp Shane

Ziporah Janowski was a student in the Natural Gourmet Institute's full-time Chef's Training Program. Seventeen years into her successful career as an attorney, Ziporah decided to change paths and join her husband as director and co-owner of Camp Shane, the iconic weight loss camp founded in upstate New York.

Read on to learn about the important work she does and why she attended NGI.

Tell us about Camp Shane and what it offers to people who wish to live healthier lives.

Camp Shane was founded in the Catskill Mountains in 1968 as the first co-ed children’s summer weight loss camp. Camp Shane has grown from having 20 campers in its first year to serving over 600 campers in New York and in additional locations in Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas and soon, Wisconsin. We’ve also created an adult camp, Shane Diet & Fitness Resorts, which operates at a resort hotel in the Catskills near our main location. Our campers come from all over the world and are of all religions, races and socio-economic backgrounds. Everyone who attends has one thing in common - the need to lose weight. We are not a “fat camp,” as depicted by the media, where campers are portrayed as hungry and in a boot camp setting. Instead, camp is a supportive environment people genuinely want to be a part of. We offer the tools they need to lose excess weight, gain fitness, and learn to live a healthier lifestyle. This is accomplished through nutrition education, the experience of eating nutritious meals daily, fun fitness and sports activities, self-esteem building and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Ziporah JanowskiHow did you get involved with the camp? What are your current responsibilities there?

For 17 years, I worked as an attorney at a Fortune 500 financial services company, which I loved. In 2007, my husband, David, who founded the camp with his family, was being courted by private equity firms encouraging him to take on investors for expansion and to possibly sell the camp. I was always deeply interested in nutrition and fitness, and in the process of helping David review those offers from a legal view, I became excited by the possibilities of expanding Camp Shane. Rather than sell to outside investors, I left my job to join David on the journey of expanding the camp on our own. Together, we grew the business from the original New York camp to the seven programs we run today. As co-owner, almost anything can fall on my desk. Day to day, I oversee the nutrition programs with the assistance from registered dietitians, hire staff, assist with marketing, programming, writing and editing our websites, blogs and newsletters, work with our medical and fitness advisors, and handle legal issues and public relations. I also formed Shane Cares, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization through which we provide scholarships for economically underprivileged children to attend our New York camp.

Camp Shane has been around for nearly 50 years. How has the organization evolved since then, and what has remained unchanged?

Over the years, we have learned a great deal about nutrition and what it takes to feed our campers so that they learn to try new foods and bring home the good habits developed at camp. The menu used to be heavily focused on calories and low fat, but we’ve since shifted our focus to more fresh produce, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. Another big change is the emphasis on teaching our kids to cook. My big soapbox issue is that families do not eat at home enough. By giving our kids some basic cooking skills and an enthusiasm for it, they encourage their families to eat more at home, too. We reinforce this by regularly sending our families recipes and cooking tips. The biggest change, however, is the understanding that unless our campers change their behaviors, what we teach them at camp will not stick. So, working with experts, we’ve devised an in-depth cognitive behavior program that helps our campers identify and understand the behaviors that lead to their weight gain, and how to implement often simple changes to modify their behavior toward healthier habits.

What aspects of healthy eating do Camp Shane attendees struggle with the most?

The greatest struggle for our campers is breaking the bad eating habits they have developed at home. Often, they eat too much and they eat the wrong foods. They don’t exercise enough. The bombardment of half-truths and unsupported marketing claims for new diets and processed foods worsen the problem, often causing yoyo weight loss and gain and impaired metabolisms. Parents are often misinformed about nutrition. Families are busier than ever, don’t cook enough and eat out more than they eat at home, also contributing to weight gain. And unfortunately, we find that physicians are often not taught how to help families manage their weight. By getting away from home and into a new and supportive environment, our campers are able to break the cycle of poor eating patterns and gain both the experience of eating healthfully and being physically active, and the knowledge they need that is grounded in fact and science.

Why did you decide to go to culinary school at this point in your career?

This past summer, we had a kitchen staffing crisis. Our long-time chef unexpectedly could not return for the summer. I was tasked with hiring a new chef and overseeing the Camp Shane NY kitchen - I was terrified! Though I love to cook, I knew nothing about managing a commercial kitchen, which feeds 400 people three meals and two snacks seven days a week for nine weeks. Thankfully, the chef we hired was magnificent and I learned a great deal from her. Together, we further overhauled our menu to serve fresh and seasonal vegetables, local when possible, more grains and beans, more vegetarian options, and high-quality proteins. Around this time, I stumbled upon NGI through Edible Magazine. The Chef’s Training Program intrigued me because of the focus on healthy cooking and I couldn’t stop thinking about it! It was speaking to all of my interests; my personal love of healthy cooking and our business need to serve our campers foods that will sustain them while also being delicious. I was concerned that I was too old for the program but took the leap and applied. And now, more than halfway into the program, I could not be happier with all that I am learning and feel I am keeping up with my many younger fellow students just fine, thank you!

How do you plan to utilize your new culinary skills at Camp Shane and beyond?

There are so many possibilities! On the business side, I feel I will have greater confidence to hire and lead our kitchen team, ensure sanitation and safety rules are followed, and not feel as reliant on others. I will have the knowledge to make better ingredient and menu choices. Food ordering will be simpler with the skills I gained at NGI about ingredient sourcing. I will be able to strengthen our cooking instruction program, teaching our campers to cook tasty and nutritious foods at home and to make better choices when eating out. We will offer our families more cooking tips and recipes, and I hope our families will feel even more trust in the camp knowing I am a graduate of the Chef’s Training Program. And, though I produced a cookbook with one of our culinary nutritionists a few years ago, I hope in the coming years to be able to tackle another cookbook for the camp, this time as an author. On a personal level, I already feel so much more capable in the kitchen and even more in love with cooking. The instructors and the curriculum have given me so much more than I ever expected and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be an NGI student.

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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