Culturally Relevant Foods with Tacoma Farmers Market
The term “culturally-relevant” first referred to teaching practices and was coined by the scholar, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings in the early 1990s. Dr. Ladson-Billings stated that maintaining the integrity of a person’s culture while being academically successful, is the goal of a culturally-relevant teaching style (source below: Ladson-Billings, 1995). This idea can be applied to nearly any system, including food systems. For instance, the goal of providing culturally-relevant food is to maintain the integrity of a person’s culture while helping them achieve their nutritional goals. Additionally, nutritional goals can be more successful if foods that are recognised in a person’s culture are accessible (source below: United Way of Olmsted County).
Having access to familiar produce that we know how to prepare, eat, and cook may make us more inclined to eat more fruits and vegetables. Imagine for a moment you have in front of you a strange root vegetable you’ve never seen or heard of before. Adding an extra step of learning how to prepare said vegetable (in an appetising way) can prevent someone from even trying out a new vegetable. Furthermore, buying that vegetable could take away money from purchasing an easier-to-eat item. That can be a huge ask if someone is already struggling financially.
In the field of food access, organisations provide food resources for food insecure individuals. While the goal is to provide everyone with foods that satisfy nutritional needs, that may not always be the case. Food access hubs, such as food banks and food pantries, sometimes struggle to provide nutritionally-adequate foods or fresh fruits and vegetables because these items can be hard to store. Fresh, unprocessed fruit and vegetables require refrigeration and have a short shelf life. Food access hubs often lack consistent funding so, sourcing these more perishable items can be really difficult without stable infrastructure and staff (Health Care Without Harm, 2018). Furthermore, sourcing very specific and culturally-relevant fruits and vegetables is another challenge entirely.
Jicama and papaya, for example, are highly culturally relevant to someone who was raised eating those items, but the plants that produce jicama and papaya need a warm climate to grow. So, if someone is looking for those items but lives in a colder region of the world, actually finding them could be pretty difficult and expensive. Some food banks partner with local farmers which makes sourcing fresh produce more viable. If there are farmers that offer produce typically not found in your area, it may be worth it to become partners in providing food bank clients with some culturally-relevant foods.
What is most important is to make sure that people are getting the foods they need, that make them feel connected, and motivated to eat more produce. To know what those culturally-relevant foods are, you may need to collaborate closely with the community to understand their perspective, what they want to eat, and what they’re looking for. Only then will we understand how to best support all of our community members.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. American Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.
United Way of Olmsted County. Culturally-Responsive Food Strategies. https://www.uwolmsted.org/sites/uwolmsted.org/files/Culturally-Responsive%20Food%20Strategies.pdf
Health Care Without Harm, 2018. Health Food Playbook. https://foodcommunitybenefit.noharm.org/resources/implementation-strategy/program-food-banks-and-pantries