Education with Food for Others
The circumstances of poverty limit many of our families to cheap calorie-dense but nutritionally deficient food choices. For example, instead of spending $5 on a bag of greens, many will understandably choose to stretch their dollars by purchasing a $5 combo meal from McDonald’s.
An unhealthy diet devoid of different vitamins and minerals can undermine long-term mental and physical health, reduce productivity, and increase healthcare costs. All of these adverse effects of eating unhealthily contribute to the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
It is essential to educate food bank clients on cooking with nutrient-dense foods in order to break the cycle. While it is easy to be ecstatic about being able to offer families a huge variety of fresh produce, it is also easy to forget that not all families know how to prepare these foods. Due to cultural divides, branding of vegetables towards people who are often wealthier (think: kale as a white, wealthy food), and a lack of prior accessibility, many food bank clients will skip over certain fruits and vegetables. When clients do not know how to prepare certain fruits and vegetables, they will not take them. This creates more food waste. By educating families, the pantry empowers them, improves their health, and reduces waste.
Teaching families how to use items they are unfamiliar with does not have to be complicated. There are many simple things a pantry can do that will go a long way when it comes to helping families improve their diet. The most effective way to get someone to take an item is to allow them to sample it first. Sampling can range between serving raw kohlrabi on a plate with ranch dressing to enlisting a volunteer to do a cooking demonstration of a main dish in the lobby.
Not all fruits and vegetables that are grown locally reflect what they look like in grocery store displays. For example, locally grown cauliflower comes in green, yellow, and purple shades—cauliflower has historically been branded in grocery stores as white. Including a blurb with the item on why it is a different color than typically sold is a great idea to put clients’ minds at ease.
A more in-depth response to the education barrier comes in the form of a cooking/nutrition courses. In 2019, in partnership with Virginia Extension, Food for Others held two 8-week cooking/nutrition courses (flyer below) at the Lincolnia Community Resource Center, a local low-income housing development. With newfound knowledge, as well as weekly produce boxes they received each class, families were able to try and prepare different fruits and vegetables and see what they like.