Today, this country finds itself deeply embedded in the claws of an obesity epidemic. I strongly believe that one contributor to this epidemic is limited access to healthy food and a lack of nutritional awareness.
At the forefront of this battle are low-income households living in food deserts or communities where healthy food is widely unavailable. In these areas, the most affordable and available food options are often processed foods with high-fat, sodium and sugar content – which can lead to high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in low-income communities.
The cyclical nature of food insecurity has resulted in generations of low-income families inheriting a culture where processed and fast food is the expected norm. Hunger experts are working to break this pattern by providing struggling communities with access to more affordable, nutritious foods.
Feeding America and its national network of food banks has heeded this message and answered the call. The Maryland Food Bank’s Charles T. Bauer Community Kitchen, in particular, is a great example of the work that is being done to ensure that healthy meals are an option to low-income families.
At the Maryland Food Bank, our community kitchen’s mission has evolved over time to address some of the deep-rooted issues in the communities we serve. Several years ago, we expanded the operation to include FoodWorks, a culinary training program that provides low-income individuals with the skills and certifications needed to begin a career in the food industry.
FoodWorks’ comprehensive curriculum focuses on teaching “from-scratch” cooking – exposing students to fresh produce and healthy cooking techniques. Additionally, students are given the unique opportunity to make a difference by producing meals for households in need during their training.
As students grow more confident in their own abilities and begin to value the flavors and nutritional benefits of fresh foods, this new mindset begins to empower both the students and their respective communities.
Supper and Summer Clubs
The kitchen also prepares fresh, nutritious meals for our Supper and Summer Clubs, programs that directly target the next generation of food-insecure kids and teens.
Working with fresh produce from our Farm to Food Bank program, the food bank’s kitchen staff develops nutritious, kid-friendly meals every day. Initially, the kids are often weary of new foods and flavors, but before long they begin to appreciate the taste of these fresh, well-prepared meals.
As they grow more confident in trying new things, many of the kids at our Supper and Summer Clubs start asking their parents to try new foods at home. Gradually their demand for these familiar healthy meals creates a critical generational shift in the way individuals approach nutrition.
Programs made possible through facilities like the Bauer Community Kitchen foster empowerment, camaraderie and solidarity – all through the power of food. And when it comes to a challenge as systemic as malnutrition in food-insecure communities, the Maryland Food Bank is breaking that cycle one meal at a time.
*Aida Blanco is the director of food service and education for the Maryland Food Bank
*Photo courtesy of Maryland Food BankTags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Our Response , Maryland , Maryland Food Bank