Food is medicine at food bank's Kitchen program

Kaycee holding produce.
March 25, 2024
by Paul Morello

Kaycee perches atop her grandmother’s kitchen counter; the smell of baking bread wafting from the oven. She’s just 3-years-old at the time, but years later Kaycee remembers the scene perfectly; it’s one of her earliest memories.

“My grandma would make homemade bread from scratch,” Kaycee said. “And she would cut out little circles and give me the dough scraps to mold and we’d put those in the kids pan and I’d bring that bread to my parents. So, at an early age, I definitely learned that food is love and food connects people.”

As an adult living in Spokane, Washington, Kaycee is a sort of connector herself. She works for an airline, helping reunite passengers with their lost luggage. And, she hasn’t forgotten that food is love. In fact, she’s learned that food can also be medicine.

“Not long ago, I was at my doctor’s office and saw a flyer for a food bank program that was teaching people how to eat healthy and on a budget. And I thought, ‘wow, that really rings true to my situation since I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and am on a budget,’ Kaycee said.

Sometimes, she’s not able to access healthy food because of the cost.

“I’ve had struggles where I’ve gone to different food pantries,” Kaycee said.  

So, she reached out to that food bank – Second Harvest Inland Northwest, a Feeding America partner in Spokane, Washington. And they connected her to their nutrition education program called The Kitchen at Second Harvest, which provides weekly hands-on cooking classes and nutrition education.

The Feeding America network is working to address factors that impact food insecurity, including health and nutrition, because in many cases, neighbors facing food insecurity are also living with diet-related challenges like diabetes and high cholesterol. In fact, 93 percent of neighbors surveyed in the 2023 Elevating Voices: Insights Report, agreed that “food is medicine,” and said the movement to end hunger must be rooted in improving access to nutritious food choices that meet dietary needs and prevent and manage diet-related diseases.  

Kaycee in the kitchen wearing a green apron.
Kaycee works on lentil tacos in The Kitchen at Second Harvest Inland Northwest in Spokane, WA.

Each week, Kaycee learns a new recipe at the food bank’s teaching kitchen. The recipes are healthy, and often include locally-sourced ingredients and fruit and vegetables that students might not know how to cook with. Recently, Kaycee has learned how to cook with lentils, including lentil tacos and lentil coconut curry.

After the class, students take home a bag of healthy food and recipes, which often includes the ingredients to make the meal they practiced that day in the kitchen.

“I kind of joke around and call it a mission to cook the recipes each week. I'm like, ‘this is my mission if I choose to accept it!’” Kaycee said. “I didn’t know how to cook with lentils, or okra, or any number of things. There are so many different fruits and vegetables that I wouldn’t quite know where to start with. So, the education part of the kitchen has been really useful.”

With that education, Kaycee is starting to see change.

“As far as health, my, my blood sugar went from like 130 to now almost 100,” she said. “So it's almost normal now. Because I've learned how to use whole foods and learned different options instead of processed foods, it's been really helpful.”

As part of the program Kaycee’s in, she’ll follow up with her healthcare provider after her 12-week class at The Kitchen is over.

While Kaycee has been trying new recipes and accessing healthy food through The Kitchen, she’s all about the connections she’s made there. After all, she learned early on, atop her grandmother’s counter, that food is a great connector.

“I've made so many new friends here. I've met so many different people, so many different walks of life and this is a great opportunity for me to make friends and be a part of my community,” Kaycee said. “Everybody has their situations and we're here for each other. We get to share recipes, we get to share experiences, and it's just really, really, fun.”

Learn more about the intersection of nutrition, food insecurity and health, and how Feeding America is working to ensure neighbors across the country have access to the food they need to thrive.