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Cooking skills contribute to food security

By Mary Stamp

To help families who access food banks become healthier and more self-sufficient, Second Harvest staff believe fighting hunger is about more than handing out food donations.  It’s also about nutrition and food security.

2nd harvest kitchen
Drew Meuer and Jandyl Doak show The Kitchen, Second Harvest’s new way to end hunger.

Second Harvest opened “The Kitchen” on Sept. 22 to “bridge the gap between hunger and health.”

“Folks often receive food, but their health outcomes remain poor.  There is a high incidence of diet-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and heart disease, and cancer,” said Drew Meuer, director of the new kitchen program.

He and Jandyl Doak, community impact coordinator, who brings 40 years experience in the restaurant business, are offering classes in one room of the 1,700-square-foot kitchen and producing prepared meals in the other room.

The kitchen was built in space previously used to repack bulk foods into small packages.

“Talking with people who receive food bank food, we find that many do not know how to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables,” Jandyl said.  “Many are challenged by cooking and think it’s hard.”

Drew said most Americans are deficient because they do not eat leafy greens, plant-based protein and whole grains.  He cited a 2015 report of the Regional Health District, “Population Health Indicator” that says only 20 percent of Spokane youth eat five fruits or vegetables a day.

Jandyl said the health district describes Northeast and East Central Spokane as “food deserts,” because there is no grocery store within two miles, so people lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, except at food banks.

“When I was pregnant with my now 43-year-old daughter, I studied the relationship between good health and nutrition,” she said.  “Adele Davis’ book, Let’s Have Healthy Children, changed the way I looked at food.”

Raised in Cincinnati, she also lived in Miami and San Francisco before she started in the restaurant business in Honolulu.  She was in Missoula before coming to Spokane, where she worked at the Outlet Diner in the Outlet Malls from 1991 to 1994 at Post Falls, and 20 years at Clinkerdaggers.

In 1996, she completed general studies at Eastern Washington University.  For five years as member services coordinator with Second Harvest, she connected with more than 100 partner agencies.

Drew grew up in Oak Harbor, Wash., eating his mother’s scratch cooking.  After earning a degree in political science in 2004 at Gonzaga University, he taught English a year in South Korea, lived in San Francisco with his wife, Erin, and taught low-income school children how to play through Playworks.   In an after-school program for about 25 children, he used food bank food, drawing children with fresh fruit. 

When they moved back to Spokane in 2010, Drew began at Second Harvest.  For two years, he interacted with agency partners and clients while running the mobile food banks.

“I realized we offered food clients didn’t know how to prepare,” he said.

Then he worked in food procurement and in transportation, learning logistics of receiving food and delivering it to partners.  In January, he took charge of The Kitchen project.  Jandyl has been on the project for two months.

2nd Harvest kitchen
Drew and Jandyl show off the new tilt skillet.

This summer, whileThe Kitchen was under construction, Drew connected with children at six summer feeding sites.  He did “produce tastings” of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Some tried plums, nectarines, apricots and peaches for the first time.

“I told them to eat the rainbow in different colored fruits and vegetables,” he said.  “We improved their ‘food literacy’.”

He hopes to do that and more in The Kitchen.

In the classroom kitchen, there will be cooking demonstrations, recipe testing and meal sampling, and lessons on scratch cooking, nutrition and food budgeting.  This fall, there will also be sessions on cheese-making, fermented beverages and selecting spices.

Washington State University’s nutrition and exercise department helped design the kitchen.  There are 12 rolling carts up to 30 students can use to cook along with the cooking demonstration.  They include cooking surfaces, induction burners, blenders, rice cookers, pans, dishes and utensils. 

Some classes are for people who receive food assistance.  They will be held daytime and evenings at the kitchen or at mobile food banks to be accessible to parents and working poor.

Other classes are for the public and partner agency chefs on how to preserve food, how to eat when pregnant, how to plan meals and how to cook whole grains and lentils.

In addition to Drew and Jandyl teaching, they will train community volunteers to be nutrition educators. 

Leaders of partner food pantries, health care agencies, schools and nonprofits will also learn how to educate their clients.

Drew introduces people to local, seasonal, organic, less refined and minimally processed food, and teaches what those terms mean.

“Many think fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive, but they cost less than a bag of chips and are filling,” Jandyl said.

Meeting with students in a Bonners Ferry honors program, Drew asked if they sat down for meals with their families. 

They laughed because few of their families sit down and eat together.  Many are busy and eat outside their homes,” he said.

The production kitchen includes state-of-the-art equipment, such as a tilt skillet, a steam jacketed kettle, a double stacked convection oven and a six-burner range.

In that kitchen, volunteers will cook prepared meals to distribute at mobile food banks and through other channels. 

They will include the recipe so people can replicate the dishes at home. 

Once food is cooled, it will be packaged in plastic or cardboard-lined containers that can be refrigerated or frozen, and then can be reheated and ready to eat.

Drew, who has a Catholic background, does this work because he believes food is a human right.

“There shouldn’t be hunger or food insecurity anywhere, let alone in America,” he said. 

Drew shared a suggestion from couples married a long time that when they fight, they make a sandwich, because someone may be hungry.

“If people are not hungry, they can face other problems of life,” he said.  “Access to food addresses their short-term need.”

He is sad so many people need Second Harvest’s services.  Each week 55,000 people in its service area of 21 Eastern Washington counties and five North Idaho counties are “food insecure” and receive some of the 2 million pounds of free food it distributes each month through 250 food banks.

Jandyl, who grew up Presbyterian, believes children deserve to have “great food.”

“We need to educate children how to make great food so things will change in their lives,” she said.  “We want children to participate in cooking, not just be given food,” Drew said. 

“Food banks provide significant calories to people as more people turn to them, because they are unable to make ends meet,” he said.

For information, call 252-6284 or email drew.meuer@2-harvest.org.





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