Our publication Cooking Up Community: Nutrition Education in Emergency Food Programs is a living document. The guide is part of an ongoing effort to aggregate and make available critical resources for emergency food providers. You can email us at [email protected] to let us know how we can continue to improve this resource. In the coming months, we will be posting an appendix to the guide (at the above link) with new profiles and tips.
Here is an example of what’s to come…
FOODBANK OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Santa Barbara, CA
DESCRIPTION The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is a mid-sized food bank that serves a quarter of the Santa Barbara County population, approximately 100,000 people. Part of their mission is to improve the nutritional health of all residents of Santa Barbara County because everyone can benefit from optimal health. To accomplish this, the Foodbank has transformed itself into an organization that is about advocacy, empowerment, preventive health, and ultimately, community food security.
The Foodbank took into account that when parents were not adept at preparing food, the potential for increased nutritional value derived from foods was minimized, and families were still hungry. Their capacity includes a combination of self-efficacy, the belief that one has the skills and knowledge to perform a particular activity, and the belief that certain behaviors, in this case preparing food, can influence health outcomes. These issues required the Foodbank to change their educational approach and see every food that they distributed as an opportunity to educate their clients and support their mission.
NUTRITION EDUCATION ACTIVITIES The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s philosophy on nutrition education is continuous food learning throughout a person’s life. As Serena Fuller, PhD, RD, the Foodbank’s Health Education and Evaluation manager puts it, “We should always be educating and exposing people to food. Open mind, open palate. It’s about learning and adapting throughout the lifespan.”
WHAT MAKES THEM UNIQUE The Foodbank uses a food literacy approach rather than a standard nutrition education approach. Food literacy is about experiencing food, getting exposure to food, learning how to prepare food in the most healthful and nutritious ways, and exposing people to resources available to acquire and grow their own food. The term food literacy resonates more with the communities in which the Food Bank serves. “We don’t talk about serving size, don’t focus on what foods we can’t have, but on what foods we can have,” states Fuller. “There are a lot of opinions about food and I respect that. Food is about family, culture, coping, and socialization. The challenge is about making food that is highly personal for a wide audience. At farmer’s markets I used to only have one recipe on how to cook a particular food item, now I give people two or three recipes. But there still needs to be some standardization so we can evaluate our programs.”
“Food banks are about building capacity,” states Fuller, and The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s approach to building capacity is straightforward. First, they conduct a needs assessment using methods such as interviews and focus groups with clients and stakeholders as well as researching accessible community statistics. Their food literacy programs are designed based on the information acquired from their needs assessment. They reach out and consult with their community partners and get them on board with their plans. These food literacy programs are then implemented through member agencies and other community partners who are not eligible to become Foodbank member agencies. Using a community leadership model, the Foodbank trains community volunteers, school teachers, and staff of member agencies to conduct classes and provides each agency with the food and curriculum they need to implement their programs. “Our programs are designed to be client focused,” states Fuller. “We are looking at how we can best meet the needs of our clients. It cannot be pedagogical. Our clients are the experts and understand their needs and then we create a program that addresses those needs.”
To continue their programming, the Foodbank relies on the understanding and support from funders around the need for food literacy and food access to become institutionalized. As Fuller puts it, “These are not your standard interventions. We help people deal with stress because [through us] they know where they can get food and how to prepare it. This is preventive medicine. There needs to be a shift towards long term, easily scalable, wide reaching programs as opposed to the traditional clinical intervention style that is both labor and resource intensive. Food banks need to look at the social determinants of health as well.”
Another challenge lies in evaluation. How does a food bank serving 100,000 people evaluate the impact of their work with one evaluator? It is also difficult to evaluate the efficiency of a food literacy program in the same way one measures the effects of a drug or behavior change. The Foodbank broadly uses the RE-AIM method, which is a framework that is designed to inform program decision making based on Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance. Together, these five elements help program developers plan programs that improve their chance of working in their “real-world settings.” It takes into account how many people you reach, the capacity of your program to produce an effect, how many stakeholders adopt the program, the consistency of implementation, the costs and adaptations of program delivery, maintenance of program effects for individuals, and settings over time.
One of the activities that Fuller gets to do that inspires her is working closely with her clients in addressing their food needs. “We have nutrition advocacy committees which are comprised of clients from our healthy school pantry program. I sit in on those meetings even though I don’t [fully] understand them (meetings are conducted in Spanish, the language of the clients). In these meetings, clients start to problem solve. They can choose the foods they want. One particular group wouldn’t pick cauliflower, but we had a lot in the warehouse. We showed them how to core cauliflower and now they request cauliflower all the time. Sometimes it’s that simple.”
- Food literacy as opposed to nutrition education
- Continuous food education across the lifespan
- Using the RE-AIM evaluation method