Nearly 40 million people regularly rely on our country’s food banks and pantries. Many also suffer from high rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other diet-related conditions. For many, food banks and pantries are their first defense against food insecurity, and the pandemic has led to an increase in the number of households visiting these facilities for help.
North Carolina State University Extension discusses food insecurity and the importance of food banks and food pantries in this webinar.
Numerous studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables can fight obesity and promote overall health, highlighting the importance of having fresh produce available in pantries. In reality, a recent study Researchers from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that 85% of food pantry customers say it’s important to have fresh fruits and vegetables at every visit.
Unfortunately, even with access to fresh produce, many pantry customers say they don’t know how to prepare vegetables in a way that’s both healthy and appealing to their families. What happens when a pantry customer receives a stock of healthy items but doesn’t have the knowledge to prepare them? This is a question Drs. Susan Evans and Peter Clarke of the University of Southern California asked themselves the question as they traveled the country, helping food banks increase their supply of fresh produce.
For nearly 20 years, the duo has worked in 44 states and helped establish 159 fresh produce collection and distribution programs. It was during a visit to Albuquerque, New Mexico, that they met Wanda, a 44-year-old mother of three who lived with her boyfriend, Ralph.
“We watched Wanda happily accept three bags from the pantry, including two heads of cauliflower and six sweet potatoes,” said Evans, who, along with Clarke, arranged to visit Wanda the following week to discuss meal preparation. “When we visited Wanda’s kitchen the following week, we were surprised to find the cauliflower and sweet potatoes completely unused and starting to spoil.”
“Look,” Wanda said, “I have recipes for these vegetables, but they’re way too complicated for me to follow. Lots of ingredients, many of which I don’t have. tahini sauce, whatever it is, or thyme or goat cheese? And the recipes seem really strict. If I left something out, I don’t know what would happen. Probably a mess. I don’t want to “Not to disappoint my children or Ralph. Besides, two heads of cauliflower? Who can take care of that?”
The couple began speaking with other pantry customers to determine how widespread Wanda’s concerns were. Four trends quickly emerged.
- Many of the vegetables provided, from rutabagas to broccoli, were a mystery to customers.
- The supply increases were overwhelming, like getting a five-pound bag of carrots and trying to use it all up.
- Food preparers felt stuck in a rut, relying on a few cozy recipes when their families wanted variety.
- The available recipes were considered too complex and demanding.
“Wanda and other pantry customers like her rang a bell in our heads that we should have heard sooner,” Evans said. “Our efforts to build supply-side fresh vegetable distribution capacity would crumble unless we improve demand-side capacity, in Wanda’s kitchen and in the kitchens of millions of others around the world. across the country.”
In 2006, Evans and Clarke received a grant of $800,000 over four years of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) predecessor, the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, to develop a tool called “Quick!” Help for Meals”, a computer system provided to food pantries that used message personalization to create personalized booklets of recipes and food usage tips, individually designed for each household’s needs and preferences. Although successful, by the time the original grant ended, the practice of distributing printed information was being replaced more frequently by digital options.
While several food pantries and food banks are providing additional resources to customers, many in conjunction with Land-grant University outreach programs, Evans and Clarke have set out to develop a more tech-savvy approach: putting healthy recipes in the palm from the hands of customers through their smart device. It was a wise decision. Studies show that 76% of adults with incomes below $30,000 a year own a smartphone, and for many, that smartphone is their internet access.
Armed with this data, Evans and Clarke set out to develop a mobile app that allows users to select the ingredients they have available and create a virtual cookbook of healthy recipes. The idea materialized with an AFRI prize of $1.3 million over five years of the NIFA in 2012.
Informed by pantry customers, chefs and a culinary school, the team developed VeggieBook, an app with over 250 veggie-based recipes, as well as nearly 80 secrets to eating better – general advice on a more nutritious diets and strategies for food shopping on a budget. .
“We’ve taken daily lessons from academic sources and reframed them into words and images that everyday people can understand,” Evans said. “Careful planning and testing with Pantry customers has contributed to every screen of the app.”
When opening the VeggieBook app, users first see a logo, quickly followed by the option to create a new VeggieBook that lists the 10 most frequently distributed vegetables in pantries. Users select the ingredients they have available and go through a series of prompts that result in a virtual cookbook based on available ingredients, cooking and flavor preferences, health restrictions and other factors. Users can then choose to keep the suggested recipes or remove them from their virtual cookbook, resulting in a collection tailored to their interests.
Watch this app step-by-step procedure.
“VeggieBook quickly comes to the aid of cooks because it’s as close as their phone, a device they check dozens of times a day,” Evans said. “In contrast, printed recipes and other paper-based meal tips are often locked away in a cupboard or kitchen drawer, out of sight when you need them most.”
The work is particularly relevant today as food prices begin to rise and concerns about food insecurity increase, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Establishing global food security is a USDA priority. According to USDA Economic Research Service10.5%, or 13.8 million, of U.S. households were food insecure at some point in 2020. Mississippi experiences the highest rate of food insecurity. Exacerbated by the pandemic, the state’s food insecurity rate was over 22% in 2020. A recently released film series from Mississippi State University examines these issues in The hungriest state. The first in the three-part series debuted in April.
Evans and Clarke have worked with community partners in California, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and are looking to further expand the use of the app.
If you want to download and use the app, it is free and available in app stores. Look for the steaming green pot icon when searching for VeggieBook.
To learn more about this innovative use of technology to help pantry customers become more confident in the kitchen while increasing consumption of healthy foods, join Evans and Clarke for the latest edition of the webinar series on NIFA Nutrition Security, where they will discuss development, launch and the future. plans from VeggieBook on Tuesday, June 7 at 3:30 p.m. EDT.