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Serving Culturally Relevant Food for the Holidays

Some food-assistance programs in Oregon are offering culturally-relevant meals to families in need. (Oregon Food Bank)
Some food-assistance programs in Oregon are offering culturally-relevant meals to families in need. (Oregon Food Bank)
November 28, 2016

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. – Even when people are down on their luck, not every meal is the same. Some food-assistance programs in Oregon now take into consideration the cultural relevance of the ingredients and foods they are serving. The extra thought helps.

Mike Fleck, executive director of Community Sharing in Cottage Grove, said the idea to cater meals to certain communities came about while his organization was giving out holiday food boxes at Christmas time almost five years ago.

"Our Latino family advocate brought it to my attention that Latino families do not know what to do with the turkey, and all of our box ingredients were not culturally specific for that demographic of clients here at our agency," he explained.

Fleck said that year, they decided to add culturally specific food to their meals for the Latino community, including tortillas and chiles. Funded through various grants over the years, Community Sharing was able to provide culturally relevant meals to about 50 to 75 Latino families year round. He said the organization now is looking for a new funding stream so they can continue the program.

Katie Pearmine, the strategic sourcing manager with Oregon Food Bank, said her organization takes a step back from the Community Sharing approach. Instead of providing tailored meals, Oregon Food Bank provides the ingredients that can become the building blocks for meals in any culture.

"For instance, rather than giving someone a pasta sauce, we would give a can of tomatoes. You can do so much more with a can of tomatoes than you can once it's already a pasta sauce," she said. "So that's one example."

Pearmine said Oregon and its neighbors are uniquely qualified to grow the foods that most cultures use to cook with. For instance, the region grows many storage crops, such as apples, potatoes and onions.

"What we have in abundance in our own backyard is some of the most culturally accessible food, and we can land it here at a much lower cost than a lot of other products," she added.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR