May 14, 2008

How Education Helps End Hunger

by Ona Balkus, Assistant Coordinator for Operation Frontline.

In our work with Operation Frontline, we bring volunteer chefs and nutritionists into low-income communities to empower people to make better food choices on a limited budget. Through hands-on cooking and nutrition classes like this one hosted by Parklawn Family Center, we aim to alleviate hunger through education.

Amid children running around our feet and three languages being spoken in this small living room turned classroom, we discuss with these mothers how they can feed their families and themselves better in a new country. At Parklawn, we are working with mothers from El Salvador, Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Nepal.

The women have noticed their children gaining weight, and have heard that enticing American foods like brightly colored “fruit” drinks, cartoon-clad yogurt containers, and a 30 foot long cereal aisle might be the culprits. Hearing these women’s stories, I am continually struck with questions: Why should shopping for food be so hard? If you walk into a store with the intention of buying yogurt, meat, bread, and fruit juice for your family, why is it possible that you can leave with piles of sugar and oils in your cart while believing you have found all that you were looking for?

With rising food prices, the multitude of cheap, convenient food products has never been so tempting for low-income families. Through our classes, participants learn to avoid such foods that can harm their families’ health. We teach them how to read the nutrition facts behind the cartoon characters and the unit prices under the pre-sliced vegetables, with the goal that the next time they are at the supermarket, they leave the store with healthier food and a comparable, if not lower, grocery bill.

Of course, the food should also taste good, which is where volunteer chefs come in. At Parklawn, our chef Remke has created pita pizzas, vegetarian chili, and a roasted vegetable pasta with a “cream sauce” made of Greek yogurt and parmesan cheese. To our health!

Ona Balkus is the Assistant Coordinator for Operation Frontline at the Capital Area Food Bank. You can contact her at or visit her blog about Operation Frontline DC


Ayesha said...

You guys are doing a wonderful job in educating parents about nutrition facts and figures. My very best wishes to all you people.This is actually how education helps beat hunger. keep it up.

Matt Siemer said...

Hi Ayesha,

Thanks for the kind words! Ona is a very nice person, and I'm sure she'll be delighted to see this.

Happy days,