Arizona Students’ Cookbook Promotes Produce In Food Deserts

By Annika Cline
Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - 4:41pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
ASU students (from left) Samantha Contreras, Melissa Fivecoats and Craig Andersen hold up a pasta dish from one of the cookbook's recipes.

There’s a reason we say “easy as pie” and not “easy as roasted kohlrabi.” Some produce is just puzzling to prepare, but a new cookbook tries to sweeten you up to the idea. 

“Today we’re cooking up penne pasta with fried zucchini and mint,” said Arizona State University student Craig Andersen as he and two classmates prepared the meal.

The aroma of garlic wafted around the small apartment kitchen. The recipe is from a cookbook called “Let’s Eat Local: Phoenix Farm to Table.”

It was compiled by these and other students in a class on service learning. Samantha Contreras pulled up the rough draft on her computer.

“We have a list of vegetables that are grown locally here in Phoenix, and we tried to get a recipe for each of those vegetables,” Contreras said.

There’s basic bok choy, brown butter cauliflower soup, lemon cucumber and squash salad - a rainbow of veggies can be found here. These basic recipes are the students’ attempt at offering one solution to a big issue. 

“I know when we first went into it, it was like ‘We’re going to solve food deserts!’ And then the first time you see this big map of a food desert you’re like, woah, ok maybe we’re not going to be able to solve this by ourselves,” Andersen said.

A food desert is a low-income area that has limited access to healthy foods. Think about families who live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store and don’t have their own transportation. According to the Department of Agriculture, Maricopa County alone has 85 of these.

“The economics of the neighborhoods don’t warrant a normal grocery store - for example, to go in and spend the money to build a facility,” said Dr. Sandy Price, the class professor.

Price said tackling the entire issue of food deserts was too much for a semester, so the class boiled it down to another, smaller problem. They noticed that sometimes, even when fresh produce is brought into these communities, people don’t always buy it.

“People just weren’t familiar with what they were seeing. They didn’t know what to do with an eggplant, and so forth,” Price said. 

Enter the cookbook, with recipes donated by local chefs. The plan is to give it away at pop-up farmer’s markets and other events on food insecurity. The class is nearing the end of their crowdsourcing campaign for the book. 

Back to the zucchini mint pasta - it turns out this is a new thing for Contreras, too.

“I’ve never actually cooked a zucchini before, so this is the first time I’m doing that,” Contreras said as she stirred the slices in a pan. “I had a lot of questions. I mean, I wasn’t sure what to do with the zucchini. Should I peel it? Should I have a specific measurement for how thickly I cut it?” she said. 

The cookbook includes a description page with information on preparing the produce. Then it’s up to the cook to take the recipe from the page into the pan. The students tried this dish for the first time.

“That is not bad,” Andersen said. Contreras agreed.

“I would definitely make that at home.”

The zucchini passed the taste test, and the book goes to print this week. 

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