Nothing is unusual here….

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In the two years (and counting…) that I’ve been working here I’ve been introduced to many unusual foods such as lychee, rapini, jicamas, cactus or prickly pears, and carambola. Though these items are unusual to me, it’s hard for our program to really label any food unusual. No matter what the food is, there are always patrons that recognize and enjoy each “unusual” item.

Being exposed to these new and “unusual” foods is one thing I definitely enjoy about my position as an Intake Worker here. I believe that had I not accepted this opportunity, I would never have been exposed to learning about or given the opportunity to try many of these unusual items. But thankfully I’ve been given the chance to learn about many new foods through lessons by our patrons, and Matt has given me the task of food promotion to teach others about these foods as well.

Food promotion is a task that I have been working on for a few months now. The idea is to encourage patrons to try less commonly known foods by providing them an informative poster of the item and recipe suggestions. The poster describes what the food item is, a picture of the item, where it comes from, what it tastes like, nutrition, storage and briefly some ideas on how to use the food item. Many patrons appreciate the posters as it helps give them a vague idea of what to expect, but take the recipe suggestions as a reminder of how to use the item when they get home.

Offering or promoting “unusual” foods happens in one of two ways. These items are either placed in our lobby for people to help themselves to; or offered in a hamper on our call out window. At either spot, staff and volunteers do their best to ensure each patron has a chance to decide whether or not they would like to take this item home with them and a little gentle encouragement to try a small amount of the food if they’re unsure.

To describe this process a little bit better, here’s an example. We recently received approximately 1500 pounds of pot barley from the Food Bank. Thanks to a lot of volunteer effort, the pot barley has been bagged into 500 gram packages to be offered to patrons on our call out window. For those of you who don’t know what pot barley is, here’s a picture:

This picture is part of the poster that has been placed by our call out window to give patrons an idea of what this “unusual” item is. Here’s a brief overview of the information on the poster to help inform patrons on pot barley:
– Pot barley is a type of cereal grain.
– Originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, but is grown in over 100 countries.
– Has a more flavourful and more chewy texture than white rice, but a more subtle taste than brown rice.
– Good source of phosphorus; niacin; calcium; vitamins A and E; copper; magnesium; and manganese.
– Can be cooked in a similar way to rice.
– Good for soups and stews; or hot or cold in a salad.

Since this “unusual” item has been placed on our call out window the volunteers who diligently pack many food hampers each day are asked to inquire if patrons are interested in barley. Many people are unfamiliar with how to cook barley; so this is where our recipe suggestions come in handy to encourage the patrons to try this new and “unusual” food. One recipe suggestion we gave was how to make a salad:

Simmer 1 cup barley for 45 minutes in 4 cups soup stock. Mix in ½ cup chicken, herbs (of your choice), ½ cup steamed broccoli, and the juice of a lemon. Enjoy!

For each recipe suggestion I try to minimize the amount of other ingredients that may be needed to make the dish, or try to incorporate some of the regular donations our program receives such as squash, carrots, or broccoli. Hopefully by doing this it makes it easier and more enjoyable for people to take these extra items to stretch their hamper in a few new ways.

My recipe suggestions aren’t the only food promotion source though. Many times patrons will look oddly at an “unusual” food in our lobby, and after exclaiming “what is this thing?!” another patron will explain the taste and nutrition of the unusual food. Although this doesn’t always lead to both patrons leaving with the food item; it gives patrons a chance to share the cultural value of this food and their culinary experiences to take away some of the mystery in this new or less commonly known food for other patrons.

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