Martha O'Bryan Center - Providing an Oasis

UPDATE: Please read in comments what my friend Brent (who volunteers with Martha O'Bryan Center) said regarding this post! It's awesome! Ok carry on.

Recently some friends and I participated in the Martha O'Bryan Center's "Miss Martha's Kitchen Throw Down," an event to raise funds for the center and to raise awareness of a growing problem in many areas in Nashville - food deserts.

If you've never heard the term, just take a minute to think about it and visualize it and you'll get a good idea.  Food deserts affect mostly lower-income areas of a city, where neighborhoods lack the means to get fresh food.  A lot of times what's around the corner is a convenience store that offers only canned goods or non-perishable items that, let's face it, also contribute to poor health and dietary habits.  But it's not like the community has a choice - that's what is accessible.

A quick history - the Martha O'Bryan Center offers youth development programs and activities to (according to their mission) empower children, youth, and adults in poverty to transform their lives through work, education, employment and fellowship.  With the growing issue of food deserts, the center is also helping families who have no cars or means of transport to full-service groceries outside their neighborhoods by providing a shuttle service to take them to a Kroger or Publix or Aldi.

The Throwdown was an Iron Chef style competition where each team had to come up with a dish based on a food box they were randomly given.

1. Emergency Food Box
-Meat: 2 cans tuna, 2 cans beef
-Soup: 2 cans chicken noodle, 2 cans cream of mushroom
-Vegetables: 2 cans ea. green beans, baked beans, pork and beans, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, diced tomatoes; 1 jar tomato sauce
-Fruit: 2 cans fruit cocktail
-Pasta/Starch: 2 boxes mac & cheese, 2 packages ramen noodle, any flavor
spaghetti sauce, canned tomatoes; 1 box ea. dry cereal, grits, packaged seasoned rice
-Nuts: 1 jar peanut butter
-1 pint of 2% milk
-1 box of crackers – saltines or graham crackers

2. Middle America Box
-Meat: 1 lb chicken breast cutlets, 1 lb ground beef
-Vegetables: 2 cans ea. white beans, canned tomatoes, canned tomato paste; 1 head fresh
romaine lettuce, 1 green pepper, 2 zucchinis, 1 cucumber, 1 package of button mushrooms
-Fruit: oranges, pears
-Pasta/Starch: 1 lb ea. spaghetti and cous cous, 6 pack of flour tortillas, 1 box of rice and
-Dairy:1 container plain yogurt, 1 lb. shredded mozzarella, 1 lb. shredded cheddar
-Nuts: sunflower seeds, almonds
-1/2 dozen eggs

3. Top Shelf Box
-Meat: 2 medium salmon filets, 2 medium beef strip steaks
-Vegetables: 1 jar ea. sun dried tomatoes and olives, 1 bunch ea. fresh arugula, spinach,
parsley and cilantro; 6 shallots, 1 red onion, 1 package ea. of prepared pesto and hummus
-Fruit: 2 avocados, 1 bunch grapes, 1 grapefruit
-Pasta/Starch: 1 lb ea. penne, cous cous and polenta; 1 box of quick-cooking brown rice
-Dairy: 1 package ea. goat cheese, feta
-Nuts: 1 small package ea. pine nuts, walnuts

We were also given a secret ingredient  which turned out to be apples.  Each team had access to a shared microwave and hot plate, but to cook with, we had only a George Foreman grill and a burner.

Take a good look at the Emergency Box - this is what a lot of people in food desserts have as their options (for the most part). Can you imagine living on that everyday and still being healthy or in the pink of health?

As for the contest, I'll spare you the details but we drew the Middle America box which one of my two awesome teammates had planned a Mediterranean menu for (kafta, a tzaziki sauce, cous cous and a side salad). And yes we knew beforehand.  if you think the actual Iron Chef contestants go in blind, well... good for you, you just keep on thinking that.

Anyway! We ended up coming in 2nd. It was SUCH a fun activity and, the event raised more than half the money needed to fund the Food Desert initiative!!!! (Article here)

Disclaimer: That's what i'm calling it, I don't think that's the official name.

I've been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, keeping up with blogs about organic food and living well and ever since I heard the report on food deserts on NPR, it's really made me appreciate what I have at my fingertips.  We take for granted our resources and we (I) make sweeping criticism of people who don't eat healthily.  Truth is, a lot of people can't help it and it's organizations like the Martha O'Bryan Center who are trying to make that difference.

It's such a worthy cause, I'm so proud to have been a part of that fund raiser, and I hope the center manages to raise enough to get that shuttle going more than once a week! Oh and they're having an ice cream social on June 13th and you can take part in the ice cream contest! Details here.

Or if you're interested in helping on a regular basis, you can volunteer or donate.  Here's to everyone getting a chance to live well.