The Importance of

Providing Culturally Appropriate Foods

THE IMPORTANCE OF Providing Culturally Appropriate Foods

Challenging racism and prioritizing equity are two of Long Island Cares’ most important priorities.

That’s because systemic racism and inequity are two of the root causes of food insecurity.

One of the ways we combat these problems is by providing culturally appropriate food to the people we serve.

The idea is simple. By providing foods that people not only need but prefer, better relationships are built within the community. It also encourages those who prefer those foods to seek the help they need.

A North Carolina State University study found that food insecurity disproportionately (more than 50%) affects diverse populations, meaning those in need are less likely to find food that is unique to their culture.

Providing culturally relevant food at a pantry brings comfort into their lives and helps break the stigma of food insecurity.

Put yourself in their shoes. You visit a pantry and expect foods that match your culture. But when you open the bag at home, you find foods that are unfamiliar, and you don’t know how to prepare them.

That realization might discourage you from visiting the pantry again and keep you in the vicious cycle of food insecurity.

Now let’s flip the switch. Let’s say you visit a Long Island Cares pantry. You walk the aisles and select food you’re not only familiar with but would typically shop for at a grocery store. You go home, prepare foods you love and feel greatly satisfied.

You’ll want to tell your friends struggling to put food on the table that they can get the foods they want and need to maintain a healthy diet.

So how does Long Island Cares learn what the people we serve want?

We ask them!

During the past year, we’ve run focus groups, studies, and reports where we asked our guests what foods they’d like to see in the pantry.

The results were incredible. We know that more than 50% of the people we serve are Hispanic, but we were surprised to learn how many other cultures our guests represent.

The response was so great that it influenced how we handle our holiday food distribution.

Take, for example, our Adopt-a-Family program, which provides holiday meals to more than 10,000 families a year. We ask our donors to bundle groceries together and distribute them to families as an entire holiday meal package.

Those meals used to be based on a traditional American Thanksgiving: Turkey, stuffing, yams, and cranberry sauce. All the trimmings.

Then something interesting happened. Dr. Jessica Rosati, Chief Programs Officer at Long Island Cares, noticed that stuffing was one of the most returned items to our pantries during the holidays.

Folks would return it because they didn’t know what to cook with it or didn’t want it.

So, after our research into WHO the people we serve are, this year Long Island Cares has expanded the program beyond the traditional American meal.

We now offer Traditional, Caribbean, Kosher and Central/South American bundles featuring foods our guests specifically told us they WANT for the holidays.

It has not only allowed us to serve our community better, but it has built new relationships with suppliers who specialize in these culturally relevant products.

Now when you visit Long Island Cares, you will still see the staples. You’ll also find a kosher section, items such as oxtail and yucca, masa flour, varieties of rice and beans, and just a cornucopia of foods that many food banks wouldn’t consider offering.

The response has been incredible, and we’re looking forward to a busy and eclectic holiday season.

If you’d like to get involved with our Adopt-a-Family program, click here

If you’d like to donate food to Long Island Cares, simply drop it off at any Long Island Cares location!