For nearly 15 years, Desmonette Hazly, MSW, Ph.D., has been working with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to teach families and individuals how to prepare healthy, gourmet meals with ingredients that they receive through our network of food pantries or which are affordable at their neighborhood store. “Food is a human right,” she says. “Everyone should have access to quality food, no matter what his or her economic status is.”
Dr. Hazly shares nutritious recipes that only call for ingredients that can be purchased locally. “It is important for people to know I shop in their community,” she explains. “I never feel limited by what is available in their local grocery store and I want people to know that quality meals are for everyone.”
For developing children, struggling families and our growing population of seniors in Los Angeles County, having access to enough food is only part of the battle for good health. The Food Bank is focused on providing nutritious foods like fresh produce, dairy and other nutrient-dense items. Even with this help, many of our neighbors in need still face obstacles like how to prepare healthy meals for their family. Without experience in the kitchen or information about nutrition, families may struggle to prepare whole, nutritious meals and resort to buying less healthy, processed foods.
Studies have shown that children and seniors participating in nutrition education programs increase their daily fruit and vegetable consumption. But that is not the only reason for her passion. “Good meals stimulate good bonds with the people with whom you’re sharing the meal.”
When Dr. Hazly first began partnering with the Food Bank, she worked to teach pantry cooks how to best use their resources to serve their clients. Now she has expanded her work to include cooking classes for parents and guardians whose children are enrolled in our Child and Nutrition programs, including our BackPack program. “I think it’s been a wonderful evolution from me volunteering in pantries. Now I am teaching parents how to provide for their families, their children,” she says. “I believe food can have a generational impact.”
In addition to recipes, Dr. Hazly gives advice about how to shop efficiently and provides information about the health benefits of each and every ingredient stating that, “I truly believe that food is medicine.”
Conscious of her students’ limited resources, including lack of kitchen space and appliances, Dr. Hazly teaches how to prepare the food provided in the healthiest way, without sacrificing flavor or presentation. “If you want someone to know you value them, you have to give them something of value. If you give a person something made with love and care, you can raise their esteem and give them power. And in being empowered, people can improve their own quality of life.”