Healthy You: County offers cooking program for mid-valley Latino families

OSU-Extension-Linn-Benton Nutrition and Outreach Coordinator Tina Dodge gets excited when she talks about a new program she hopes to implement with mid-valley Latino families.

OSU Extension-Linn County has added two new education outreach specialists, Iris Carrera and Alli Studnick, and is developing a program that will capture on paper – and, perhaps, video – family recipes. The new staff members join Diana Camacho-Figueroa.

Dodge said the new program is called “Like Water for Chocolate” or “Como agua para chocolate.”

“We want to engage second-generation family members to document their family recipes,” she said. “We are going to document their oral history and hope it carries forward. There is a learning value when you do something yourself. We want to help children or grandchildren to work with their family members and document their recipes.”

And, Dodge said, the youth will then cook using those recipes.

“That’s when you really learn,” she said. “And the hope is that this healthy family practice of home cooking carries forward.”

Dodge added that with her new post-pandemic staff, she also wants to complete a nutritional education needs assessment, like one completed 12 years ago among the mid-valley’s Latino population.

“We would like to address food insecurity issues,” she said. “And, we would like to use this information to help local food pantries engage the Latino population.”

Tina Dodge

Dodge added that families by and large know how to cook and stretch their food budgets, but it would be helpful to educate them about localized foods they didn’t grow up cooking in their home countries.

“Our growing season is so much different, and we have such a broad variety of foods,” she said. “And, even if the foods are canned or frozen, they were picked at the height of their readiness. It’s all good, nutritious food.”

She added that second- or third-generation family members may gravitate from home-cooked family recipes to fast food, much like their Anglo counterparts, as their families acclimate into U.S. communities.

“We work more hours in the United States than any other country and that is why convenience foods are so enticing,” Dodge said.

“I’ve learned you can’t assume anything,” she said of her 19 years with OSU Extension-Linn County. “Program plans need to reflect the strengths of the community you are serving. I’d like to find out if food insecurity has gone up or down since 2008. Previously, we learned there is more food insecurity in Linn County than other counties and there is more food insecurity in rural areas.”

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer