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Santa Barbara Foodbank CEO Sees Mission As More Than Feeding the Hungry

Erik Talkin's book 'Hunger into Health' explains his organization's pivot toward concept of food literacy

Foodbank CEO holding a book. Click to view larger
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin recently released his book “Hunger into Health,” which centers around how this organization decided to pivot from its ways of approaching the challenge of hunger towards promoting the concept of food literacy. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

After 10 years leading the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, CEO Erik Talkin released a new book that shares his solution-oriented approach to reducing hunger in the community.

Talkin’s “Hunger into Health” centers around how the Foodbank decided to pivot from its ways of approaching the challenge of hunger towards promoting the concept of food literacy. 

The 118-page book details the framework used by Talkin and his nonprofit to attract the vision, staff and money required to enact change to food banking.

The book combines Talkin’s reflection with sidebars to provide additional information on situations and people, as well as educational notes that offer advice to nonprofit leaders seeking to transform their organization.

“It’s an opportunity to share with people the things that they can find useful, and if they felt that they needed to make a change in their nonprofit, ” Talkin said of the book.

“Hunger into Health” highlights the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County as it developed and implemented ways to do more than simply feed hungry people.

“It boils down to food is just the beginning,” Talkin said. “You can give people food and emergency food that fills their belly for a day, but makes no difference at all to their life.”

“If we want people not to be dependent on emergency food, and look after their own nutritional health, we need to do something more — the something more that we did was to focus on education that was a tangible interaction,” Talkin continued.

The Foodbank offers multiple, interactive programs and services that provide nutrition education and food assistance, including the Food Literacy in Preschool Program that allows children ages 3 to 5 to participate in a lesson focusing on a selected in-season produce item. 

There’s a tasting of the food during the program, and the children take home a moderate amount of the produce items and recipes.

“If people are learning about good nutrition and we give them the opportunity to eat good food, then they will want to eat that,” Talkin said. “We all want a treat or snack, but it’s stopping that from becoming the main focus of people’s diet.”

Talkin noted the organization's Brown Bag Program, which serves more than 1,000 “very low-income” senior residents. Recipients get two bags of groceries and fresh produce every month to supplement their food budgets.

The average Brown Bag participant is a 75-year-old woman living on less than $900 a month, according to the Foodbank.

“We are working with people who want to be healthy, want to eat good food and learn more about doing that, but are finding it hard financially,” Talkin said.

All profits from “Hunger into Health” will go directly to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, according to the nonprofit's spokesperson, Judith Smith-Meyer.

Published by Food Lit Press, “Hunger into Health” is available online at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County for a suggested donation of $20, or from Amazon.

“The approaches that Erik and his team have pioneered in Santa Barbara have been widely influential,” Oscar-winning actor and local long-time anti-hunger advocate Jeff Bridges wrote in the introduction to the book.

“They demonstrate an opportunity to offer the empowerment, education and hope that every hungry person in America deserves.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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