“Olive oil is my favorite oil,” nutrition educator Alex Marapao says, her words wafting out along with the smell of herbs and greens sizzling in a pan.
“I don’t know if you cook with olive oil at all, but, if you don’t, I recommend it the next time you go grocery shopping,” she continues. “I always use olive oil when I cook, and I think it gives a good flavor.”
An ode to oil. Only, it’s much more than that.
Marapao sprinkles tributes like that into every cooking demonstration she gives at the Emergency Food Bank of Stockton, Calif. She shouts out lean proteins, leafy greens (like the ones she was sauteing in the olive oil for an omelette), whole grains — anything you would label “good for you.”
And that is intentional, because, in the battle against diabetes, food is medicine.
The educators at the Food Bank — including Marapao, the nutrition programs supervisor there — are on a mission, along with Community Medical Centers of Stockton and several other dedicated organizations. They want to share nutrition education that takes root in the community and grows healthy habits. And they want these habits to last not only a lifetime, but for generations to come.
It’s a critical mission in Stockton — a city of about 320,000 people just south of California’s capital city of Sacramento — where almost 60% of residents are prediabetic or living with diabetes.1 It is also a city where, like many around the United States, there are neighborhoods that are considered “food deserts” because they don’t have access to neighborhood grocery stores, making it a huge challenge to access healthy, affordable food.
That’s why we partnered with these organizations to design a program called Healthy Food Rx that launched in 2021 and receives funding from the Abbott Fund, the philanthropic arm of Abbott.
Participants in the program get a box delivered to their homes every other week. Each is packed with a rotating roster of proteins, produce and other healthy staples. (Some of the items in a recent shipment: kale, mango, pineapple and peanut butter.)
What happened when we worked with our community partners to try to grow the “Food as Medicine” movement in Stockton in an organic way?
The early results are encouraging.