Food Jobs: Community Outreach

From cookbook authors to policy makers, Food Jobs talks to men and women in the food industry at work outside of the kitchen. Is there a food job you'd like to hear about? Let us know!

Brenda RocheIn high school, Brenda Roche was one of the rare students who knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. As an athlete and vegetarian, she liked understanding the different nutrients needed for our bodies, and was always thinking things like, "am I getting enough protein and iron?" In her senior year biology class, her career path clicked into place.

Today, Roche, now a Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences Advisor at the University of California Cooperative Extension, oversees two federally funded education-based nutrition programs: the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program. She also oversees the LA County Master Food Preserver Program, a popular education and outreach program relaunched through the Extension office in 2010 after a surge in demand.

A registered Dietitian, Roche holds a Master of Science degree in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition from Tufts University in Boston. In between degrees, she completed an internship in India with UNICEF, where she evaluated mother and children nutrition programs in rural villages in a hands-on, self-designed project where she spent time learning about the communities the project served before implementing it. She used the same principles when taking her current position here in Los Angeles.

"You can't just descend upon a community with a program. You have to understand the community and talk to people to have any effect." Recently, Roche taught a "Rethink Your Drink" class, demonstrating how much sugar is in the typical sweetened beverage, and teaching the importance of hydration and choosing healthy beverages.

This community outreach-based path was a fork-in-the-road career decision. While many of Roche's classmates went into clinical care settings such as hospitals, a standard career choice for many nutritionists and dietitians, Roche went down a community-based path, deciding the best way to ensure good health is through prevention and education. While these core goals motivate outreach, Roche and her colleagues still have a little fun with the demos they offer.

Last summer, she spearheaded an "East LA Nutrition Project" that set up tables at an outdoor movie night and taught people how to make smoothies. Other programs, like the Grow LA Victory Garden project, provides resources to communities to start small home gardens. Alongside gardening demos, she has built and taught cooking and nutrition demonstrations all over LA county, focusing on low-income areas. "It makes sense, if you are showing people how to grow food, show them how to prepare it."

Roche is proud when she explains, "My job now is to take resources, develop high quality information and disseminate that to the community."

In 2010, Roche became the UC Extension administrator for the Master Food Preserver Program, another program created with community outreach as one of the founding pillars to the curriculum. She sees the program as one of the only methods of learning this skill set, and she has noticed the increase in calls about the information ever since they announced the program.

Roche notes people all over the state are contacting her office to ask how they can start a program like the one they have launched. "I just answered an email from a woman in Canada asking how she can get the program."

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About the Author

Christianna Reinhardt started cooking at age 11 when her parents enrolled her in a vegetarian cooking class. She wasn’t a vegetarian. In adult life, she got her start in New York’s kitchens interning at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, an...
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