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A score of Valley restaurants contributed recipes for bilingual cookbook.
Students raising funds, will distribute cookbook for free in Valley communities.
April 29, 2016

ASU students create bilingual cookbook featuring local produce, local chefs' recipes to promote community health

Chef Liam Murtagh knows what it’s like to grow up food insecure.

As a child in Glendale, Arizona, his family struggled financially and got by on food stamps and funky nutritional concoctions.

“We’d eat things like cereal with water, or my mom would make syrup by mixing water and sugar. We practically lived on mac and cheese and kielbasa,” said Murtagh, who is the owner and chief executive cook at the Coronado in Phoenix.

“Other times we’d eat at the local VFW, and on a couple of occasions, a church group would bring us a food basket. This was in the early ’90s when there was an economic slowdown. As usually is the case, the poor are usually the first and most affected.”

Those memories motivated Murtagh to become a chef and are why he is throwing his support behind an Arizona State University-sponsored cookbook that features local produce and bilingual recipes, and which will be distributed for free in underserved communities.

“Let’s Eat Local! A Phoenix Farm-to-Table Community Cookbook” was the brainchild of 10 ASU students as part of their NLM-435 class, Service Learning Community Development class. Taught by Sandra Price, a lecturer in the School of Community Resources and Community DevelopmentThe School of Community Resources and Community Development is part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions., students were asked at the start of the semester to choose a subject matter of importance and to create a “pop-up” organization that could impact a social problem in the community.

They chose to address hunger when they learned of a few jarring statistics: one in five Arizonans, or approximately 1.16 million people, experiences food insecurity. Statistics from America’s 2014 Hunger in America, U.S. Census Bureau data and internal United Food Bank data reveal that one in four of Arizona’s children is not assured of his or her next meal.

“The reason why many farmers markets don’t come to the Phoenix area is because people would say ... ‘How do I eat this? How do I cook this?’ A big part is simply a lack of knowledge, and our bilingual cookbook addresses these issues.”
— Samantha Contreras, ASU communications major

Student research and a handful of visits from local leaders working on hunger led them to focus on marrying locally available farm produce and food-insecure communities, also known as “food deserts.”

“A food desert is a place or area that doesn’t have any fresh or natural produce available to that local population because there aren’t any grocery stores or farmers markets in the area,” Price said. “The only options they have to eat are mostly fast-food chains, and we all know that isn’t good nutrition.”

After considering a number of alternatives such as organizing farmers markets, initiating a traveling produce-vendor service and other innovative ideas, the class settled on a community-based bilingual cookbook after learning that much of the 80 or so varieties of local produce are unfamiliar to many residents.

“The reason why many farmers markets don’t come to the Phoenix area is because people would say, ‘I see that this is fresh and healthy, but I don’t know what to do with this. How do I eat this? How do I cook this?’” said Samantha Contreras, a 22-year-old communications major in the Hugh Downs School of Human CommunicationThe Hugh Downs School of Human Communication is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.. “A big part is simply a lack of knowledge, and our bilingual cookbook addresses these issues.”

The 60-page cookbook seeks to remedy those issues by offering preparation and nutritional information about local produce, along with recipes from local chefsParticipating restaurants include the Coronado, Desoto Central Market, Second Story Liquor Bar, Eddie’s House, Tomaso’s Italian Restaurant, Dinner Thyme Inc., Southern Rail, Virtu Honest Craft, PERK Eatery, Liberty Market, the Farm at South Mountain, Phoenix Market Cafe, Queen Creek Olive Mill, Tarbell’s, Short Leash Hot Dogs, Indigenous Foods, Pig & Pickle, House of Tricks, the Pomegranate Cafe and Marriott Buttes Tempe., farmers and community members.

Students and a chef on a front porch.
From left: Chef/owner Liam Murtagh of the Coronado poses on the front porch of his 100-year-old building with ASU students Angela Lashinske, Katerina Noori and Samantha Contreras on April 25. Murtagh (shown in the top photo making his agave-glazed carrots for the students) is one of several local chefs to donate a recipe for the student-created "Let’s Eat Local!" cookbook. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Students said the project forced them to become more familiar with the issue of food insecurity and underserved communities.

“A cookbook is actually a very good way to engage the community and rally the chefs, who care about feeding people outside of their restaurants,” said Angela Lashinske, a 20-year-old senior who is majoring in supply side chain management at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “This project linked our passion with theirs and was an easy way for us to make an impact given our time limit.”

For Katerina Noori, a 23-year-old theater production major in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul food bank in Phoenix, the project was a way to link her skills.

“As a theater production major, I do mostly backstage work and I make things happen, and this project was kind of similar,” Noori said. “I bring all the pieces together through organization and make sure people are communicating. That really helped me be successful in this project.”

In addition to their community work, students learned the nuances of putting together a book, which was no small feat. They knocked on doors asking chefs for recipes, created an index page of vegetables, worked with five translators to make sure the text was correct and graphically designed the cover page and inside text.

“It was a very collaborative process because we all did a bit of everything,” said Lashinske. “It was a great experience.”

Students are currently raising $6,000 through a GoFundMe page. A $20 donation gets the donor a digital copy; $30 for a physical copy. There are also options that include gift certificates to one of the participating restaurants.

Once that $6,000 total is reached, the class will distribute it for free to residents living in the communities between McDowell Road to the north and South Mountain, and between 16th Street and 19th Avenue, as well as to residents of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The class will also sell cookbooks to the larger community to help defray printing costs.

Reporter , ASU Now


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April 29, 2016

Imelda Ojeda aims for policy-level impact on community health with dual master’s in public administration and social work

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Helping others is a quality that resonates in Imelda Ojeda.

That’s why she chose to pursue dual master’s degrees in public administration and social work in Arizona State University's College of Public Service and Community Solutions — not for the betterment of her career but to improve the quality of life for underserved families.

“With my bachelor’s degree I was able to help families one-on-one, but with a master’s I knew I could make a much bigger impact by working on the policy level,” said the 30-year-old, who was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to Arizona to pursue her higher education.

“I’ve seen a disconnect between a lot of agencies, and it felt like we were all working against each other instead of as a team even though we had the same goal. I realized my purpose was much bigger than myself.”

Ojeda is off to a good start. She serves as a board member for the Maryvale YMCA and is on the steering committee for the Maricopa County Preventative Health Collaborative.

She is also in talks with the CEO for UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix — whose mission is to prevent and end homelessness with innovative strategies and housing solutions — to create a new policy/advocacy position for her after nine months on the job as a housing specialist.

She spoke to ASU Now about her time at the university.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: After obtaining my B.S in psychology, I started working in the behavioral health field working directly with children and families. During my time doing that I had the chance to experience firsthand how complicated and even frustrating the system in our state could be — families often have to overcome different barriers and obstacles to obtain the quality services and benefits they need. After being on the field for three years, I realized that my purpose was bigger than myself and that if I wanted to make a long-lasting impact and I needed to further my education and make the change I wanted to see. Doing a dual degree in social work and public administration (MSW/MPA) seemed like the perfect blend of direct services theory and practice and knowledge of non-profit and government management that would take me to the next level.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: During my MSW program, I had the opportunity to take courses such as social justice and public policy courses that provided me with valuable knowledge on these areas and made me realize how much influence policy and politics have on our daily lives. I learned about complex social systems, and combined with my field experience I was able to target where some of the gaps in our system are and what needs to change in order to improve things in our communities.

Additionally, being involved in student organization leadership during my grad school years has been a wonderful, challenging, learning experience. I have gained organizational and leadership skills that will allow me to continue making an impact and leading others on a professional and community level.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I wanted to acquire the necessary skills to continue growing as a professional on the field. Having graduated from ASU with my undergraduate degree, I was confident that ASU is a quality institution and that this program would prepare me to continue serving and making an impact in the community in general. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My main piece of advice for those still in school would be to say yes to new opportunities. To not shy away from big challenges, say yes and figure it out afterwards. I have learned that great opportunities often only come once, and if we wait until we are ready to take them we might miss out on what will take us to the next level.

My other piece of advice is to take the lead, to not wait for someone else to do it or someone else to figure out how to improve things. If you see a problem and it’s within your ability to step in and help, do it! We need more leaders who are committed and passionate about making changes now more than ever.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Starbucks at Taylor Place is one of my favorite places to go to meet friends, but when it is time to study and get things done there is no place like that semi-hidden spot at the library on the Downtown Phoenix campus by the elevators.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Upon completing my MPA from ASU and along with my MSW, I plan on continuing working in the social-work field providing services to underserved populations and continue building my career in the public sector to address the unique needs of the Southwest population by developing policies and advocacy for access to quality health care, education and stable housing.

I plan on continuing my employment with UMOM New Day Centers, where I enjoy working with homeless families providing support to maintain stable and safe housing and employment. Obtaining my MPA will allow me to seek other opportunities within the organization and plan on transitioning to an advocacy and public policy position where I will be able to make a larger impact within this community.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: There are many things I would like to improve and problems that need to be solved, but if I had to choose one it would be to ensure access to quality health care for all children. I believe access to health care is a human right and not a privilege, and health care is the foundation for any social development.

With $40 million I would develop programs that provide health-care services to children in rural areas, but instead of us providing all the necessary personnel and equipment, I would invest some of that money in helping communities develop, train and establish quality health-care systems that are sustainable and affordable. Long-term solutions vs. the traditional one-time direct/emergency services that we are used to. Providing health screenings and vaccines for children in poor countries is always a great help, but this does not solve the big-picture problem. We need to lead by example and assist these communities regarding best practices on how to build, establish and develop permanent health-care systems that will have a long-term impact. 

Reporter , ASU Now