Manna- Yes, you CANna!

By Dietetic Intern: Rachel Amsellem

Part of becoming a registered dietitian is being able to effectively communicate with your patients through verbiage, facial expressions, or visuals. During my rotation with Manna, my visual communication skills were put to the test as I was tasked to create a video of a recipe they could use for their collection.

Manna is a food center whose mission is to eliminate hunger through education, advocacy, and food distribution. They do this by feeding residents at many pop-up pantries, markets, and distribution centers in Montgomery County, Maryland. In America, one in every eight people experience food insecurity.  And after the pandemic, almost 100,000 people did not have sufficient food in Montgomery County. With the increased cost of living and rising supermarket prices, Manna is seeing increased traffic. Growing up in this area, I previously volunteered with Manna as a Girl Scout packing boxes at one of their sites. I assumed my experience here this time would be the same, but I was so wrong. There is so much all-encompassing work that goes on behind the scenes from the committed employees, county, volunteers, and Manna participants.

My two-week experience at Manna was filled with a variety of activities and I truly saw the ins and outs of what this incredible organization does for its community. I packed individualized boxes for people with certain needs such as lack of microwave access, specific diets, and mobility restrictions. I initially thought that these boxes would solely be filled with canned items. However, they were packed with a variety of fresh produce and meats. I was impressed with an organization of  its size tailoring personalized care for its participants. In addition, we were able to speak with a representative from the Montgomery County Food Council and get a legislative perspective on how their work influences changes in the law. From making infographics,writing a newsletter, and participating in team meetings, I was a part of it all.  

I’m going to highlight a small glimpse of my work at Manna and discuss the food recipe video I created. These videos are a way to encourage people to use and showcase the versatility of different foods. The inspiration for my video was based on a combination of previous Manna videos posted on their YouTube account and Tasty videos from BuzzFeed. I wanted to pick a recipe that was simple, easy, and affordable.

After volunteering at Manna Market, I noticed that foods such as zucchini and eggplant were readily available. However, people don’t readily choose these foods; they gravitate towards more common options such as apples and oranges. Like myself, people can be hesitant in picking zucchini or eggplant because they perceive them to be difficult to prepare. In addition, they do not have much flavor on their own and can sometimes turn out to be soggy, spongy, bitter, or mushy. There was a great eggplant lasagna recipe already posted on Manna’s YouTube account, so I decided to come up with a recipe that would use zucchini. I researched some recipes and decided to make baked zucchini with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. I have never prepared zucchini this way, but I have always enjoyed when they are cut in spears instead of round circles.

My first predicament was figuring out how I was going to record a birds-eye view video from my phone by myself . I had only recorded and edited one recipe video for a group project in college, so I thought it was time to get creative. I first planned to use cardboard, tape, and scissors to create a device to hold my phone while I recorded. Fortunately though, Manna has a tripod that would securely hold my phone and record the video from an aerial view.

I recorded myself making the recipe, taking pauses to show ingredients, and snapping pictures along the way. The total time from setting up, to recording, to baking the zucchini, and then to plating was 45 minutes. Recording a video was much harder than I thought it would be. Getting the lighting correct and centering the item with the tripod was challenging. I even had my head blocking some of the camera when I was chopping the zucchini. It was a lesson learned for future recipe videos that I intend to record. Unfortunately, the video did not turn out as expected and I think it’ll take more practice to get the perfect shot. Here is the recipe handout for the zucchini if you want to try it out:

I had such a great time at Manna as it opened my eyes to the real food insecurity problem that is right in front of us. This experience was a catalyst for my future involvement in communities and how I can use various methods of communication to advocate and help eliminate hunger. 

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