Nourishing Hero: Ruthi Solari

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This is the latest installment in our Nourishing Heroes series, in which we feature the individuals and organizations who inspire us with food that nourishes body, soul and planet. Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature on Nourish Network? Let us know who inspires you!

It’s December, prime time for food drives to feed those who won’t be fortunate enough to gather around a holiday table filled with goodies. More people than ever need that help. According to the Feeding America Hunger in America 2010 report, nearly 50 million Americans are now “food insecure,” meaning they have limited access to what the USDA defines as “nutritionally adequate foods.” An estimated 37 million rely on food from food banks, pantries, community kitchens and shelters.

Ruthi Solari, founder of SuperFood Drive in San Diego, is on a mission to feed those hungry people by revolutionizing the inventories of America’s food banks. And her efforts have a decidedly nourishing goal: She wants to replace the junk food that fills many food banks with healthy, whole foods.

Like many of us, Solari used to rummage at the back of her pantry to donate unloved items she was never planning to use anyway. That’s how food banks end up with fare like fruit canned in heavy syrup or ramen noodles with sodium-laden flavor packets. Food banks are grateful for all donations, and even of items like these will help keep a person from going hungry for another day. But, Solari notes, healthier foods will also nourish someone’s health and well-being. It’s a matter of giving as good as you’d like to get.

“Close your eyes and imagine what you’d like to find in that bag,” she says.

It all started a few years ago, when she read SuperFoods Rx by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. (Harper) as part of her training to become a certified nutritionist. The book details the health-boosting benefits of whole foods like oats, beans, nuts, berries, salmon and tomatoes. “I’ve always been really passionate about giving back to under-served populations,” Solari says. “And I thought, why not collect nonperishable versions of SuperFoods?”

“Close your eyes and imagine what you’d like to find in that donation bag.”

So she founded SuperFood Drive in 2009 as a nonprofit to stock food banks with nutrient-dense whole foods. A big part of SuperFood Drive’s efforts include educating those who make donations as well as those who receive them. Simple choices are all it takes to elevate a donation from ho-hum to healthy–for example, choosing whole-grain pasta, brown rice instead of white rice, a bottle of olive oil, canned salmon, fruit packed in water instead of heavy syrup, nut butters made without hydrogenated oil or sugar. For those on the receiving end, SuperFood Drive has hosted cooking demos and offers recipe cards to go in distribution bags so people have some ideas for how to use the whole foods.

SuperFood Drive has partnered with Whole Foods, Jimbo’s…Naturally! and San Diego-area breweries and restaurants, and they’re developing partnerships with Albertson’s, Ralphs and Costco. So far this year, SuperFoods Drive has donated 10,000 pounds of food to San Diego-area food banks, and Solari expects that number to double after this month’s drives are completed.

But you don’t have to be in San Diego to participate in a SuperFood Drive. Anyone can organize a drive, says Solari, and people have hosted their own healthy food drives in communities across the country, from Maryland to Seattle to Los Angeles. “It’s really picking up in a grass-roots way now,” she says. (The website has step-by-step tips to host your own event.) And there’s also a virtual SuperFood Drive that allows people to purchase healthy nonperishables online at wholesale prices.

Although December is food-drive season, Solari notes that food banks often run out of those holiday donations by March or April, leaving shelves sparsely stocked through the summer. “We’re thrilled whenever someone contacts us during the holidays to host a food drive,” she says. “But there are hungry people 365 days a year.”

So we propose this nourishing New Year’s resolution: Mark your 2011 calendar to give monthly food bank donations. And make sure they’re SuperFoods!

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Pumpkin-Oat Bread with Golden Raisins and Walnuts

This quick bread uses several of the nourishing nonperishables–canned pumpkin, oats, walnuts and whole-grain flour–that Ruthi Solari of SuperFood Drive encourages people to donate to food banks. Enjoy this anytime of day–for breakfast, an afternoon snack or even dessert. It’s also nice baked as muffins or into little 5 x 2-1/2-inch loaves to give as gifts. (Use the leftover pumpkin to make a batch of our Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal with Toasted Pecans.)

pumpkin-oat-bread3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled (a k a old-fashioned) oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 large eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

Combine sugars, pumpkin puree, oil, maple syrup and eggs in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until thoroughly combined. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring with a spoon just until combined (don’t overmix or your bread will turn out tough). Gently fold in nuts and raisins. Scrape batter into a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove loaf from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Serves 12

  • Plassmandave

    There is no need for white flour in this recipe.  If you don’t have raisins, chop up other fruit or use dried cranberries.  I totally agree about donating nutrient dense foods to the pantries and I do cause I give what I eat.  The problem is that many American prefer food other than what I eat- once I attempted to give nutrient dense food to a friend for her grandkids.  She said the kids preferred stuff like chicken nuggets and would not eat what I offered.  This situation makes me very sad.

    • Anonymous

      … out of the office today and will get back to you when I return on Wednesday.
      Thanks for your note and have wonderful day!

      All the best,
      Lia Huber

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