Ep. 104 – Breaking Food Bank Stereotypes with Sarah Ramirez, Executive Director at FoodLink

I met Dr. Sarah Ramirez in my last year in college. She was a temporary lecturer for Cal Poly and she enjoyed learning about the extracurriculars around the department, so I immediately thought she was cool. Soon, I took one of her classes about Food Waste and we’ve been friends ever since.

She might be the only professor I had in Cal Poly that I see on a semi-regular basis and that’s mainly because she lives really close to my grandma’s house in the Central Valley!

I’ve been keeping tabs on Sarah’s company, Foodlink, an innovative food bank in Tulare county, which is housed in one of the poorest American counties. Sometimes, I’ve helped a few times gleaning kiwis and lecturing about spices. I’ve seen Foodlink grown from a small food bank to a huge facility that has its own kitchen and hosts events to inform people on how to feed the community. Sarah’s drive and mission to feed the world is absolutely contagious.

There are A LOT OF emotional truth bombs in this episode and it is just so inspiring listening to Sarah. She has the ability to make you care about the people she’s feeding.

A big thing you’ll notice about Sarah is that she likes to break stereotypes no matter what. Whether it’s her life as a child, or rising up the ranks in Stanford, or what she’s current;y doing in the food bank industry! Sarah is a truly inspiring figure with a heart of gold.

About Sarah Ramirez

Sarah Ramirez, PhD, MPH, MA, is the executive director for FoodLink for Tulare County.  Sarah completed her doctorate and post-doctorate at Stanford University focusing on community health and cardiovascular disease prevention. Prior to joining FoodLink Sarah worked as a lecturer in the Food Science and Nutrition Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, an epidemiologist and a health educator in Tulare County.

The daughter of Mexican farm workers, Sarah and her siblings witnessed their parents, family and friends work long hours in the fields and suffer from chronic illnesses often resulting in premature death and chronic suffering. These experiences ignited Sarah’s passion for understanding the conditions for these disparities and motivate her work for creating healthy communities.

One of the greatest injustices, she believes, is that evidence-based tools, resources, and skills that promote health and longevity are not available for low-income, rural, or non-English speaking populations who face chronic structural inequities – poverty, underemployment, and stress – that increase the risk for illness. This commitment to health equity and social change has been a driving force in her work.

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Best thing about your job: A mission driven organization. Putting together ateam that believes food can change the world. Food banks are about 30-40 years old. A time where there was an increased amount of poverty
What has been the traditional method for food banks to get funded?: One misconception is that the government thinks foodbanks are completely funded. However, foodbanks still need multiple sources of funding, but still needs sustainable methods of funding. Less than 25%. The Celebrity Champions model works well in cities but won’t work in Tulare County
Sara’s history: I never thought I’d be a food bank director. I started with community health and went from there. I saw a lot of people that became ill. I began to ask many questions about how to feed people and began to become an interdisciplinary learner. I became a director of Foodlink due to supporting it in the past and I found I could use all of the skills I learned to impact more people and make a difference.
How do you take initiative on things?: Sometimes, when you get so obsessed with things, you have to dig deeper. I was frustrated, and sometimes you get so frustrated, you have to do something about it. There is no other option but there is no place I’d rather be.
Problems with food equity:
Work with food service directors. Recipe development, buy food in bulk and provide it to schools. There are a lot of barriers to this and it’s a new sector, so we need a solution
My Food Job Rocks: I love breaking barriers and breaking stereotypes in the food bank industry
What type of Food Trends and Technologies are really exciting you right now?: Social enterprise food trends. For example, youth run cafes are developing their own locally sourced recipes. Or creating cafes that develop job security. I thought I was insane with my ideas before I went to this thing and now I don’t feel alone
The biggest challenge the food industry has to face: Food waste. I’ve studied this for several years and it’s been recently put into more important
Who inspired you to get into food? Was it a specific person?: I remember asking my mom to make food from magazine but we couldn’t afford or know the ingredients used to create the dishes
Favotie Kitchen Item: Food Processor (which I didn’t buy until way later)
Favorite Book: Currently Big Hunger
Favorite Food: Sometimes I just like what’s fresh and simple
The hardest challenge about managing a food bank: Put into a box of stereotypes. I’m learning a lot of new skills to face the challenges in Tulare county
What do you recommend people who want to take the non-profit route?: Focus on collaboration. We all try to do a lot with the limited resources that we have
What’s been the most rewarding thing about being in a non-profit?: Be thankful for the experiences that you have any time. People will tell you that their dreams came through because of you
Where can we find you?: Email: sarah@foodlinktc.org. We accept volunteers

Other Links

LA Kitchen Robert Edgar
Closing the Hunger Gap in Seattle
Food Sovereignty project in Maine that focused on food got state wide attention
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