Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Growing Chefs at Quest

On June 27th, our friends from Growing Chefs hosted the first of a series of Healthy Eating workshops at Quest. Our clients were given the opportunity to attend this fun and interactive workshop, which was conducted by Growing Chef’s Executive Director, Helen Stortini, and Chef Tanya Shklanka.

About Growing Chefs:
The partnership between Growing Chefs and Quest started in 2011. Since then, this remarkable organization has teamed up with Quest in educating the greater community on healthy eating habits. In October 2011, Growing Chefs assisted Quest with our Annual Partnership event by educating our clients on ways to eat healthy. Launched in 2005, Growing chefs currently sends out over sixty five volunteer chefs to seventeen Vancouver classroom, where children learn how to grow, harvest, and cook for themselves.

From a Quest client, thoughts on the workshop:

Although I understand that eating healthy is important, as I find that it helps me to manage my weight, increase my self-esteem, and think clearly, I find it challenging to put this in to practice seeing that unhealthy foods usually cost less and are readily available.

I was amazed at how great food can taste with little or no added salt and oil; we tend to think that more salt and more butter means a better flavour. This is not always true.
I also learned that not everything has to be difficult. The quick pickle technique taught me that food prep does not always require a lot of work, and that many vegetables can easily be kept for many weeks longer; if you can boil water, then you can  make your own homemade pickle.

It was interesting to learn of all the different things that you can do with one dish.
For example, the corn and black bean salad we made can be blended up afterwards, and made in to a dip; you can also add the leftovers to your stock bag, store it in the freezer, and use it to make a tasty soup stock. One dish, many alternatives!

I would definitely jump in line in order to attend the next session, I would recommend that anyone who is interested in eating healthy to do the same.

Black Bean and Corn Salad:

- 3 ears of fresh corn or 1 cup of canned frozen corn
- 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
- 1 cup diced green or red pepper
- 3/4 cup diced red onion
- juice of half a lemon or lime
- 15 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper
- 1 or 2 tomatoes, chopped

Place frying pan over medium-high heat. Add oil when hot, then the red pepper, the red onion, and garlic. Saute for three minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook for another two minutes until the tomatoes release their juices. Add beans and corn, saute for another two minutes, or until the beans are heated through. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper, and citrus juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This dish can be used as a side with meat, as a sauce for pasta, with rice, or can be wrapped in a tortilla for lunch.

Get involved:

Our next workshop will be held on Wednesday August 8th  at Quest’s 2020 Dundas Street location. If you are a Quest client, and are interested in attending, please contact our Community Relations Coordinator at (604) 602-0186 Extension: 109, or by email at

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The topic of this post is how to contend with purchased produce that has reached its final hours in a way that is healthy, quick, and inexpensive.

As someone undergoing the ravages of our bad economy, I have learned that salvaging, processing, and freezing produce is one of the most economical ways to eat. It is also my most recent discovery that blended drinks provide the least expensive, healthiest, and tastiest alternative to wasting food.

On the subject of health:

 It is a well known fact that a lifelong diet of fruit and vegetables­ is one of the most reassuring lifestyle choices for the prevention of fatal diseases like cancer, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

Books such as the Okinawa Program, and the China Study, discuss the specifics of how eastern cultures, who indulge in low calorie vegetarian diets (both through choice and the limitations of poverty), have shown a delayed and reduced occurrence to the "affluent diseases of the West,” as well as generously extended life-spans.

Other benefits to a low calorie high nutrient diet  include a natural, slow, and steady weight loss. Joel Fuhrman's Eat to Live diet program highly recommends the health benefits of eating large amounts of hearty cruciferous vegetables like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard; all of which are frequently sold at Quest and easy to include in blended drinks, and which add extra nutrients/antioxidants and roughage.

On the subject of cost:

For the past three months I have been using my blender, freezer, and Quest card religiously to help maintain my healthy and humble diet. So far I have purchased:

  • 30 pounds of blood oranges ($9.00 at 30 cents a pound)
  • 30 peeled and frozen bananas ($2.40 at 80 cents a 2.5 lb bag)
  • 5 x 1 lb bags of pre-washed parsley ($7.50 at 1.50 at bag)
  • 3 x 2.5 lb bags of kale ($9.00 at 3.00 at bag)
  • 10 lb of pears ($1.00 at 10 cents a pound
  • 8 x 1.89 litre carton of soy milk ($2.00 at 25 cents/carton)

    • Total Mass: 96 lb                                                      
    • Total Cost: $30.90
    • Average cost per pound: 32 cents   

With an average cost per pound at 32 cents, this means that for every liberally sized breakfast drink I create (an approximate 2.5 lb), I am spending 80 cents- UNDER A DOLLAR!

I usually chop oranges, bananas, and other large fruit into one inch pieces before freezing them, so that it's easier and faster for the blender to process. If you want to spend the extra time, you can freeze them first on baking sheets so that the pieces of fruit don't stick together when you put them into the bags. All of this, of course, takes time and effort, but for a healthy and wholesome breakfast at 80 cents a serving, I think it's time is well spent.

When it comes to the hardware in this equation, blenders can be purchased at your own risk from places like Craigslist and Value Village. Big box stores also have frequent sales on blending devices like the magic bullets which can work equally as well.

On the Subject of taste:

It would be silly of me to write a post on the benefits of a blended breakfast diet without including a recipe. The following is one that I find particularly refreshing, and it is comprised of ingredients that are available at Quest on an ongoing basis:

2 large handfuls of Parsley
2 Whole Blood Oranges  (washed quartered and unpeeled)
1.5 cup of Strawberry Soy Milk
2 tablespoons of Flax Seeds
1 Frozen Banana (peeled)
1 cup water
5 cubes of ice (if none of the fruit is already frozen)

I won't patronize you by giving you instructions on what to do with these ingredients, except to say that if any of the ingredients are frozen, you may want to start blending the softer ingredients first- it's easier on the mechanics of the blender. Enjoy!

 Author: Sarah Smith (Quest Volunteer)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Food Dehydration

You don’t have to be a hiker, athlete, or a mother of a school child to justify seeking easy-to-carry alternatives to fresh fruits and vegetables. If this is your aim, dehydrated fruits and vegetables are a worthy endeavor .

Drying vegetables for later usage is one of the oldest and easiest methods of food preservation. Vegetables retain much of their original nutritional value during the drying process and store easily if you pick the right container and storage area. The lower weight and volume, intact nutritional and pH value, and fast preparation time are the advantages of dehydrated foods. Most meals prepared from dehydrated vegetables can be ready to eat in 30 minutes.

The benefits of dehydrated raw foods are well known. Many health food stores make use of freeze-dried fruit and veggie powders, reconstituting them in to smoothies. Dehydration techniques have come a long way in recent years. Old technologies left as much as 30% moisture in the dehydrated products and didn't store as well. With modern technology, moisture levels have been reduced to 2% or 3% increasing storage life by several years. Additionally, with less water retention, this means that today's dried produce are less pliable and break with a satisfyingly “snap” when bent.

It is important to use a dehydrator that dries food at a suitable temperature. A temperature of around 108° is suitable for the first 12-18 hours. Temperatures that are too low can cause the food to spoil; however, if the temperature is too high then the enzymes and nutrients are lost.

On Drying Vegetables:

Peel fruits and vegetables including bananas, eggplants, melons, winter squash, and other foods. Slicing allows the dry air to circulate and dry the surface area. The vegetables should be cut into small slices ranging from 1/8 inch to ½ inch. If the food is particularly high in water content, the slices should be slightly larger as once the water is removed the pieces will retain a useful size.
Blanch vegetables before drying to stop enzyme action and enhance destruction of microorganisms. Pre-treating vegetables by blanching them in water or a citric acid solution enhances the destruction of potentially harmful bacteria during drying, including E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria Monocytogenes.
Once dried, vegetables stored in tightly closed freezer containers, canning jars or moisture-proof plastic freezer bags will hold their nutritional value for six to 12 months if stored in a dark area that stays cool and dry.

For more ways of pre treating your dried fruit, search dipping, blanching, or Candying! These are all techniques on how to increase the taste and quality of your dried fruit.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Students from the University of Utah choose Quest!

On March 15, 2012, a group of dedicated students from the University of Utah attended Quest as part of their week long Canadian tour. Dr. Keri Schwab of the University's Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department, together with her colleague Rose Zagal, a nursing and anthropology student organized a trip to Vancouver for their group of twelve, as part of their 2012 Alternative Spring Break trip.

The objective of their trip was to participate in a program in which University students chose to spend their spring break traveling to either a local or international city and perform community services  focused on specific environmental or social justice issues. The trip to Vancouver focused on the issues of health care and poverty.

In seeking opportunities, the students were really impressed by Quest's community based mandates. As Ms. Zagal plans on getting her Masters in Public Health, she believes strongly in preventive health care. Therefore, she carries a mindset that the World as a whole can utilize improvements to health and social betterment.  She saw Quest as a great example of this trend.

The day the students came, they spent the entire day in our not-for-profit grocery market and community kitchen. According to Distribution Manager Ken March, they were eager, efficient and incredibly fast at repackaging the required items.

Following is an account of the event, recorded by Keri Schwab, PhD, Assistant Professor/Lecturer, Dept. of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism at the University:

As part of the University of Utah Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, ten students and one faculty leader spent a day volunteering at Quest Food Exchange. One of ASB’s themes was to understand the living situations of low-income Canadians and the distribution of health care. (In this instance, ‘the distribution of health care’ is equated with provision of nutritious food for individuals and families, as seen at Quest Outreach) Students divided their time between stocking shelves on the main floor and sorting and repackaging food in the warehouse. When students were asked about their experience here, they were awestruck at how something so simple as food is crucial for not only health but also just survival. “This was truly an indelible experience,” says Al Marchese, a sophomore majoring in Economics at the U. “In studying health economics, I learned about the vast disparities in both health and health care among varying socio-economic classes. Although those discrepancies are not as intense as they are in the States, they are still persistent in Canada’s system. That’s why promoting preventive techniques such as adequate nutrition is vital. Although not all diseases can be contained, many health problems can be eradicated with the availability of appropriate sustenance. It’s much cheaper to provide food to people as opposed to acute health care. The priorities of Quest are those of prevention, and with the ever-increasing costs of health care, this strategy is innovative.”

We thank this group immensely, not just for the work you did, but for choosing Quest as your organization, and Vancouver BC as your destination. We look forward to seeing you again!