The UI’s National Soybean Research Laboratory solved a big problem for the Midwest Food Bank: what to do with the textured soy protein the food bank frequently receives from Archer Daniels Midland.
A great way to increase nutritional value in recipes, TVP (textured vegetable protein) is not a common ingredient for many cooks.
“Most people don’t eat soy,” said Melinda Anderson, a communications specialist with NSRL. “Unlike a can of beans or corn, if you put soy into a food basket, people wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
What was needed was an easy-to-use prepackaged convenient mix or a recipe that would incorporate the TVP, which is donated in bulk from ADM, a soy processor in Decatur.
Last year in test kitchens of the NSRL, team members from both organizations created just-add-water soup mixes – now available in varieties that include hearty noodles, vegetarian chili, and chicken and rice – that benefit thousands of families each month in the Illinois-Indiana region the food bank serves.
The lab-food bank collaboration is called Tender Mercies, and involves hundreds of volunteers who distribute the new soy-based foods through the MFB network.
Soy protein is a healthy form of protein that many people who benefit from food donations often don’t get enough of, Anderson said.
“It fills you up, and gives you great nutrition,” she said.
The meals are packed in vacuum- and heat-sealed bags, and can be cooked with water in about 20 minutes.
MFB Peoria division director Larry Herman said many of the people who need the food donations don’t have suitable kitchens to prepare good meals, so the recipes had to be easy to make, as well as nutritious.
In addition to providing food, the MFB also teaches people about nutrition, obesity and other health issues, such as dietary fiber.
“Low-fiber diets are linked to (many health problems),” he said. “Lower-quality foods which (although cheaper) offer the least for personal health.”
Herman said the ease with which the two organizations came together to create the new soup recipes has been inspiring to see.
“It’s wonderful when people can collaborate and focus on the needs of those who are in need. We’re so thankful,” he said.
The Midwest Food Bank distributes food to a network of more than 600 kitchen pantries, social service organizations and other charities, which reach more than 70,000 people per month. Eventually, MFB would like to distribute 15,000 to 20,000 of the new soy-based meals per month.The NSRL’s efforts to combat hunger reach far beyond the Midwest. Recently, with support from the Illinois Soybean Association, the lab sent more than 970,000 servings of a nutritious, soy-enhanced soup mix to Haiti for distribution by the National School Lunch Program of Haiti to many charitable organizations throughout the country.