Sade Meeks fondly remembers Sundays spent in the kitchen with her mother in Jackson, Mississippi. Rich aromas of soul food wafted throughout their home as they prepared nutritious, yet delectable family meals.
“Being from the South, everything revolves around food,” she says with a smile.
But many others in Meeks’ community lacked the access to an education about food that her family had. So she’s made it her mission to help those struggling with food insecurity.
The 24-year-old Los Angeles resident will graduate in May from Cal State LA with a Master of Science in Nutritional Science. Meeks plans to take the exam to become a registered dietitian.
Meeks grew up with an appreciation for good food. Every Sunday was a “big cooking day” in the Meeks home. While her mother prepared the savory main dishes, Meeks was in charge of making cobblers and other desserts.
Those tasty and healthy Sunday meals served as a sharp contrast to the meager food options available to some of the residents in the community where Meeks attended high school.
“My high school was right in the middle of a low-income community,” she says, recalling that many residents lacked the resources and the knowledge to eat well.
Meeks earned a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi. Later, she worked for the Wesley Youth Foundation, where she taught nutrition classes to kids in a rural area.
“We did a field trip to Whole Foods in Jackson just so they could see different types of foods because they didn’t have that kind of a grocery store there,” she recalls.
The stores in that rural area offered packaged and processed food, not the large variety of fresh produce available at major grocery stores. Because of limited access and limited income, many families in parts of Jackson are food insecure, a term Meeks later learned more about during her studies at Cal State LA.
Cooking meals on a student budget required Meeks to become creative.
“There was a point where I was going to the 99 Cents Store and had $10 to spend on groceries,” she says.
She started blogging about her experience, which inspired her to research food insecurity among college students. It also motivated her to write a cookbook that later turned into her culminating project for her master’s degree.
Meeks is the author of “One Pantry Meals,” which includes recipes that use ingredients commonly found at local food pantries. With her published cookbook, Meeks hopes to help students learn how to effectively utilize the funds available to them to eat well. She is optimistic that the book will expose readers to different ways of preparing healthy meals.
During her years at Cal State LA, Meeks served as a dietetic intern at Keck Hospital of USC. She worked alongside the patient services manager and witnessed the important role a registered dietitian plays in a patient’s care. Meeks also held internships at Kaiser Permanente Ontario Medical Center, and is currently interning at Helping Hand Nutrition.
Meeks was awarded the CANFIT scholarship and the Commission on Dietetic Registration Diversity Scholarship. Last year, she presented on the development of her cookbook at the 2017 California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Conference.
Meeks is the co-founder and president of the non-profit organization, PRIME Inc., which was founded in June 2016. PRIME stands for Providing Resources to Impact, Maximize, and Enrich. The organization recently held a charity gala to raise money to donate quality, nonperishable foods to Stewpot Community Services in Jackson.
“Our mission is to give back to the Jackson community,” Meeks says. “We might not necessarily live there now, but we still want to give back because that’s where our heart is.”
Eventually, Meeks plans to move back home to Mississippi to share her knowledge and expertise. She has big dreams for her hometown.
“When you lose hope, you don’t see anything beyond what you can see in front of you,” Meeks says. “I stay motivated because I believe that there is so much potential.”