CHHS Summer Standouts: Jesse Whitcomb strives to eliminate food insecurity and create positive change in her community

Quality of life and importance of health have no age limit. 

Jesse Whitcomb, a senior in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University, makes it her goal to bring this sentiment to life. Majoring in nutrition and food science and minoring in gerontology, Whitcomb devotes her time and effort toward combatting food insecurity and malnutrition by finding viable food options for low-income older adults. 

Whitcomb’s mission to find applicable food options is accompanied by an extraordinary dedication to catalyzing beneficial changes within her community. This summer, Whitcomb has an internship with the Market Days! for Older Adults program at the Larimer County Farmers’ Market. Market Days!, a program of Larimer County CSU Extension and the Larimer County Farmers’ Market – which is run by Extension – works to reduce food insecurity in older adults and supports healthy aging in Larimer County. 

Through her work, Whitcomb hopes to “help the aging population build a beneficial relationship with food that will last throughout their life.” 

Ending hunger one healthy meal at a time

Whitcomb’s desire to serve her community and learn more about nutrition is derived from her time playing golf in high school when she became interested in improving her performance and lifestyle. “I fell in love with all aspects of nutrition and decided that I wanted to go into higher education and learn more,” Whitcomb said.  

This love eventually led Whitcomb to the CSU Food Science and Human Nutrition program where she found an immense desire to continually learn and benefit from those around her. Being in an environment where students and faculty share similar passions and interests for community enrichment through nutrition inspires Whitcomb. 

Whitcomb sits outside during Market Days!, surrounded by an array of packed bags.

“I find great importance in hearing different perspectives, opinions, and ideas of others and I find every interaction rewarding and an opportunity to learn,” Whitcomb said. 

She has been able to implement her acquired knowledge from her course of study into her internship with Market Days!, aiding the community by using grant funds to purchase produce from local farmers to provide older adults $15 worth of fresh vegetables, a reusable bag, and a variety of resources each week.   

“On Saturdays, I participate in packing bags with produce, giving out information and helping anywhere I am needed including delivery to homebound participants,” Whitcomb said. “During the weekdays I develop two kinds of recipes that we give out weekly.” 

“The first recipe is one that features a specific produce item that we have that week and includes information on health benefits, preparation, and storage methods. It is usually a side dish of sorts that includes the produce and a couple other ingredients like seasonings and oil,” Whitcomb said. “The second recipe usually involves a couple of produce items used in a meal.” 

These efforts from Whitcomb and her team revolve around the idea that “nutrition for older adults is about maintenance, prevention, safety, and enjoyment of food,” Whitcomb said. 

This innate hunger to reduce food insecurity among older adults will leave a resounding imprint on the population, affecting the relationship that individuals have with their diet and directing them toward long-term health benefits.

From the classroom to the community 

For Whitcomb, the capability to guide others comes from her devotion to aiding her community and is amplified by her coursework and the outstanding faculty in CSU’s Departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Human Development and Family Studies. 

“The gerontology courses I have taken so far have given me a better understanding of not only the aging process, but also what living conditions may be present, what is important to them, and how they may view the world based on their background,” Whitcomb said. 

Whitcomb’s knowledge of the science behind health is bolstered by her awareness of social issues such as food insecurity and barriers to access. By combining the two, Whitcomb hopes to serve individuals based on their unique needs. 

“My courses on food production and cooking have helped me to think about what type of equipment, ingredients, and the skill level are needed for various food productions,” she said. “When thinking about low-income older adults, it is important to keep these aspects in mind when creating recipes and providing education because they may not have access to certain ingredients, equipment, or the skills to put them together.” 

Whitcomb smiles outside during her time at Market Days!

Intentional approaches to food insecurity will not only benefit the community but will allow for Whitcomb and her team to be more proactive and effective in their efforts. Genuine care for others and the ability to offer these tremendous opportunities has the potential to change the lives of older adults in need.  

These changes are not enacted by one individual or one organization. Food insecurity and beneficial dietary adaptations are the results of a collective striving for something better, and Whitcomb encapsulates this way of thinking perfectly. “Community effort can make community change,” Whitcomb said. “With passion and drive for healthy aging for all, we can come together and make a difference.”