The Power of Food

Chef Sarah Germany shows how food heals bodies and communities



Chef Sarah Germany gives a class on cooking with fresh produce. (Photo courtesy of StopWaste)

When Sarah Germany was 20, she attended 13 funerals in 11 months—all family members and friends lost prematurely to health issues related to diet and lifestyle. Struggling with weight herself, she looked at the buckets of fried chicken, sugary desserts, and sodas at those gatherings and had a realization: “As we were grieving, we were eating the same foods that had led to the deaths of our loved ones.” It marked a turning point.

Over the past 25 years, Sarah has taught herself to make what she calls “food that heals us, not food that kills us,” while honoring her family’s Southern traditions and flavors. She has since lost 163 pounds and found relief from various ailments with homemade herbal remedies. Experiencing food as medicine has also elevated its value for Sarah and her desire to share its transformative power with her East Oakland community. When she learned that a local urban farm and several school gardens regularly had surplus produce, she started to rescue the bounty from being composted by teaching neighbors how to turn it into wholesome products.

A grant from StopWaste to Sarah’s organization, The Food Commonweal, has helped Sarah scale up the effort and offer nutrition classes at East Oakland schools and community centers throughout the growing season. Participants watch a cooking demonstration, ask questions, and take home samples of the finished product along with recipes and a bag filled with fruits, herbs, and vegetables. “Depending on the season and the surplus available, there are many kinds of greens, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, onions, figs, apricots, apples, fennel, herbs, flowers, you name it,” says Sarah.

Sarah’s recipes for condiments like pestos, salsas, sauces, dressings, pickles, and jams emphasize how to use fresh herbs, flowers, fruits, and aromatics while eliminating processed sugar and preservatives. Last summer and fall alone, Sarah’s program rescued 14,000 pounds of produce and gave access to fresh, wholesome food and inspiration to 150 families.

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To see Chef Sarah and other East Bay food heroes in action, visit, where you can watch StopWaste’s new short video, “Caring for Food and Community,” and find bonus recipe videos with Chef Sarah.



Sarah’s Tangy Hot BBQ Sauce

Use up surplus apricots (unripe or bruised OK) and play with spiciness and variations of flavor, depending on what you have on hand.

Makes 3 (1-pint) jars of sauce

  • 4 pounds apricots and/or tomatoes (a mix is best)
  • 1 knob ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3–5 jalapeños and/or serrano chiles (based on desired spiciness), seeds and stems removed
  • 1 bunch scallions (optional)
  • Edible flowers like lavender and marigold (optional)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • Honey and liquid smoke (optional, to taste)

Wash all produce. Prepare as directed and add in the following layers to an oven-proof casserole.

Layer 1: ginger and celery

Layer 2: onion, garlic, chiles, scallions, and flowers (if using)

Layer 3: halved and pitted apricots and tomatoes, whole or chopped

Mix brown sugar and apple cider vinegar with salt, mustard, and optional additional flavorings. Pour over everything in the casserole and roast in the oven, uncovered, at 200°F for 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from oven and let cool. Then purée and season to taste. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator (tip: label with the date) for up to 12 months or 30 days once open.