Nothing is more celebratory of our history, than food. When you envision Black cultural foods-images of collard greens stewed with ham hocks, caramel cakes, and barbecued ribs may dance around your head. For years, dishes like these have been enjoyed in the Black community. These meals have brought our families comfort, luck, happiness, and most importantly: together. However, these types of food also bring reminiscence of hardship. It is a well-known fact that during slavery, our ancestors were given pathetic leftovers, measly rations, and poor quality meat for nourishment.
Making best with what they had, slaves used cooking methods like frying or smoking, and adding plenty of salt, fat, flour, or sugar to their food. This gave slaves the ability and creativity to transform scraps; into edible, flavorful meals. A lot of these common meals made during slavery, continue to be eaten and loved by our families today. Although there is pride in knowing how perseverant and resilient our ancestors were. We should also be aware that the food they ate was quite unhealthy. “The (slave) diets, high in fat and starch, were not nutritionally sound and could lead to ailments, including scurvy and rickets,” according to a historical overview on slavery from pbs.org. Furthermore, decades of our people eating this way, have cause disturbingly high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure in the Black community.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that heart disease and complications from diabetes, are two of the top leading causes of death for African Americans. Another ailment high on the list is stroke. And this is more of a risk to people who are already dealing with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. What Black person today cannot name a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or play cousin that has not been diagnosed with one or more of these chronic conditions? Unfortunately, many of us cannot; and many of us are struggling with these diseases ourselves.
However, this does not have to be our normal. We are descendants of Africa. Our roots are in cultural traditions and foods of the homeland that are as old as time. An organization called Oldways is focused on helping to re-introduce the original African diet, to Black Americans. With the help of experts in African American and African Diaspora history, cuisine, nutrition, and public health – the organization designed an African Heritage and Health program. Oldways states that the program’s goal is, “…to promote the healthy foods and delicious eating traditions of African Heritage for good health and community.” The program has a diet pyramid that is structured from traditional African heritage meals. Oldways explains that these meals contain an abundance of colorful fruits, leafy greens, and a variety of beans, tubers, and whole grains, as well as, an array of spices, and plenty of fish, eggs, and poultry; with a minimal consumption of sweets.
The program also offers a description of African Diaspora, along with a food glossary, cooking course, and grocery guidelines to help assist with the venture into preparing traditional African cuisine. Starting the first week of February, Oldways will be celebrating their 5th Annual African Heritage and Health Week. From February 1st to the 7th, the organization is challenging African Americans to take part of their African heritage by trying at least one dish, at home or at a local restaurant that is inspired by the cuisines of African culture, #EatAfricanHeritage365. Along with this, there are many other ways to be a part of the challenge, or explore the African Heritage and Health program. To learn more, visit the website oldwayspt.org. And remember, home cooking is not just about the foods that taste good; but more about the foods that makes us feel good.