A Quarterly Newsletter                                                                                    Winter 2013

Welcome to Oldways' first African Heritage & Health Quarterly Newsletter! We hope our newsletter will get you dancing in your kitchen and singing in your grocery aisles. Each edition will share new African Heritage & Health program updates, recipes, health studies, and celebration of the healthy, delicious foods of African heritage. We're so happy you've joined us!

What Is The African Heritage & Health Program?


Many people have heard about the acclaimed Mediterranean Diet, featuring the healthy eating patterns in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. But what about the traditional diets found south of the Mediterranean--on the African Continent? This was one of the questions Oldways asked in the spring of 2011, as we prepared to create a new eating model based on African ancestral traditions. To help us find the answers, we invited a group of experts and specialists in African heritage foodways, health, and culinary history to bring their expertise to the table. In November of 2011, we launched the African Heritage Diet Pyramid, based on our findings. 

Oldways, a non-profit food and nutrition education organization, created the original Mediterranean Diet Pyramid with the Harvard School of Public Health in 1993. Since then, we have promoted healthy food traditions from around the world for good health and wellbeing. The African Heritage Diet Pyramid is Oldways' newest health initiative, celebrating the foods, dishes and healthy plant-based eating patterns of African American ancestors that were brought from Africa to parts of South America, the Caribbean, and the American South.
The standard American diet (appropriately nicknamed the "SAD" diet) has taken millions of people away from the vibrant, healthy diets of their ancestors. As our American eating habits spread around the world, so do chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Although African Americans have been the hardest hit by many of these conditions, none of them are a true part of African heritage. Oldways' solution to this disparity is the African Heritage & Health Program.


Check out the FoxAtlanta news story for a closer look at the African Heritage Diet.   


African Heritage & Health Week: February 1-7, 2013

If you've never explored the many flavors of traditional African cuisine - African Heritage & Health Week, held February 1-7, 2013, is the perfect time. To commemorate Black History Month, Oldways is inviting everyone everywhere to enjoy at least one meal inspired by the cuisines of early African-American ancestors, at home or at a local restaurant.
To help diners explore, Oldways is creating a new African Heritage Dine-Around-Town section on its website that offers African Heritage dining destinations across the nation -- from pop-up shops to fine dining restaurants -- featuring healthy cuisines from across Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and the American South.
If a meal at home shared with family and friends is more appealing, Oldways offers its own recipe for Jollof Rice as an option. This traditional tomato-based rice dish from Africa is the precursor for so many African heritage rice dishes, and it is also healthy and budget friendly! Plenty of other recipes are offered on Oldways' website, too.
For more information on participating in African Heritage & Health Week, please contact Sarah Dwyer, Oldways program manager, 512-330-0111, sdwyer@oldwayspt.org.


Coming February 2013: 
A Taste of African Heritage Cooking Class Series!
We all know how easy it is to fall in love with delicious food (too easy, sometimes!). According to most nutrition experts, taste is what shapes our eating habits more than just about anything else. When we find flavors we love, we claim allegiance to those foods-- for better and for worse. And yet, there are so many fabulous, healthy foods that people have never tried before--especially those from our personal cultures--that are waiting to be discovered and cherished.
African heritage is full of foods and dishes like these.
So, Oldways got to thinking: how can we invite people to "meet" and taste the foods of the African Heritage Diet Pyramid? And how can we share simple ways of preparing these foods that will last a lifetime and bring great taste and good health to many? The answers lie in A Taste of African Heritage, Oldways' new cooking class series that is the ultimate matchmaker between heritage foods and eaters everywhere.


Six-Class Series Celebrates African Tastes


A Taste of African Heritage (ATAH) is a six-week series of classes that brings the African Heritage Diet's major plant-based food groups to life, inviting people to "get acquainted with the foods and flavors of African heritage. It's part history class, part nutrition class, with lots of cooking and tastings and celebration of African American culture and lineage. The six lessons take students on an edible journey through African Heritage:  
  1. Herbs & Spices
  2. Greens
  3. Whole Grains
  4. Beans and Rice
  5. Tubers and Stews
  6. Fruits, Vegetables, and A Healthy Lifestyle

At Oldways, we know that effective nutrition education doesn't stop at the "what" - what to eat more of, or what to eat less of - it has to teach the "how." So, the lessons focus on simple cooking techniques that can be applied to the healthy food in your house, like how to prepare greens ten different ways; how to cook with dried beans and how to jazz up canned ones; how to make fruit desserts that actually taste like dessert; and more!


15 Pilot Locations Explore the African Heritage Curriculum

This past fall, A Taste of African Heritage was piloted in 15 locations across the nation with an outstanding fleet of instructors and organizations that serve African American communities everyday. Pilot participants came from different age groups and backgrounds - from preschoolers to seniors, inner-city to rural countryside. The organizations ranged from faith-based groups, schools, and community centers, to residency programs and cultural museums. Many attendees came to combat hypertension, manage diabetes, or lose weight. Most of all, participants came to learn how to cook simply, affordably, healthfully, and deliciously - for themselves and their families.   

ATAH Pilot Report PDF

We are currently evaluating and revising the ATAH curriculum, based on student and teacher feedback. Oldways will launch the official program at the end of February 2013. The curriculum will be available on our website, free of charge, to anybody who would like to teach the series. We will be recruiting teachers from around the country, including dietitians, faith-based health ministers, educators, organizers, chefs, and any other community leaders who have a passion for food, culture, and good health. We would love to have you on board!

If you would like to become an ATAH teacher, or if you would like to help organize A Taste of African Heritage classes in your community, please contact Sarah Dwyer, Oldways' African Heritage & Health Program Manager at sdwyer@oldwayspt.org.


Kameelah Mu'min and Neil Brantley at the Harambee School in Philadelphia.
Kudos from our Pilot Instructors

"At the end of each class, people walk away with a renewed sense of their ability to make a healthy African dish ... and also build on this community that they're creating by sharing stories."  

- Pilot instructor Tambra Raye Stevenson in Washington, D.C.


"We are always trying to connect our seniors with others in the community. Cooking bridges the gap between generations." 

- Andre Goode, Milwaukee pilot coordinator whose classes pair seniors and teens to cook and learn together.


"At our first class, parents were encouraged to talk about their family traditions around food and we engaged in lively conversation about the role food had played in their early years. Vivien [the instructor] did a masterful job of discussing how foods are used and adapted by us throughout the diaspora. Parents found this fascinating ... There was so much more than just cooking going on!"

- Lynnette Glover,  The Links, Inc. pilot coordinator for the MLK Jr. School  

Replanting African Roots In Your Garden
One of the healthiest attributes of the African Heritage Diet is that it is a largely plant-based diet, showcasing vegetables, beans, fruits, herbs, tubers and seeds you can plant right in your own backyard. Several of our A Taste of African Heritage pilot locations are resurrecting African heritage edibles in their own community gardens. With winter upon us, we had the chance to ask one of our pilot organizations, Delta Fresh Foods, about what kinds of traditional foods grow best in the colder seasons, what we can grow on our window sills, and if they had any gardening tips for beginners:

Pilot Organization:
Delta Fresh Foods in the Mississippi Delta
Clarksdale, MS

Coordinator: Judy Belue

Thanks so much for talking with us today, Judy. So, what's one of your favorite African heritage foods to grow? Turnip greens!

What crops grow best in the cooler months, that we can plant for the fall and winter?
Cool weather crops include broccoli, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower and winter squash. It can be tricky to get them established when summer temperatures remain high, but once early fall weather sets in, they flourish!

For someone without much yard space, what's an easy crop to grow on your back porch or windowsill?
Container gardening is easy as long as you provide enough light, proper moisture, good soil and a little space to grow. Adequate watering with proper drainage is an important skill to gain since most plants do not tolerate wet roots, and surface moisture only is not sufficient when roots are deeper. We have had success in small spaces with tomatoes, herbs of all kinds, garlic and with strawberries. For containers or small spaces, I suggest you avoid squash, melons and other plants with long vines can take over your space and possibly even your neighbors! "Tubers" like sweet potatoes have deep roots and might be tough to handle in containers, also.

With springtime ahead, what advice would you give to readers wanting to start a garden?

(1) Start smart! Check out resources your local extension service has to offer, find a "mentor" (gray haired folks often possess a treasure chest of gardening knowledge they would love to pass on); read up on what different plants like for their light, water, space and temperature.

(2) Don't try to "fight Mother Nature." 
Choose something you like to eat and something that will like the space and conditions you can offer. 

(3) Don't give up! Gardening is a worthwhile talent to acquire but it can be challenging, even for veterans, when extreme weather or pests or our busy schedules come into play.

(4) Collaborate! If your space is really limited, see if your neighbors want to "coop" so together you can grow a good variety of foods to share.

Delta Fresh Foods will continue A Taste of African Heritage Classes this spring in Clarksdale, MS. To stay tuned and learn more about Delta Fresh Foods, visit them at deltafreshfoods.org.

You can also read about another pilot location's community garden, at the River Road African American History Museum, in this wonderful June 2012 New York Times article.  

AHH Health Study:

Cutting Back on Sodium
In each newsletter, we like to share one scientific study that reinforces the importance and benefits of the African Heritage Diet. This edition's study was published in the Journal of Human Hypertension and focuses on the negative impacts that a high-sodium diet has on blood pressure. We also take a deeper look at where excess sodium can be found in today's modern diet -- you might be surprised!

Sodium and High Blood Pressure Across the African Diaspora
Do you or someone you know have high blood pressure? Most of us know that high blood pressure is associated with high sodium intake. Research shows that choosing traditional, fresh foods over highly processed foods can help lower blood pressure.

A study from Loyola University in Chicago examined 2,704 individuals from Nigeria, Jamaica, and the United States. They looked at the blood pressure and sodium levels of all three groups. The individuals' ages ranged from 31-48 and 55% were women. Sodium levels decreased from West to East: they were highest in the U.S., mid-range in Jamaica, and lowest in Nigeria where we find little added sodium in the food system. High blood pressure followed the same pattern: highest in the U.S., mid-range in Jamaica, and lowest in Nigeria. The standard American diet, containing foods high in sodium, is associated with a higher risk of abnormal blood pressure than traditional diets found in other countries.

Why might this be so?

The Hidden Sources of Sodium
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 75% of Americans' sodium intake comes from pre-packaged and restaurant food. Only 12% comes from natural sources, and 11% comes from adding salt to a meal while cooking.

The 10 major sources of excess sodium come from:
1. Cold cuts6. Commercial breads
2. Other cured meats7. Rolls
3. Pizza8. Cheese
4. Canned soups9. Meat
5. Sandwiches10. Snacks

The message? The more highly processed foods we eat, the more sodium we take in. By returning to whole foods and the "old ways," we can cut down on our sodium intake and hypertension rates considerably. With a little knowledge of simple cooking techniques and spices that bring out delicious flavors, you can happily enjoy a healthier diet with less sodium.

African Heritage Dine-Around-Town
One of the easiest ways to dine out healthfully is to choose cultural restaurants that serve traditional world cuisines. Whether Senegalese, Caribbean, Indian, or Japanese, cultural restaurants often offer the widest variety of interesting plant-based dishes, preparing various veggies, beans, whole grains, and spices in dramatically new ways.

Every edition, we put the spotlight on one African heritage restaurant that serves healthy cuisine from one of the many regions of Africa and the African Diaspora. We describe the features of that region's food and let you know what you'll find at the table.
Alem Ethiopian Village in Milwaukee, WI
A Taste of African Heritage pilot class at the COA Youth & Families Center in Milwaukee (right) took their teens and seniors to Alem Ethiopian Village Restaurant as a finale night in the cooking class series. After six weeks of cooking together, the participants got to experience a family-style dinner and authentic dishes straight from the Continent.  

Alem has been called the perfect "first date" restaurant because it creates such a fun, adventurous experience to share with someone. You'll find this to be true of most Ethiopian dining experiences. (Why? See below!) Most weekdays, Alem offers an inexpensive lunch buffet that happens to be vegetarian and vegan friendly. This is also true of many Ethiopian restaurants. Look for one near you to try!

What to Expect at an Ethiopian Restaurant

Get ready to eat with your hands! It's true -- Ethiopian food is eaten with your fingers, using a flat, spongy bread made out of the whole grain "teff." This bread is called Injera. Diners tear off small slices of Injera, and use them to pinch and pick up their bites. In Ethiopia, sharing foods and eating with the hands is a symbol of hospitality and closeness between all at the table. Don't worry about germs--most restaurants bring antibacterial towels for your hands before eating.


Unforgettable flavors. Ethiopian cuisine is absolutely mouthwatering -- warm, slightly spicy, and bursting with flavor. You have lots of choices with Ethiopian dining. Typically, you select a number of small dishes, consisting of veggies, beans, or meats that have been pureed or cooked down into stew-like consistencies (called wot or wat). These little stews are then scattered over plate-sized Injera bread, from which you also tear your little "hand-spoons." All dishes are simmered or sautéed in a bath of spices. Berbere, a combination of chili pepper and other seasoning, is one of the most important ingredients in Ethiopian cooking.


African American staples in totally new styles! Collard greens, beans, cabbage, and potatoes -- they're all on an Ethiopian menu, but you might not recognize them! These foods appear smothered in the most fabulous sauces. Ethiopian cuisine uses beans as a main protein in many dishes. You'll find split peas, chickpeas, and several kinds of lentils on the menu, delivering all kinds of aromas. Gomen is a delicately simmered collard green dish that tastes like a walk through the Serengeti, cooked with ginger and pepper.

For a listing of African heritage restaurants across the U.S. that serve healthy cuisines from the many regions of Africa and the African Diaspora, visit Oldways' African Heritage Dine-Around-Town.  

(If you know of an African restaurant where you live and don't see it on our list, please let us know and we will gladly add it to our Dine-Around-Town.)  


African Heritage Recipes
The most powerful call to action to improve the health of African American families and communities is to get cooking! To help you celebrate the pleasures, culture, and healthfulness of African heritage foods in your kitchen, h
ere are three simple, delicious Oldways recipes you can enjoy this winter with your family. Focusing on fresh herbs for flavor and volumizing your vegetable dishes are great ways to create healthy, hearty meals.

Click on the photo or title below to go to the Oldways recipe.

Oldways Zesty Brussels Sprouts & Collard Greens Sauté

Brussels sprouts are from the same Brassicacae family as collard greens, kale, and cabbage. They first came to America through French Louisiana and have remained a part of Southern cuisine. Here we blend Brussels with African heritage staples--collard greens and pecans. Dijon mustard gives this dish an extra boost of flavor!  

"Mashes" - mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, grains, and other tubers - are a popular food staple found throughout Africa. Inspired by a traditional mashed potato dish, Irio, found in Kenya, this recipe gives classic mashed potatoes a boost by adding greens, peas, and corn right into the mix. 

Oldways Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Black-eyed peas have long been symbolic in African American culture and cuisine. At New Years, black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten to bring good fortune in the coming year. No cooking required with this recipe that brings crisp, bright flavor and heritage to any table.