Using food and fellowship to continue celebrating our heritage
Written by Coral Health Team, Edited by Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford
As many of you know, we recently celebrated Juneteenth—a federal holiday that celebrates the emancipation of African Americans from slavery. Although the holiday was formally declared last year, Juneteenth has been celebrated by the African American community for over 150 years and has grown in popularity due to its unique cultural traditions (CNN).
Traditionally called "Jubilees," these cultural celebrations occurred on various dates after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and many of these celebrations included, of course, food.
The convergence of culture and food is our sweet spot at Coral, as we are dedicated to providing culturally-nuanced education and health recommendations that help empower underrepresented populations to make more informed health decisions. We also love eating—and gathering around with our friends and family to celebrate our own cultural heritage.
So how does this fit with Juneteenth? Without too much oversimplification, a lot of chronic conditions that affect minority populations can be attributed to biological risk factors, and social determinants of health that are experienced by racial, cultural and ethnic communities. This includes access to care, systemic care biases, and socioeconomic and environmental factors. And, not surprisingly, all of these things contribute to what we eat.
That’s not to say we don’t want you to eat foods that come from—and are celebrated by—your heritage. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
We’re taking this time to discuss how we can introduce even more ancestral foods (and practices) into our meals, how to maintain healthy food habits, and why it’s so important to eat nutritional food in the first place (tip: it’s related to keeping our brains and our bodies healthy).
Decolonizing, what does that even mean?
The term decolonizing is used across several industries—decolonizing wellness, decolonizing education, decolonizing your mind, etc. At its simplest, it means to “free from the dominating influence of a colonizing power … especially: to identify, challenge, and revise or replace assumptions, ideas, values, and practices that reflect a colonizer's dominating influence and especially a Eurocentric dominating influence” (Merriam Webster). For this discussion on decolonizing our diets, let’s just say it's both the concept of bringing cultural and ancestral roots back into the food we eat, as well as understanding and appreciating the cultivation of food and the process that goes into creating an enriching meal.
“Decolonizing our diets means going back to the original foods that we used to eat, the foods that we had before they were highly processed and with a lot of corn, a lot of corn syrup, a lot of wheat, a lot of the things that are just cheap that Big Agriculture produces for us. Before, we had more regional foods, regionally-specific foods, we had more foods that had cultural impacts” (Zenger Farm).
And, why does decolonizing food matter?
Through the process of industrialization, the development of—and migration to—urban centers, food deserts have inevitably been created (Coral glossary: A food desert is a region in which people have limited access to healthful and affordable food (Medical News Today)). Communities of color have historically, and disproportionately, been affected by this—making access to fresh, unprocessed foods harder to come by, and (through urbanization) access to fast-food and discount stores more readily accessible. This means that in certain areas and communities, access to foods that have adequate nutrition (for your brain and body development) are few and far between.
This can result in not only increased inflammation, blood sugars and blood pressure, but also risk of cancers, and chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease when eaten regularly.
We found a diagram to make this concept a little easier to digest.
There are a lot of elements—from social justice to nutrition—that come into play when we unpack the concept of decolonizing food. From a social justice and political perspective, as outlined by Leah Penniman, Black Kreyol educator, farmer, and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY states,
"Learning about Carver, Hamer, Whatley, and New Communities, I realized that during all those years of seeing images of only white people as the stewards of the land, only white people as organic farmers, only white people in conversations about sustainability, the only consistent story I’d seen or been told about Black people and the land was about slavery and sharecropping, about coercion and brutality, and misery and sorrow. And yet here was an entire history, blooming into our present, in which Black people’s expertise and love of the land and one another was evident. When we as Black people are bombarded with messages that our only place of belonging on land is as slaves, performing dangerous and backbreaking menial labor, to learn of our true and noble history as farmers and ecological stewards is deeply healing” (Rooted Farmers).
Whether we choose to decolonize our diets to get in touch with our heritage, increase our nutritional value in our meals, or both, we recognize that getting back to our literal—and figurative—roots has multiple positive implications on our lives.
“... Decolonizing the diet is to go back to some of the original foods. Let’s go back to the cookbooks from 100 years ago, let’s go back to some of the traditional foods and get away from allergens in the food, let’s use organic methods of farming, let’s get smaller family farms back, and get folks more invested in farming” (Zenger Farm).
3 Ways to Decolonize Your Diet
In America, decolonizing our diets may mean incorporating more regional and ancestral foods into our meals and removing highly-processed foods that have little to no roots in our culture or in appreciation of food and the land. We’ve put together a few tips on how to do this in your daily lives:
- Tip 1: From Rachelle Dixon, Community Chef at Zenger Farm: “I eat a lot of beans: garbanzo beans, pinto beans, red beans, black beans. And a Crockpot does wonders for that. They have digital ones that you can set them to turn on or off, and if you have those two jobs, you can make beans and freeze them so you don’t have to cook several times a week, it saves you time and energy. It’s just all around good if we can have organizations that support that” (Zenger Farm).
- Tip 2: Dr. Kera Nyemb-Diop (@black.nutritionist): “Brown rice is constantly promoted as an acceptable alternative but if you ask me there are other ways to add fiber into my meals that don’t involve the death of my inner joy. Not to mention we aren’t just sitting eating bowl after bowl of just rice. Traditionally black folks almost always have a protein that is cooked in sauce and packed with nutrient-rich veggies that goes along with the white rice, like with jollof rice, curry chicken, jambalaya or other stews.👏🏾👏🏾 Never let them convince you your cultural foods aren’t healthy” (Instagram).
- Tip 3: “Africa and its diaspora have a key opportunity to address the double burden of nutrition from diabetes, heart disease to malnutrition by promoting the health and beauty of African foods from teff, millet, moringa, baobab and hibiscus which can unlock economic potential and grow an emerging consumer market with the right policy, resources, infrastructure, packaging and promotion in place” (She Leads Africa).
Historically and presently speaking, communities of color congregate around—and celebrate—food, and we, at Coral, want to take part in that as much as possible. That means educating our friends, family, and colleagues on elements that need to be taken into consideration, as well as highlighting aspects of our culture that make us, well, who we are. Take Juneteenth as an opportunity to celebrate Africa and its diaspora by getting back to our roots, and eating the food that our ancestors ate, and appreciated.
Coral Workshop with Dr. Fatima Stanford
This month, we will continue this conversation on the intersection of medicine, public health, policy, and disparities in Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford’s workshop, “Busting Myths about Obesity … It’s Complicated.”
Dr. Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, MBA, FAAP, FACP, FAHA, FAMWA, FTOS, is a physician-scientist, educator, policy maker, and Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and is a Clinical Advisor to us at Coral Health.
“It is important for us to acknowledge that our diets do not have to conform to Western standards in order to be healthy. While there are significant benefits from the Mediterranean diet, we also know diets with African and Caribbean cultural roots are rarely studied. As such, these diets do not receive the adequate attention they deserve for so many of us. Bottom line: You can have a healthy diet that aligns with your cultural roots.”, says Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford
To learn more about Coral Health and the workshops we provide our partners, contact email@example.com.
More on this: articles, talks, and podcasts you might like
- Ted Talk: Decolonization Is for Everyone | Nikki Sanchez
- Daily Nexus: Decolonizing Our Plates and Reframing the Standards of Health
- KCET: Decolonizing the Way We Eat: How Did We Get Here and How Do We Re-Indigenize Our Relationship to Food?
- The New York Times: So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?
- Podcast: Join KJ Kearney of Black Food Fridays and Anela Malik of Feed the Malik as they discuss food from a Black perspective in Fix Your Plate
- Recipe: Building a Juneteenth Menu for the 21st Century, One Recipe at a Time
- Analysis: What role should the commercial food system play in promoting health through better diet?
- LinkTV Article: A Return to Heirloom Corn Unpacks Powerful Cultural Histories
- Womanly: Decolonizing Food: An Antidote to Oppression
- Glamour: I Tried Eating Like My Ancestors for a Week and I Loved It