Celebrate African Heritage & Health Week

January 29, 2013

History has lots to share when it comes to culinary traditions and nutrition. The newly designated African Heritage & Health Week, coming up February 1-7, 2013, coincides with Black History Month and offers retailers a chance to invite shoppers to explore the vibrant healthy foods and cuisines of African heritage.

Originally published in Food, Nutrition & Science

Guest Columnist Sarah Dwyer, Program Manager, Oldways

History has lots to share when it comes to culinary traditions and nutrition. The newly designated African Heritage & Health Week, coming up February 1-7, 2013, coincides with Black History Month and offers retailers a chance to invite shoppers to explore the vibrant healthy foods and cuisines of African heritage. To provide retailers with ideas and tools for the celebration, the food and nutrition education nonprofit Oldways, which organized the weeklong event, has created a free African Heritage Diet Tool Kit. The following provides more details about each.

Oldways’ African Heritage and Health Week

For anyone who has never tried African heritage cuisine, African Heritage & Health Week is the perfect time to discover why its savory flavors and naturally healthy features make African Heritage cuisine the next big food trend. During the first week of February, Oldways challenges everyone, everywhere to enjoy at least one dish at home or at a restaurant inspired by the cuisine of African American ancestors and Oldways’ African Heritage Diet Pyramid.

Coinciding with Black History Month, African Heritage & Health Week commemorates the foods, flavors and healthy cooking techniques that were core to the wellbeing of African ancestors from Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and the American South. Scientific studies show that many chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, now prevalent in African American communities, appear in populations as traditional diets are left behind. Black History Month is the perfect time to commemorate and explore the healthy culinary side of history.

To help diners explore, Oldways has created a new “African Heritage Dine Around” section on its website that offers dining destinations across the nation, from pop-up shops to fine dining restaurants.

If a meal at home shared with family and friends is more appealing, Oldways suggests its own recipe for Jollof Rice as an option. This is a traditional African rice dish that is delicious, healthy, and budget friendly. Plenty of other recipes are offered on Oldways’ website, too.

ONE African Heritage Diet Tool Kit 

Oldways’ new ONE (Oldways Nutrition Exchange) Program is a resource hub for supermarket dietitians, where they can find comprehensive tool kits on dynamic themes every month. For Black History Month, supermarket RD’s will be equipped with handouts, demo and consumer recipes, newsletter articles, blogs, display ideas, kids games, and more surrounding African heritage foods and cuisine.

These powerful promotions will link African American heritage to historically healthy eating and lifestyle practices, highlighting the foods, cooking styles, fitness and wellbeing enjoyed throughout the African diaspora.

The African Heritage & Health ONE toolkit – which provides ideas for use all year round – is currently available to dietitians who sign up here. A few of the resources will be:

The African Heritage Grocery List and Kitchen Setup Guide: This double-sided resource helps shoppers at the grocery store and in their kitchens. Oldways’ African Heritage Grocery List gives a checklist of healthy African heritage staples to seek out at the supermarket, and the Kitchen Setup Guide gives a snapshot of the African heritage staples one might keep in their refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and countertop. 

The Leafy Greens Guide: The leafy greens of African heritage don’t end at collards. Turnip greens, dandelion greens, kale, chard, beet greens, arugula, endive, and more are all a major part of this historical diet. Oldways’ Leafy Greens Guide is a flavor guide to twelve different greens, categorized by salty, bitter, spicy, and hardy. Using depictive images, this guide gives cooking and eating suggestions for each category. 

In-Store Cooking Demo Recipe: Black-Eyed Pea Salad 

Also known as cowpeas, black-eyed peas have long been symbolic in African heritage culture and cuisine. The first domestication of black-eyed peas reportedly occurred in West Africa, and they were brought to America via Virginia in the 17th century. At New Years, black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten by African Americans to bring good fortune in the coming year. They are still enjoyed across the African diaspora. No cooking required with this recipe that brings crisp, bright flavors and heritage to any supermarket cooking demo. 

Information and messaging such as those above are all a part of Oldways’ African Heritage & Health programs, like its new online CPE Course for dietitians and cooking class series. This fall, Oldways piloted its new community cooking class series, "A Taste of African Heritage," in 15 locations throughout the country. Made possible through a grant by the Walmart Foundation, these classes invite participants to put the foods and preparations of the African Heritage Diet into practice in order to reclaim good health. The program, based around Oldways’ African Heritage Diet Pyramid, will expand in 2013.

For more information on participating in African Heritage & Health Week and all of Oldways’ African Heritage & Health programs, please contact Sarah Dwyer, Oldways program manager, 512-330-0111, sdwyer@oldwayspt.org.

Sarah Dwyer is a program manager of Oldways (www.oldwayspt.org), a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. Simply, we advocate for the healthful pleasures of real food. Oldways is the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.