“Diabetes is not part of your heritage. Neither is heart disease. What is in your heritage is a healthy heart, strong body, extraordinary energy, vibrant and delicious foods, and a long, healthy life.”
-OldWays, African Heritage Diet.
Our nutrition educator, herbalist, and community activist, Ayo Ngozi has been teaching the wellness program, A Taste of African Heritage, here in Savannah beginning on June 22nd. This program is brought to you by Old Ways and is designed to teach people how to eat and cook healthfully, traditionally, and enjoyably through hands-on experience.1 The class takes place every Thursday over a period of six weeks and covers a specific food group each week from the African Heritage Diet Pyramid. Participants of the program meet at the Bah’ai Unity Center and are engaged in discussions, cooking lessons, and time for eating and reflection.
The outline of the class is as follows:
Week/Lesson 1: Traditional Herbs and Spices
Week/Lesson 2: Greens
Week/Lesson 3: Whole Grains
Week/Lesson 4: Beans and Rice
Week/Lesson 5: Tubers and Stews
Week/Lesson 6: Fruits and Vegetables
From the Food Guide Pyramid (1992-2005), to MyPyramid (2005-2011), and now – to MyPlate, the USDA has gone through many graphical representations in attempt to help people better understand how to eat healthily. The opinions surrounding these graphs are certainly not few and far between, to say the least. But that’s to be expected with an attempt to standardize and simplify something so complex, variable, and culturally dependent — our diets.
A Taste of African Heritage introduces to us a food pyramid which intimately connects culture and food – in a way that can add value to our lives, deepen our connection with our food, and strengthen social connections. This diet specifically places an emphasis on eating like our ancestors – because we are evolutionarily adapted to an environment quite unlike the one we live in today.
The modern American diet has been shaped, to a great extent, by the industrial food system. At its core, the food system promotes standardization of inputs to maximize efficiency and market success. We have become highly specialized in producing commodity crops (corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, etc.) – and as a result, we have experienced a great loss in biological diversity and cultural diversity. This can be exemplified in the simple fact that there are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food.2 Our industrial food system has – in a way, created its own culture around cheap, convenient, delicious food – while disregarding the cultural identity and health of its consumers. The modern American diet has contributed to one of the most serious public health concerns. More than 64 million Americans have one or more types of cardiovascular disease, which represents the leading cause of mortality (38.5% of all deaths) in the United States.3 Fifty million Americans are hypertensive; 11 million have type 2 diabetes, and 37 million adults maintain high-risk total cholesterol concentrations (>240 mg/dL)3
As a society, we have done a great deal of damage to our health. Profound changes have occurred in our diets over time; from the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry to the use of genetically modified foods. The interaction of the environment, genes, gene expression and the relation to food and disease is a whole mess of complicated. There is not easy explanation for the prevalence of chronic disease in our country. But there is an increasing awareness that a disease does not arise from one single dietary element (say for example, saturated fat). It is the interaction of nutritional factors directly linked to excessive consumption of novel Neolithic and Industrial era foods (dairy products, cereals, refined cereals, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, fatty meats, salts, etc.) — our environment has changed too fast on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to adjust.3 And paradoxically, food has become a poison in our Westernized diet. Simply put, we must get back to our roots. And that is what Oldways is about, at it’s core — our cultural roots.
If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor for this program to see it continue beyond the allotted six weeks – e-mail Ayo at firstname.lastname@example.org