Eating to Live: Food, sustainability and celebration in the Black community

by Megan Kirk

Gathering around the table for family dinner is a customary practice across many races and nationalities. However, in the African American community, food and celebration go hand-in-hand. Throughout generations, beginning with Sunday dinner, Black families have used food as an opportunity to spend time together and have a meaningful conversations over a good meal.

Creating memories of familiar smells and matriarchs, recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. Referenced in films such as “Soul Food,” large meals of various Southern cuisines are seen as crowd favorites and cost-effective in feeding large numbers in times of heartache and festivity.

 

Theophilus Williams

is part owner of Full Course Catering. Alongside wife Dominique, Williams has served families and events since 2014. For him, certain foods create a sense of nostalgia.

“It brings back those good memories. The older we get, especially throughout generations, it brings back aunties and mothers,” Williams says

Affectionately known as “soul food,” Southern dishes such as fried chicken, greens and macaroni and cheese, are a staple on urban tables. Full Course Catering takes those traditional dishes and recreates them with a twist for their customers and their special events.

“We cater to whatever the client wants. We’ve taken the average recipe for African Americans and shook it up,” Williams says.

In previous generations, to curb the need for access to fresh produce, elders planted small gardens in their yards for personal use. Today, access to fresh produce has become increasingly difficult for urban communities. For Williams, gardening and tilling the land is a system he keeps alive.

“This is putting us back to when grandma has collard greens growing in the backyard,” Williams reminisces. “We’ve gotten away from that and a lot of kids don’t know how to grow.”

Through growing fresh herbs and vegetables in a small personal garden, the catering couple uses it for themselves and their clients.

“We have to utilize natural gardens. In my backyard I have some fresh herbs, okra, a few stalks of corn, tomatoes, and basil,” Williams says.

Although food is seen as a sense of comfort and celebration within the Black community, it is also seen as unhealthy. As poor diets can lead to various health issues, most Southern meals are cooked with ingredients full of fat and grease.

Ruchelle “Chelly” Jackson

Ruchelle “Chelly” Jackson is a functional medicine nutritionist, holistic health practitioner and a raw and vegan chef. In working with the community, Jackson has been able to see first-hand the effects of unhealthy nutrition.

“Our community, for the most part, has a very unhealthy diet. As humans, we depend on so much variety in our diet to feed our ever-growing appetite, and we’re never satisfied,” Jackson says.

According to Jackson, using food to celebrate and come together is often the source of another major health problem: overeating.

“When we are congregating and celebrating, we tend to eat more because we aren’t paying attention to what we’re consuming,” she states.

Comparing humans to trees and plants, Jackson believes humans should consume the proper foods in order to sustain their health.

“We could learn a lot from nature. Besides obesity, diets can create high blood pressure, cancers, diabetes and digestive issues,” Jackson continues.

According to a 2018 study by JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, the Southern diet plays a major role in the disparity in hypertension between Black and white populations. African American participants accounted for 46 percent of high blood pressure cases while white participants made up 33 percent.

Factors such as poverty and access to food make healthy eating habits harder for Black families. Research from Feeding America states that Black families face hunger issues twice as much as white families. Having to make their dollar stretch, Black families are limited on food options. As inner-city grocery stores have less access to fresh produce, the cost of healthier options is significantly higher in urban neighborhoods.

“It’s unfortunate in our community [that] we have to pay more to eat healthy,” Jackson notes.

Thanks to the power of the internet, families can research healthier options and create nutritious meals for their families to aid in better health.

“Now that we’re in the day and age of technology and growth, let’s break the generational curse of hypertension and diabetes,” Williams says.

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