A cooking program promotes African culinary heritage in the U.S.
By Ed Arthur
Coinciding with Black History Month, non-profit organization Oldways is poised to expand A Taste of African Heritage, a cooking program that promotes African American culinary culture from a healthy perspective.
Since its establishment in 1990, Oldways’ mission has been to introduce American communities to wholesome culinary traditions from around the world, including Africa: “The ‘A Taste of African Heritage’ program focuses on cooking classes that showcase the rich and healthy roots of African culture and traditional cuisine ,” explains Oldways president Sara Baer-Sinnott. By referring to the “African Heritage Food Pyramid,”a nutritional model based on foods from the continent’s cultural diet, A Taste of African Heritage teaches its participants how to indulge in traditional African cuisine without compromising their health.
Because African American cuisine, or soul food, is often stigmatized for being rich in cholesterol and fats, A Taste of African Heritage seeks to render it wholesome without stripping away its cultural roots: “The goal is to help address health issues related to African Americans who are at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity by celebrating African American culinary heritage,” comments Baer-Sinnott. The program encourages its participants to employ an approach to traditional African gastronomy that involves more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Oldways’ decision to expand A Taste of African Heritage is partly due to the program’s initial success.
A Taste of African Heritage was launched in July 2013—a feat that was catalyzed by economic aid from the Walmart foundation. The culinary program made its debut in 50 locations nationwide. By 2014, as it grew increasingly popular, A Taste of African Heritage had coordinated as many as 100 classes across the county, attracting approximately 1,000 participants in the process.
A Taste of African Heritage‘s success is assessed by examining its participants’ health upon joining and leaving the program. When A Taste of African Heritage concluded its 2014 season, health examinations determined that its participants underwent weight loss and reduced blood pressure, a testament to the program’s effectiveness. Nutritionists have attributed the participants’ ameliorated health to increased vegetable consumption and increased home cooking. After making such an early impact, Oldways is now set to reach even more communities across the nation.
As it prepares for expansion in 2015, A Taste of African Heritage will continue to recruit various professionals to meet its every objective. To attend to the health of all participants, the culinary program is now working with more dieticians, nurses, physicians and healthcare professionals than it has ever had. A Taste of African Heritage is also recruiting a number of faith-based leaders to ensure that its participants receive proper spiritual guidance.
Amidst all its recent modifications, A Taste of African Heritage plans to retain its original format. The program still plans to offer six classes each one hour and forty-minutes long over the course of six weeks. Each class will teach two to three new recipes while encouraging its students to interact over some of Africa’s tastiest and healthiest cuisine.