Local Nonprofit Wins Grant to Push for a Fair Food System in DC

Joni Ponshcun with kale growing in the rooftop garden at Bread for the City

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC (March 11, 2012)—One more win for the food systems movement in DC when Bread for the City secured a grant from the Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States. Over the last two-plus years “I’m excited to announce Bread for the City is seeking a Coordinator for a group of organizations and individuals working to create a food policy council in DC,” stated Joni Ponschun, Advocacy Coordinator for the nonprofit.

So far several area nonprofits such as Healthy Solutions, Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, and  Common Good City Farm have participated in roundtable sessions to discuss the direction and goals of forming a food policy council and organizing a summit to engage area residents.

In an email to the DC Food for All listserv, Ponschun noted that the vision of the council is for a ‘nourishing community in which all Washington, DC residents can enjoy a nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate diet provided by a local, sustainable food system that fosters health, equity, interdependence, and self-reliance.’

“Moving forward in this new year, we will hold more community brainstorms, further strengthen our relationships, and establishing a web presence to connect with more people and increase transparency,” wrote Ponschun in the blog.

To gather community input, the nonprofit’s blog shares that have held eight sessions at ROC-DC, Rooting DCCapital Area Food Bank, Farmers Market Collaborative, ONE DC and the People’s Co-Op. In building support, Angie Stackhouse, the newest addition to the food systems issue has been added to reignite participation. Stackhouse, a former homeless resident, is passionate about communities securing food through creating gardens.

In 2005 under Mayor Anthony Williams, the Mayor’s Commission on Food and Nutrition was created to advise the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia on the policy, nature and extent of food and nutrition programs in the District of Columbia. The last published piece by the Commission was a report on food accessibility in the District of Columbia. Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: An Assessment and Scorecard of Community Food Security in the District of Columbia.

The food systems movement has grown quickly in other urban cities such as Oakland, Detroit, Kansas City, Tulsa, Portland, Seattle, and Brooklyn compared to Washington, DC. Perhaps with the recent grant new momentum will kick start the movement and open doors for new partnerships.

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association of the University of the District of Columbia. You  can follow her on Twitter @tambra.

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Food fit for a Queen


Vanessa Bell Calloway starring in 'Coming to America'

by Tambra Stevenson

Who doesn’t remember the scene in “Coming to America” when Oha sings ‘She is your Queen to be’ at the wedding of Prince Akeem (played by Eddie Murphy)? Like the Prince’s queen-to-be with the glowing radiant skin, you too can enhance your health and beauty with okra. Yes, okra!

In ancient Egyptian times, African queens even before Cleopatra ate okra, also known as lady fingers, to maintain their beautiful skin. Native to Africa, okra came to America during the Atlantic slave trade.

These globetrotting slippery pods have real health benefits. The smooth texture lubricates the intestines while its fiber prevents constipation. Also okra helps to detoxify chemicals in the liver and contains naturally occurring glutathione that supports the immune system.

Packed with iron and calcium, okra is also a good source of vitamin A and C. Okra’s vitamin C is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which curtail asthmatic symptoms.

In the American south, okra can be found in a bowl of New Orleans-style gumbo or simply fried in corn meal. Though a southern vegetable of choice, okra is enjoyed in east Indian dishes fried in a spice mix with onions and tomato or served in vegetable curries.

So for this National Nutrition Month, get your plate in shape by making half of it with vegetables and fruits. You can start with this recipe and treat yourself like a queen with a radiating dish of lady fingers and tomatoes.

RECIPE: Okra and Tomatoes

30 minutes total cooking time; 6 servings per recipe okra


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, minced
  • 1 pound frozen sliced okra (or fresh okra)
  • 1 (8 ounce) can of diced tomatoes with no added salt (or 3 fresh chopped tomatoes)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can stewed tomatoes with no added salt (or 6 fresh chopped tomatoes)


  1. Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste (or Braggs Liquid Aminos) Cover the bottom of a skillet with the olive oil and place over medium heat.
  1. Place the garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper in the skillet and stir until fragrant. Stir in the green pepper.
  2. Cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the frozen okra and allow to cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Stir in both the diced and the stewed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until all vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

Amount per serving: 66 Calories; 1.1g Total Fat; 0 mg Cholesterol; 312 mg Sodium; 13.1g Total Carbohydrates; Fiber 3.9g; 2.8g Protein

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. You can follow her on Twitter at @tambra.

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Local Group Kickoff National Nutrition Month

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC—In celebration of National Nutrition Month and Registered Dietitian Day, the DC Metro Area Dietetic Association, an affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Academy), will host an event at the IONA House in northwest Washington on March 14th at 6:30pm.

In the US Obesity Trends 2011 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention finds that poor nutrition is a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic in America with over 30 percent of US adults and about 17 percent of youth are obese. Locally the District of Columbia ranks in the top 10 states in America for high rates of childhood obesity according to the F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011 report.

That’s why the Academy  (formerly the American Dietetic Association) launches the annual nutrition educational campaign in March.  This year’s theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape” to encourage balanced nutritious meals.

In educating the public about the shift from the My Pyramid to the My Plate, the Academy and local groups like DCMADA and the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia host public outreach efforts to promote evidence-based nutrition information for people to improve their lives.

Like My Plate, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommend eating whole foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, seafood and low-fat dairy. And they also encourage reducing sodium, added sugars, trans fats, and refined grains. Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reviews and adopts the guidelines.

To attend the DCMADA event, register online at http://dcmadanutritionmonth2012.eventbrite.com/. To get more nutrition tips, visit National Nutrition Month‘s website. In addition this month, Academy members will be voting for a new President and Board. The deadline is this Saturday. Voting is online at http://www.eatright.org/elections/.

Program Agenda

Keynote Speaker

Jessica Donze Black, MPH, RD, Director, Kids Safe and Healthful Food Project – The Pew Charitable Trusts

“Setting Consumers’ Tables with MyPlate: The Critical Role of RDs”

Robert C. Post, Ph.D, M.Ed, M.Sc, Deputy Director of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and responsible for overseeing the planning, development, review and promotion of the new MyPlate consumer communications initiative

“What’s On Our Seniors’ Plates?”

Rose Clifford, RD, LD, MBA, Owner, Corn Hill Consulting LLC and nutrition consultant at IONA Senior Services

“Serving Farm-Fresh Food in Schools and Getting Kids to Eat It!”

Andrea Northup, Director of the DC Farm to School Network and advocate for getting healthy, local foods and food education into DC schools.

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. Follow her on Twitter at @tambra.

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Trail Begins at USDA in Search of African Foods

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC—In the quest for answers about the absence of the nutrient analysis of African foods in the United States, a visit to the Beltsville [Maryland] Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC) of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) becomes the first step.

The Student Dietetic Association (SDA) of the University of the District of Columbia takes a tour of the facilities and hears presentations by senior scientists. During the meeting, SDA President Tambra Stevenson raises the question about including African food composition to the U.S. nutrient databases to Pamela Pehrsson, PhD, USDA nutritionist who works on these databases at ARS.

Dr. Pehrsson states that one food sample costs $2,000 and a minimum of 12 samples per food item is conducted. She further states that nutrient analysis is planned around the season and crops are gathered from various states in different climates.

As part of the BHNRC, researchers like Perhrsson work                                                 within the three ARS laboratories:  the ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory, the ARS Food Composition and Methods Laboratory, and the ARS Food Surveys Research Group. These labs develop methods and obtain food-composition data and dietary-intake survey results for public use.

Like Pehrsson who declares the importance of capturing nutrient analysis of traditional foods in Alaskan communities more than five years ago, Stevenson states, “As a future registered dietitian working with foreign-born African and Caribbean communities, the inclusion of their traditional foods in the database can help to develop culturally-based dietary therapies for people with diabetes and other health problems.”

To reinforce this point the foreign-born African population has been a growing population in the United States according to the Brookings Institution.

Stevenson inquires if it’s possible to use the International Network of Food Data Systems (INFOODS) to include African and Caribbean foods into the U.S. nutrient databases.

Since 1990, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations coordinates efforts to improve the quality and worldwide availability of food analysis data and to ensure that anyone anywhere would be able to obtain adequate and reliable food composition data. Within INFOODS, the AFROFOODS section continues to face capacity building as its main issue to develop an Africa-wide food composition database. Currently some African countries use existing food composition tables from developed countries which may have little analysis of tradition African foods.

“Because discretionary funding is shrinking, we must collaborate with industry and universities,” states Joseph Urban, PhD, research leader for USDA Diet, Genomics and Immunology. Partnerships include Tufts University, Nestle and DMI to name a few.

”There are several roles that the food industry, government agencies and universities can play in updating and maintaining this valuable data bank,” Kathleen C. Ellwood, Ph.D., former USDA National Program staff, shares at the 23rd National Nutrient Data Conference more than a decade ago.

“Those roles include providing verifiable information about new food products, providing food samples for analysis, conducting sample analysis, providing data, and direct funding.” She goes on to state that the current funding for the Nutrient Data Laboratory is insufficient to meet the challenge of acquiring new data to reflect changes in the food supply and to continuously update existing data. Therefore, it is imperative that the National Nutrient Data Bank is supported by its numerous partners.

Dr. Urban shares how to advocate for adding new items to the USDA research agenda. “This is the right time to contact the USDA human nutrition program leaders, David Kurfeld and John Finley because the Office of Scientific Quality Review will be reviewing programs to include by year 2013 for the revised 5-year nutrition plan.”

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. Follow her on Twitter at @tambra.
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The Tracks Stop in Africa: Advocating for a Diverse Food Tracker for All

USDA launches tool to track nutrition and activity

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC—“Where are the African, Caribbean and even Kosher foods on this list?” Tambra Stevenson, a nutrition educator, inquires to Constance Schneider, Ph.D., R.D., lead for the Food Substitution Project. In the colorful handouts on the table, Chinese and Hispanic foods are on the list of ethnic foods. Schneider of University of California-Davis shares the food tracker with the room of nutrition program coordinators and state leaders. The food tracker is handy tool for people to assess their nutrient intake of their daily meals.

However if you eat African or Caribbean foods, you may not find those foods. With educating the nutrition community, that can change. During the committee update on Thursday at the National Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Conference in Washington, DC, the project lead states ‘African American’ foods are on the list. However Stevenson, a conference participant, emphasizes: ‘African foods. There is a difference.’ After the round table, one west African participant thanks Stevenson for raising the issue.

In an email to Schneider, Stevenson states, “Given the growing and prominent population size of foreign-born Africans and Caribbean [population] particularly on the East Coast, having readily available user-friendly nutrition information is key in addressing the public’s health. Furthermore many people in the area who are not African or Caribbean descent consume these foods. Therefore I find it relevant and pertinent that these foods are included within the Food Tracker and ethnic food database.”

She goes on to state: “To assist in this effort, an ethnic crop specialist focused on West African foods at the University of the District of Columbia can provide a list of ethnic produce. Also as there are international food databases through the UN which capture this data as well.”

The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion within the United States Department of Agriculture is the lead agency to craft the Super Tracker. The newly created site empowers people to build a healthier diet based on personal preferences that also meet nutrient needs and stay within their Calorie allowance.  The online interactive tool pulls nutrient information from the USDA national nutrient database.

How do I add a new food to the Foods Database?

The new foods database in CRS5 comes from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s (CNPP) MyPyramid Foods Database. CNPP will be continually updating the food list and associated databases in the MyPyramid Tracker and welcomes your contributions of new foods. If you are unable to find a food in the MyPyramid Tracker and are interested in adding the food to the food and nutrient databases please compile the following information:

  • Food descriptor
  • Nutrients (visit the USDA National Nutrient Database for the required format and the current food listing)
  • Recipe
  • Moisture loss or gain due to cooking or preparation Pyramid serving equivalent

Once you have complete information for each of the items above, send a message to the NEERS5 Help Desk and request instructions for submission. 

Currently if someone can’t find certain foods in the Tracker, then a person can compile the nutrient information to send to USDA. That course of action isn’e t feasible for many with the time constraints and learning curve. And that’s why one EFNEP conference participant chose to become a USDA visiting scholar for two weeks to travel to USDA labs in Beltsville, MD to work on ethnic food databases. With the enormity of the project, that mission was not accomplished.

Tambra Raye Stevenson, MS is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. You can reach her on twitter.com/tambra or at tambra.stevenson@alumni.tufts.edu.

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Student group prepares for campus-wide nutrition programs

by Tambra Stevenson

Members share their culinary skills for a heart healthy cause

WASHINGTON, DC—Students snack on scrumptious crème-filled strawberries and oatmeal cookies—a sampling of culinary creations prepared by the Culinary Crew part of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. Housed within the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences, SDA hosts this month’s Lunch and Learn with a focus on heart health in celebrating Valentine’s Day. As part of its outreach efforts, SDA posts their program flyers with healthy tips to protect heart health. This month’s flyers shares 14 ways to show yourself some love:

  1. Learn proper portion size.
  2. Vary your meals. Do something different today!
  3. Eat a nourishing breakfast – whole grain, raw nuts, fruits.
  4. Keep healthy snacks around – veggies, whole fruits, raw nuts.
  5. Don’t fight stress by eating. Journal, walk or talk it out.
  6. Drink plenty of fresh water. Reduce plastics.
  7. Limit sugary & caffeinated beverages – soda, juice & coffee.
  8. Try to eat fruits and veggies.
  9. Limit junk food – candy bars, chips, & cookies.
  10. Make it easy to eat right. Prepare, Plan & Prevent.
  11. Don’t skip meals. Keep balanced daily energy.
  12. Indulge every once in a while.
  13.  Take your vitamins and minerals.
  14. Get help for eating disorders.

Because of its public relations outreach efforts, SDA continues to increase its membership and participation exponentially over the past year. “We want more students to know that careers in nutrition and dietetics are rewarding personally and professionally,” said Seanita Terry, SDA member. “This moment is the best time to launch a career in nutrition, given the need to improve the health of our future—the children.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Open to members and the wider campus community, military veterans-turned-nutrition students representing the Navy and Marine Corps. During the meeting they express their interests in pursuing a career in dietetics. For one member she looks forward to the programming and meeting more new visitors. . In preparing for the Spring semester, SDA member set their program activities which include educating the campus community on careers in nutrition and food issues. “The Lunch and Learn is a great first meeting for the semester,” says Regina Robinson, SDA member and Vice President of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Relates Sciences.  “It is nice to get to meet new faces of SDA. I look forward to visiting the USDA nutrition labs, the Symposium on Food & Behavior and the Food and Film Festival.”

Providing an overview of the Spring 2012 calendar, the program line-up included campus and community events:

  • February 24 @ 10am: Field Trip to the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, MD
  • March 13 @ 3pm: SDA’s Food Film Fest in CAUSES, Building 44, Room A03
  • March 14 @ 6pm: DCMADA’s event at IONA House, 4125 Albemarle Street, Washington, DC 20016
  • April TBD: Symposium on Food and Behavior in CAUSES, Building 44, Room A03
  • April TBD: SDA Leadership Awards Ceremony in CAUSES, Building 44, Room A03
  • May 17 @ 9am: Agricultural Fair for DC Public Schools, Beltsville, MD

During National Nutrition Month, SDA has ongoing projects such as a global seasonal cookbook and a campus-based grassroots campaign to promote careers in nutrition. This year’s theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape,” which more information is available at http://www.eatright.org/nnm.

Members plan programs for the Spring 2012

The Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia is a professional student organization working to enhance leadership/professional development opportunities and networking relationships between faculty, staff, local professional organizations, and the dietetic student body. They assist graduating seniors into rewarding internships, graduate degree programs and successful careers within the nutrition and dietetics profession. Dedicated to upholding the legacy of the dietetics profession, SDA is leading a new generation into becoming true professionals in action. The SDA’s Facebook page is www.facebook.com/eatrightUDC.

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia where she is refreshing her media skills by taking a web journalism course. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Tambra or email her at tambra.stevenson@alumni.tufts.edu.

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Forum discusses local food justice and growing your own food

Want to get dirty in the District? Then the place to be is at Rooting DC.

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the District’s largest annual gathering of urban food advocates, plant lovers and meal healers, Rooting DC has become a staple fixture in all things urban gardening locally. Marking its 5th anniversary, the DC’s Field to Fork Network hosts its free public educational event this Saturday at Calvin Coolidge High School.

Participants can attend interactive workshops, cooking and food preservation demos, and the information fair. Plus a panel discussion focuses on food justice and gardens in schools and the community.

Workshop presenters include culinary historian Michael W. Twitty, a devotee in preserving African American food traditions as well as ethnic crop specialist Yao Afantchao from the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences.

“Every year I am excited to join this caring community of food and eco-activists,” says nutrition educator Tambra Stevenson, who is doing a cooking demo with herbs and speaking about their health benefits at 10:45am in the cafeteria.

Creating self-sufficiency like in the era of victory gardens and home economics, Rooting DC empowers the community members with information and resources to grow, preserve, and prepare their own food.

“Concerns about access to healthy food, limiting our environmental impact, and supporting local economies are coming together to create a powerful new interest in growing your own food here in the District,” says event organizer, Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative.

The Network is made of the local area groups addressing issues across the food system pipeline from community gardening, food preparation to nutritional outreach.

Showing partnerships in action, Rooting DC teamed up with the Coolidge High School Alumni Association to restore the greenhouse at their school.

The 5th annual Rooting DC Forum runs from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 18 at

Coolidge High School, located at 6315 5th St., NW. Participants register online at http://www.rootingdc.org or call (202) 638-1649.

DC Food Justice Workshop Picks


  • Cooking Today with Tambra Raye: Healing with Herbs (Cafeteria)                                                                                                                                                                                                          

In this workshop, look no further than your yard for creating healing meals and drinks for stress and anxiety. We’ll taste and explore easy-to-grow garden herbs that can easily be transformed into delicious teas and dishes. You’ll want to add them to your garden this spring!  Bring your note pad, your taste buds and your appetite to this healing with herbs demonstration-class. You will sample all of the recipes that will be prepared.

  • Ethnic Foods in Washington, DC: The impact on immigrant and indigenous Populations(Classroom B116)                                                                                                                       

A farmer from Togo now living in America, Yao Afantchao will share insight and experience in west African and specialty food crops. He started this program at the Small Farm Institute, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. Now he serves as an Extension Educator managing ethnic gardens throughout the District with the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) at the University of the District of Columbia.

  • DC Area Historic Heirlooms: Growing and Eating and Healing With History (Classroom B111)                                                                                                                                                 

Join culinary historian Michael W. Twitty for a presentation on local and regional heirloom varieties including those important to African American and other ethnic culinary and medicinal traditions. As a recognized culinary historian of African American food and folk culture,  he writes about preservation of historic African American foods and food and its relationship to cultures of African descent around the world of www.afroculinaria.com.  He has conducted classes and workshops, written curricula and educational programs, given lectures and performed cooking demonstrations for over 100 groups including the Smithsonian, Colonial Williamsburg, Jefferson’s Monticello, Library of Congress, and the Oxford University Symposium on Food and Cookery.  His other blog is www.thecookinggene.com, a project tracing his family history along with the story of African American foodways.

Mandela’s cookbook has an extra ingredient—sweet justice

Personal Chef shares how she bonded a nation’s family together with food

WASHINGTON, DC—On Friday Busboys and Poets prepared a distinct dish—umsila wenkomo (oxtail stew)—from the prized cookbook,”Ukutya Kwasekhaya [home cooking] – Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen,” by his personal chef, Xoliswa Ndiyiya. The cookbook shared 62 recipes enjoyed by former South African president Mandela’s family.

Hosting the special event, Andy Shallal, proprietor of Busboys, provided opening remarks. Special guests included Ebrahim Rasool, South African Ambassador to the US and Mandela’s daughter, Zindziswa (Zindzi) Mandela-Hlongwane who was 18 months old when her father was sent to Robben Island.

Busboys Owner Andy Shallal, Tambra Stevenson, and South African Ambassador Rasool

Marking the centennial of the African National Congress in South Africa, Ambassador Rasool gave thanks and started the dialogue for the first-ever Global African Diaspora Summit this May in South Africa.

”Twenty-two years ago South Africans struggled, marched and died for Mandela’s release from prison,” said Ambassador Rasool, “Apartheid wasn’t just a separation of people but also food. If you were a Black prisoner, you weren’t allowed to eat white bread.”

Retold in his memoir, “A Long Walk to Freedom” Mandela noted how racism impacted food choices. The problem of color existed in the sugar and bread: white prisoners had white sugar and white bread, colored and black prisoners’ brown sugar and black bread.” Ironically whole wheat bread was more nutritious than the white bread sold on the black market during Apartheid.

Ambassador Rasool looks on as Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane autographs her father's picture.

On stage Ndiyiya recalled her time with Mandela:  “He gave me the job in two seconds.” Fondly named ‘Dada’ he asked, ‘Tell me that you can cook our home food.’ Without delay, she said, “I can.”  One time US President Bill Clinton said to Mandela: ‘I will steal her from you.’ And he replied, ‘Not in your dreams.’ She was thankful that she contributed to his life. After the event, Mandela’s daughter autographed her father’s portrait in the Langston room.

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia where she is refreshing her media skills by taking a web journalism course. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Tambra or email her at tambra.stevenson@alumni.tufts.edu.

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Classes teach food freedom using coaches, chefs and prayer

New Samaritan's Carla Bowens, PhD presents certificates to Food for the Soul partipants

by Tambra R. Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC—“There are two types of meals: healers and killers,” said nutrition educator Tambra Stevenson during the pilot program called “Food for the Soul” launched at New Samaritan Baptist Church in northeast Washington, DC.

The nutrition class is part of an 8-week faith-based nutrition education program offered through the University of the District of Columbia’s Center for Nutrition, Diet and Health.

Chefs prepare dishes and drinks such as kale smoothies and waldorf salad swapping the mayo for a gut-friendly yogurt.

“If you shop, eat, drink, and create a meal more like Jesus, then you may see a divine change happening with your health,” Stevenson added.

Participants begin the class writing their nutrition goals to God and sharing them with the group. In one letter to God, a participant shared her struggle with diabetes. “I love junk food, and I know I need to eat healthy, but it is hard to have the will power to say ‘no!” I’m not where I want to be yet with my eating habits but I’m trying every day and I know with you by my side all things are possible”

In her gratitude for the program, she states, “I’m very grateful that UDC has partnered with New Samaritan.”

“Food for the Soul has helped me to realize that what I eat is very essential to my well-being and health. The thing that I changed about my eating habit is that to serve God is to serve in every aspect of my life,” shared another participant.

After 8 sessions at New Samaritan with coaches, chefs and the nutrition educator, participants lost a total of nearly 300 pounds, dropped blood pressure levels and cholesterol level. “That’s the power of faith and works! They had the willpower to change, the support and knowledge,”  said Stevenson.

The program wrapped up with a cooking competition with cash prizes for the winners. The winning recipe was southwest-inspired chicken salad using greens and a yogurt dressing.

CNDH is part of Cooperative Extension Services, which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support family nutrition programs such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.  With a staff of nutritionists, chefs and paraprofessionals, District residents have free nutrition education in the community.

Stevenson is also a student working on becoming a Registered Dietitian who is taking the program to her parish—St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church in southeast Washington, DC.  “I have seen the difference faith makes in freeing people from junk food and coming home to God’s bounty,” she said.

All Food for the Soul classes are free. Participants receive a certificate for completing the program, recipes, and a bag of helpful gadgets from meat thermometers, measuring cups to a nutrition booklet. Chartered Health Plan and Health Watch were additional partners in the program.

Tambra Raye Stevenson, MS is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. You can reach her on twitter.com/tambra or at tambra.stevenson@alumni.tufts.edu.

The Healer’s Journey: From Food to Freedom

by Tambra R. Stevenson

“I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves,” powerful words spoken by the late Harriet Tubman, a conductor of the Underground Railroad, fondly referred to as Black Moses. Just minutes away from me in Anacostia is the home of Frederick Douglass—a former slave and abolitionist—who was visited by Harriet several times bringing African slaves seeking freedom.

In many ways the spirit of dear Harriet lies within me as I pursue becoming a registered dietitian. For me food is freedom as I see children eating junk food and their parents’ bodies burdened by excess weight and minds filled with stress. During slavery, soul food was cheap food undesired by the plantation owner providing enough energy to do a day’s work. Making a way out of no way, enslaved African women working and living on plantations, they transformed meager portions into healing meals. The key ingredients were not salt pork and spices but faith, creativity and love.

My path into nutrition began as a young girl growing up in Oklahoma with a desire to heal my mother. Feeling like I failed in pursuing a health professional career, instead I went into public service. Yet after experiencing the sudden loss of my father who shared the love of food and gardening herbs like me; my path came back home to my first love—nutrition.

So far I have been on the journey educating children and families in preschools, child care centers and most of all—at the farmer’s markets in Ward 7 and 8. Recently I recruited an African American dietitian to the diversity recruitment coordinator position within the DC Metro Area Dietetic Association. On campus, my class project addresses increasing underrepresented minorities in the dietetic profession. At St. Teresa of Avila, I am educating parishioners on good nutrition and preparing healthy Sunday meals through the health ministry. In my own way I am making a difference in the field and in my community.

By faith Harriet took people to the Promise Land. And the holy trinity of faith, food and family guides me. The kitchen—today’s promise land—becomes a healing space for families to create meals that heal and not kill themselves or their children. Creating a social climate that encourages family bonds through cooking and eating at home is critical.

However due to limited time, lack of desire to clean and relying on take out and partners to cook,  28% of Americans  don’t know how to cook according to a new survey published in the Tufts Health and Nutrition Newsletter. Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, comments, “The results of this survey highlight what we have known for some time: the importance to incorporating food preparation and purchasing skills into the school curriculum.”

Dietetic professionals are on the frontline of tackling poor lifestyle and bad eating habits. We need more ‘Harriets’ to lead a new path to freeing the minds and bodies from the rising rates of childhood obesity and diet-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension through good nutrition. Raquel Carter, RD who serves as the diversity recruitment coordinator for DCMADA shares that ‘we must also strive to incorporate more cultural diversity within the profession in order to better serve the needs of our clients and patients, especially patients of color.’

According to the 2011 American Dietetic Association (now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) survey nationally there are 3% African American registered dietitians compared to 83% white; 5% are Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander; and 3% are Hispanic. The lack of diversity is partly due to a lack of awareness, diversity, and training support this gap has occurred as reported by 2008 published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Not reflective of the Washington, DC’s population is 55.6% black, 36.3% white, 8.3% Hispanic (of any race), 5% other (including Native Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders), 3.1% Asian, and 1.6% mixed. Furthermore the greater Washington region has a rising growth of a foreign-born African population (mostly from West and East regions) of 11% of all foreign-born.

It’s been shown that minority health professionals are more likely to serve minority communities. Therefore if we wish to reverse the poor health trends in communities like East of the River, we must train more minorities to pursue careers in nutrition and dietetics.
“There seems to be cultural and racial disparities regarding these issues in that access to nutrition services is not equally available to all individuals,” says Raquel Carter, RD. “I believe that patients of color do wish to see diversity in the dietetic profession.”

The Farmer’s Markets are a place of healing with local and fresh produce. That’s where I provide recipes and tastings infused with African culture while promoting the farmers’ crops.  It’s my way of reintroducing the lost African heritage into the African American diet while sharing a passion for good nutrition, because food brings people together.

Like minority medical recruitment initiatives, the dietetics field can develop summer enrichment programs, improve existing mentorship programs, and increase scholarships to attract college students to become registered dietitians especially if medical school doesn’t work. Because an ounce of prevention through good nutrition education by a culturally diverse, compassionate dietetic workforce will save health care costs for the family and the nation.

A culturally diverse team of dietitians becomes valuable especially in knowing different languages. “Diversity makes life easier. You can read all you want but having the real life experience is better in working with patients,” Robin Brannon, MS, RD, CSO, clinical nutrition manager at George Washington University Hospital.

In raising a new crop of registered dietitians, academic programs in dietetics such as the University of the District of Columbia are training students to meet the cultural and international needs of Washington, D.C. Students in the program speak several languages and represent countries like Nigeria, Jamaica, Angola, Argentina, Canada, Vietnam, and France to name a few.

Tsedal Ashby, a junior in the UDC’s nutrition program, stated her “culture adds value” because it’s diverse and gives her the ability to work with people from all walks of life. Also the dietetics field needs additional educational resources to train dietitians to encourage clients to keep their culture intact in the diets while improving their health.

UDC nutrition graduates go on to work for community nutrition programs like WIC and in hospitals with high percentages of minority patients.  Dr. B. Michelle Harris, PhD, MPH, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition at UDC shares the program “provides students with the opportunity in the field working diverse clientele through class projects and volunteerism.”

With more ‘Harriets’ in the community, the journey to freedom through good nutrition is possible. Will you support the journey?

Tambra Raye Stevenson, MS is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. You can reach her on twitter.com/tambra or at tambra.stevenson@alumni.tufts.edu.



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