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More Staff, Resources Needed at UDC Nutrition Program

This week DC City Council heard day-long testimonies from the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). University president Allen Sessoms and Joseph L. Askew, Jr., UDC Chair of the Board of Trustees, made their case for additional operating budget dollars before the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development.  Chaired by Councilmember-at-large Michael A. Brown, the hearing included councilmember Marion Barry of Ward 8.

With potential funding looming this summer UDC aims to climb the top of the priority list. One group within the UDC enclave is the nutrition program housed within the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences. Advocating for more staff and improved facilities, Tambra Stevenson, the outgoing president of the Student Dietetic Association, provided the committee with her remarks sparking interests from Councilmember Barry. As a workforce development opportunity she added the need for a dietetic internship at the University to ensure that the students gain supervisory experience to become Registered Dietitians given today’s job requirements.

Apparently the long-time local politician wasn’t aware of the state of the nutrition program until now. He went on to inquire about the funding needs of the program since the current Mayoral budget has 0 full-time equivalents (FTE) listed. Stevenson stated to the Councilmember: “Conservatively the Department needs at least a million to fund three full-time positions and renovate educational facilities.”

To take a view of Stevenson’s testimony, see below:

Currently I am the outgoing President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia that I call ‘family.’

Like my Oklahoma roots—as a UDC family—we work hard together, struggle together; but ultimately still we rise together.

If it wasn’t for UDC, my goal to become a Registered Dietitian would not be possible. Due to passionate faculty, dedicated staff and supportive peers, I have been learning and doing my passion.

Right now the acceptance rate for a dietetic internship to prepare for the RD exam is 49% nationally; yet for UDC it was 100% this year.  As a testament, I received my number #1 choice Virginia Tech—because UDC prepared me.  And it rightfully should have its own program like most universities. Therefore Council I ask you to increase our funding.

Increase in Opportunities in the Field of Nutrition and Dietetics                                                                                                     

Even in a rough economy, we have been able to still rise.  The UDC Nutrition Department had a 300% spike in enrollment since 04. With DC ranking in the top 10 for childhood obesity, DC residents have been answering the call of First Lady Obama.

And in many ways I am like my late father, an Oklahoma City firefighter. But I am a food fighter on the frontline fighting a fractured food and healthcare system for the next generation to have a better life.

With most of America, the District has rightfully focused on food access like in my Ward 8. Yet for residents in the TANF and SNAP programs, making informed food buying and eating choices maximizes those public dollars.

And that’s why through the UDC Center for Nutrition Diet and Health, I am empowering residents to prepare healthy meals and to double their dollars at the farmer’s market.

Another reason to support our UDC family: It’s the only land-grant accredited and affordable academic program in DC to prepare future RDs like me.

The road has been challenging though with no admin support and only 3 FTE faculty for 80 students. How is this possible? Passion for family!

Our Department Chair, Dr. Prema Ganganna does the work of 3 FTEs with no salary increase in 5 years while losing her son and battling cancer.  And our facilities are that of an elementary home economics lab with outdated equipment and confining space.

Still through all of this, UDC nutrition rises because of professionals like Dr. G.  Without her there would be no program.

And like a family our Nutrition Advisory Committee has supported students with service-learning opportunities in DC Public Schools, DC Cooperative Extension Services, and WIC clinics to name a few.

Funding the Future Food Fighters                                                                                                                                   

It’s difficult training future RDs like me with limited funding. That is why we are here today to urge you to fund the Department for a state-of-the-art learning lab and 2 FTEs to operate our first-ever dietetic internship.

Your decision will determine if we continue to struggle together or rise together. Dear Council, what are we going to do together?

Take Action! In supporting a strong nutrition program for the District, supporters should email a letter this week to Councilmember Barry and to Chairman Brown.  Here is a sample letter to personalize: 

Contact Information for the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development that oversees the University:

Councilmember-at-Large Vincent Orange

Office: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20004

Tel: (202) 724-8174 

Email: vorange@dccouncil.us


Councilmember Phil Mendelson

Office: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 402, Washington, DC 20004

Tel: (202) 724-8064

Email: pmendelson@dccouncil.us

Councilmember-at-Large Michael A. Brown

Office: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 406, NW

Tel: (202) 724-8105

Email: mbrown@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Marion Barry 

Office: 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 102, Washington, DC 20004

Tel: (202) 724-8045

Email: mbarry@dccouncil.us


April 26, 2012

Councilmember Michael Brown

Committee on Housing and Workforce Development

1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Suite 406

Washington, DC 20004

Dear Councilmember  [Name]

Please take action to ensure a funding commitment beyond 2012 for the UDC Department of Nutrition and Food Science!

I am a student of the UDC nutrition program. [State your work, occupation or relationship to UDC, Personalize to your story]

Over the years, District youth have become an unlikely statistic—the top ten in childhood obesity. In fact, over the few decades, access to healthy foods along with nutrition counseling and education has been bleak in communities like Mt. Pleasant and East of the River.

Why does it matter? Obesity has become the gateway to diabetes, heart disease and hypertension like a domino effect.  At this rate today’s youth will become tomorrow’s early candidates for disability and underproductive workforce! The soft savings achieved in prevention is clear from that perspective. So are we going backwards or forwards, Council? A Baltimore Sun article noted that are youth are becoming obese and malnourished. Meaning they have access to food but not eating nutritious foods.

Through the years, so little has been spent on community nutrition for District residents; yet is the cornerstone to prevention. Really! How else can you explain the epidemic of chronic disease plaguing women, men and children—who suffer from diet-related diseases and think the solution is in a pill? Proper nutritional support and access to healthy foods work together; yet the connection between food and health gets overlooked along with recognizing the role of registered dietitians daily.

It has taken until 2010, to get a master’s nutrition program off the ground at UDC training students in nutrition policy, research and communication. With Howard University downsizing its nutrition program, UDC stands in the lead to train and empower residents on a critical topic—nutrition as medicine and as prevention. Together UDC nutrition faculty and students work diligently to ensure continued success regardless of their circumstances. In support the UDC Center for Nutrition, Diet and Health provides student training opportunities and administrative support to the program.

My issue does not have the representation of a high profile of a celebrity or a PR machine—this may explain why it has taken so long to get a concerted effort going on behalf of our nutrition program.  It is vital to keep the UDC nutrition programs going to help our residents to live a healthy, happy life.

I wait to hear back from you as to what steps you will take to ensure the continuation of the UDC nutrition program. Thank you in advance for your attention to my request.


[your name]


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Faith Community on the Move: Food for the Soul

“When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick. Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”   – Matthew 14:14-16

Check out Ayinde and Donna and vote for “Food for the Soul” in the Let’s Move Video Challenge! http://t.co/ofX8HAB

Diet-related diseases disproportionately impact African Americans in the United States. The top chronic diseases decreasing the quality of life of African Americans include diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension and heart disease with obesity as the gateway. Obesity—which is the precursor to many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease—alone costs the United States more than $117 billion. That’s why President Obama under the Affordable Care Act has placed priority on prevention to  improve the health of Americans but also control health care spending.  By concentrating on the underlying drivers of chronic disease, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps us move from today’s sick-care system to a true “health care” system that encourages health and well-being.

And in the District youth are vulnerable to childhood obesity placing the District as a top 10 offender in America though it ranks 7th lowest among adults. With a population of 591,833, the District of Columbia’s African-American population comprises slightly more than half (50.7%). Of that number, majority are living in Wards 7 and 8 which has experienced a lack of affordable, accessible and quality foods and nutrition. For instance in the D.C. Department of Health’s Obesity Report, Ward 7 and 8 has a total of 6 large and small grocery stores and two farmers markets compared to Ward 2 and 3 has 16 large and small grocery stores and 7 farmer’s markets and 4 organic markets. Overall one-third (33%) of District adults consumer the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

With the growing epidemic of diet-related diseases, faith-based institutions can play a key role in influencing health eating efforts among their congregation. Few faith-based program interventions integrate its teachings with nutrition education, particularly using a participatory approach. At the St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church in southeast Washington, DC, participants attended “Food for the Soul” a faith-based eight weekly nutrition sessions. They received weekly incentives for completing assignments to reinforce healthy behaviors. Activities included writing in journals, creating  kitchen commandments, and preparing healthy recipes.

As a result, participants are preparing more meals at home with fruits and vegetables. Also participants reported an improved sense of self and incorporating their faith made a positive impact in goal achievement.  At the end members supported the development of a new culinary ministry which Parish Life Council approved. 

Church members have shown their excitement and encouragement for more programs in nutrition education, food safety and wellness. Given the high unemployment in communities such as East of the River, many families wouldn’t be able to afford private nutritionists and personal trainers to improve their health and quality of life. Therefore the federally-funded programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program are vitally important. By doing so, we continue to provide citizen-demanded nutritional services with culturally competent nutrition professionals. Ultimately we can address the health disparities and curb the diet-related disorders preventing another generation from seeing its full potential.

At the beginning of the program, participants wrote letters to God about their nutritional goals:

We truly are what we eat, thus we must watch what we take in. Eating must be life giving. This comes at a critical time for me. It brings structure to my Lenten journey. My sacrifice truly will be a journey of discipline using natural (things already available from nature) substance to replenish my body through meals. The suggested meditative habit will help guide me to a closer relationship with God. – Food for the Soul adult participant

I learned that I don’t need mass quantities of food to be satisfied or several cups of juice to be refreshed. I will most definitely drink coconut water instead of Gatorade. I like the fact that food symbolizes freedom and after today I look forward to this idea expounded upon and being fully understood. – Food for the Soul youth participant

Dear God,

I want to experience true vitality again to breathe better, feel stronger, act more boldly. Also I see a need to eat less and think about food less. Please help me to make healthy choices about what I eat and save for others. Help me to eat more mindfully and prayerfully. And help me to remember those who don’t have enough to eat.  – Food for the Soul adult participant

Together participants created healthy dishes. Below is a copy of a recipe for Warm Apple Crisp.

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

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Fisherman Catches More than Blossoms on the Potomac

Jessie catches crappie off the Potomac River.

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC—As tourists flock into the nation’s capital for the 100th anniversary of the cherry blossoms, one fisherman will be fly fishing off the west Potomac.  

Jesse, a retired residential roofer from Virginia, sits on the riverbank catching crappie while beating the tree-loving crowd coming en masse to see the blossoms. When asked about the safety of eating the fish from the river, the great-grandfather stated: “I have been eating this fish for more than fifty years, and I am just fine.”

Running along the western board of the District, the Potomac River is home to the cherry blossom tree as well as bass, panfish, crappie and catfish. Perfect for fishing, the weekend weather was calm and clear. Within minutes of sitting with Jesse, he caught a beautiful crappie.

Released back into the water, the crappie dines on a diverse diet of zooplankton, insects, and crustaceans, which keeps it lean.  According to the University of the Wisconsin’s Sea Grant Institute, one serving size (3.5 ounces) of crappie is low in calories, fat and protein compared to bass and catfish.

For some fishing isn’t just for recreational activities but a way to feed the family. And before Jesse, the Virginia Algonquians in the 1600s fished along the Potomac (which is a European spelling of an Algonquian name for a tribe subject to the Powhatan confederacy).  Known as ‘the place where tribute is brought,’ the river filled with fish fed nearly 20,000 tribesmen before being enslaved or slayed by infectious disease or war from the English colonizers.

Fish or Seafood Calories % Fat % Protein
Bass (Small & Largemouth) 104 2.6 18.8
Crappie 79 0.8 16.8
Catfish (freshwater) 103 3.1 17.6

Source: University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Instiute

And in less than two days, the National Cherry Blossom Festival will kick off its ground-breaking Centennial events running from March 20th to April 27th. Winding along the tidal basin, cherry blossoms bloomed earlier than expected due to the short winter season. So festivities have have begun earlier this year.

This year marks the centennial celebration of the cherry blossoms, which were a gift from Tokyo, Japan to Washington, DC in 1912 “as a living symbol of friendship between the Japanese and American peoples.” And horticulturist, Dr. David Fairchild, of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s foreign plant service was instrumental in cultivating the blossoms to ensure their viability on the East Coast.

Before sitting down with Jesse, I spoke with one of the tree trimmers for the U.S. National Park Service under the U.S. Department of the Interior. “I must love trees because on my off day I trim trees too,” said the tree trimmer, “but sometimes I get tired of looking at trees.” He shared how he works throughout the year to cut the dead branches and remove from nearly 15,000 trees. For photographers and tourists this means a picture perfect snapshot of the blossoms.

Tourists and local residents can fish for their supper like Jesse off the Potomac. And for ten dollars, they can get a DC fishing license at area vendors such as One Stop Benning Corporation located at 4443 Benning Road in northeast Washington.

Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia where she is completing the didactic program in dietetics. You can follow her on Twitter @tambra.


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Raw Food Chef Shares His Path to Healing His Community

by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC (March 18, 2012)—While most people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with green drinks and friends, a small group dined on raw greens from cabbage to kale prepared by Chef Heru, a trained electrical engineer by day and a raw food chef by night.

In honor of the House of N’Golo’s founder, Amensa Sheps Teker, Nkechi Taifa, Esq. and Dakarai James Kearney opened their northwest home with a special libation and featured a pan-African- inspired raw food menu of African herbal broccoli, spicy kale salad and African pepper cabbage.

Additional special guests included Dr. Baruch Ben Yehudah, owner of Everlasting Life Cafe, Rev. Ivy Hylton, owner of Serenity Healing Arts and author of Journey into Inner Peace, W. Bruce Willis, author of the Adinkra Dictionary, and Yirser Ra Hotep, founder of the YogaSkills Method focused on Kemetic yoga.

The menu creator, Chef Heru, teaches raw food classes for the House of N’Golo to the continue tradition of showing raw foods using traditional African spices to heal the community. In his herbal broccoli recipe he uses spirulina (a sea plant protein) along with moringa, an African spice. The moringa comes as crushed leaves containing all essential amino acids and rich in proteinvitamin Avitamin Bvitamin C, and minerals.

For his kale salad, he adds fresh ginger (which is used as an astringent in the Caribbean), lemon to create alkalinity in the body,                                                                                            and garlic to boost immunity. His Amensa savory pie is walnut pate layered with plantains, avocado, caraway seeds, and sundried tomatoes.

Influenced by his mentor and the cultural shift in the city, he began his journey into raw foods: “After the 1970s there was a wave of people reconnecting with their history, and a spiritual and cultural movement to bring traditional African systems to the forefront in bridging the gap between people of African descent in America and on the continent.”

For Chef Heru, food comes from a spiritual source. “We are spiritual beings having human experiences. The body uses the different colors of food for a nutritional and spiritual connection; so when you eat junk food, your body and spirit doesn’t function at an optimal level.”

He goes on to say: “Ancient African systems such as the Yoruba, Akan, and Khemetic share about the direct connection of the divine self, and food is part of the spiritual development of people.”

Ancient systems like Yoruba, Akan,  Khemetic talk about the direct connection the divine self and food is one component of the spiritual development of people.

After studying electrical engineering at the University of Delaware, he moved to the District after landing a job with the U.S. Navy and later took graduate studies in engineering and telecommunications at the George Washington University. He later received his training from Dr. Llaila Afrika in naturopathic/wellness and African herbal science from Dr. Kofi Asare of Ghana and iridology of Dr. Paul Goss.

“In the 1980s, I attended the ‘Know Thyself’ lecture series by Anthony Browder, a renowned Egyptologist, who brought speakers into the District as part of the wave,” shard Chef Heru, “Also WR Radio1450 AM (which is now Radio One) had a lot of cultural, spiritual, and political discussions.”

Inviting people on this pan-African raw food adventure, Chef Heru is completing a cookbook with 108 raw food recipes with information on the electromagnetic properties of the food and the spiritual essence of nutrition.

Hosted by O’Natural, Chef Heru will be one of seven raw food chefs preparing culinary dishes of southern, African and Caribbean origin  for the Raw Food Feast and Fundraiser at the Ideal Academy located at 101 T Street Northeast Washington, D.C. on May 5th from 1:00 – 6:00pm.

Tambra Stevenson is the student representative for the D.C. Metropolitan Area Dietetic Association is hosting its annual meeting at the George Washington University. Learn more at www.eatrightdc.org. Stay connected  with Tambra by following her on Twitter @tambra.

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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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