On August 2nd, with cameras rolling, over a dozen Texans crowded around an enormous kitchen counter. The smell of fresh dill, crushed coriander, and sizzling plantains filled the air. Servings of sautéed tangy greens, black-eyed peas splashed with cider vinegar, and roasted sweet potatoes were handed out as tasting samples, lending vivid flavor to all that the group had just learned.
The participants ate happily, chatting and asking questions, after taking part in a one-day A Taste of African Heritage class that was taped for an upcoming informational video due out at the end of this summer. Between the eating, smelling, learning, and bonding—there was so much more happening than just an Oldways cooking class or video shoot.
Fruits and vegetables were the stars of the show, along with our roomful of students – both former and new – and two VIP A Taste of African Heritage teachers, Tambra Raye Stevenson and Danessa Bolling, who flew to Austin, TX for this special occasion to help us capture the magic of the program on film.
Tambra, one of sixteen African Heritage Diet Advisory Members and founder of NativSol Kitchen, flew in from Washington, D.C. to lead the filmed class, as well as a grocery store tour and outdoor picnic. Danessa, a four-time instructor from Houston, joined us for the day to share her insights as a repeat teacher in her city.
The weekend was simply packed with food: talking about food, shopping for food, cooking food, teaching about the nutrition and wellbeing in food, tasting food and meeting foods previously unknown. Tambra landed in Austin first, and we headed straight out to visit local African, tropical and Halal markets, talking with the owners and exploring the shelves of global spices, grains, and goods.
The first market we visited was owned by a man from Nigeria who is running for city council in his Austin area. He kindly showed us around his small store and played the most amazing West African dance music for us (loudly, so you couldn’t help but dance in the aisles!). The most intriguing product I found was canned eggplants peeled and soaked in brine water—perfect for blending with sautéed onions, garlic and palm oil, I was told. After we purchased a small bundle of visual groceries for the class – a shaggy, club-shaped African yam, boxed fufu flour, soaked eggplants, various kinds of millet, palm oil and peanuts – he told us to help ourselves to a couple of complimentary drinks and kola nuts. We gladly chose ginger beer, made from ginger root, to take with us on our journey. Yum!
Next, the local Halal market felt like a trip around the world. We were met with boxes of dates from Northern Africa, huge packages of dried herbs and spices (most costing under $2.50!), and wonderful produce, including fresh okra.
Filming began on Saturday morning at 9am sharp, with teacher interiews at the videographer’s studio. There, Tambra, Danessa (in photo at right) and I were invited to speak about the importance of the “old ways” as a powerful guide for healthy, delicious, optimal eating and an inspiration for shifting our modern-day relationship to food. We each described A Taste of African Heritage in our own words, sharing the exciting details of the program, the “Aha!” moments we’ve each seen in students firsthand, and we walked future viewers through the African Heritage Diet and its positive, powerful implications for culture and public health.
Danessa spoke about the different structures of her four Houston-based classes: one delivered at the mental health clinic that she currently works for; another with families at a community garden; a third conducted in a “Sunday-dinner” style; and, her current class at Houston’s Health & Human Services Department’s Diabetes Awareness & Nutrition Center. She explained how this program has helped herself, her family and her community. Her teenage daughter has given up fast food, and since the class began, she is now Danessa’s honorary smoothie station leader. Danessa also talked about how quickly and adeptly little ones have taken to the information, with kids as young as 4 years old able to identify foods like “dino kale” for adults in their community garden class. The stories and overarching impressions were all extremely moving.
With our bags packed, we headed to The Sustainable Food Center’s teaching kitchen to meet our students for the day. The room filled up almost immediately with former students from our 2012 Austin pilot, as well as friends and members of local partners Food For Black Thought and Rootwork came out to join us too. Major thanks to these organizations for their support and help in inviting local students!
Tambra led the class through a condensed version of the whole six-week program, sharing about the cultural history, the traditional eating pattern, the inherent nutrition, and a wide variety of African Heritage herbs & spices, leafy greens, beans and peas, vegetables, tropical fruits, whole grains, tubers and other starches. She prepared the program’s black-eyed pea salad and tangy greens sauté, plus baked sweet potatoes and sautéed plantains. After the instruction, students were invited around the stove to enjoy the tastes, smells, and visuals of all the foods. Several of the students joined us for interviews, offering their impression of the African Heritage Diet and former students shared their experience and how the class re-shaped their diet.
After clean up, we jumped back in our cars and headed to Springdale Farms for a gorgeous sunset picnic with some of our students. We brought a potluck of dishes, including unsweetened iced tea, barley salad, watermelon, and Oldways’ Seared Okra and Brussels sprouts dishes. We ate and talked about the foods, discussing when and how the “old ways” got lost and learning about one students’ genealogy project and what she’d learned about her ancestry so far. We were all left deeply inspired and full!
The finale shoot on Sunday morning took place at Wheatsville Co-Op. Two local teens met us for an African heritage grocery store tour, to learn about the foods of the pyramid, and shopping, eating and cooking tips. Tambra (shown at right) walked them through the produce section – sharing tutorials on fresh peppers, jicama, leafy greens, cabbages, and more – and the store’s bulk section, studying the many varieties of whole grains and beans.
And … that was a wrap!
We ended the weekend with smoothies from the co-op—the ginger mango smoothie was the group favorite and resonated perfectly with the African Heritage Diet.
The next steps happen in the editing room, taking all these amazing moments and putting them together for a six-minute glimpse at the A Taste of African Heritage program. We can’t wait for the opportunity to unveil the video in the coming weeks!
A HUGE THANK YOU to Tambra, Danessa, all of our participants, Food For Black Thought, Rootwork, Sustainable Food Center, and the filming team at Dennis Burkett Photography and to Potential Being for facilitating such an amazing weekend shoot!