For the past decade, nutrition and community educators across the country have joined us in celebrating the culinary legacy and often-unsung cultural ownership of healthy eating for people of African descent. Below, we’re catching up with founding ambassador Tiﬀany Davis to learn more about her experience teaching A Taste of African Heritage in South Carolina, and how this programming supports other community advocacy work in the region. Our conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Oldways: What inspired you to work with food and pursue a career in nutrition?
Tiﬀany Davis: Food is a natural way of expression for me. It truly makes me feel good and it is a way for people to connect. Through my personal and familial lived experiences, unfortunately I have witnessed the negative impact that unhealthy food choices have on the health of people in my community. As I have learned more about the beneﬁts of healthy food choices, it felt necessary to gain more knowledge, so I obtained my BS in Nutrition and am a Certiﬁed Dietary Manager.
Tell us about Upstate Circle of Friends, the organization that hosted the A Taste of African Heritage class series, and how they work to increase access to fresh, healthy foods and quality nutrition education?
Upstate Circle of Friends (UCF) is a nonproﬁt organization located in Greenville South Carolina. It is in the Historic Bell Meade neighborhood, which unfortunately due to red lining and other factors is an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. When the local grocery store closed down, the neighborhood and the surrounding areas became a Food Desert. In order to increase access to fresh healthy foods, Upstate Circle of Friends has decided to utilize the land that we own to establish an urban farm. This farm will be able to yield healthy, nutritious fruits and vegetables that will be available for the community. Additionally, Upstate Circle of Friends was awarded two USDA Grants to support our farming and gardening initiatives. These grants have expanded our capacity to providing quality nutrition education, both at a local high school through the greenhouse after school program and also through the farm on the main campus. A portion of the farm on the main campus has been designated as an Urban Teaching Garden. By collaborating with local farming experts like Kim Gibson, the Clemson Extension oﬃce, and Oldways’ A Taste of African Heritage Ambassadors, we have been able to bring culturally relevant and quality nutrition education to the Bell Meade Community.
What role does culture and tradition play in your work?
My business, Feed Your Inner Chef (“FYI Chef”), has always provided nutrition education that appeals to the African Diaspora. Oldways’ curriculum gives us a framework to provide additional education and resources to that community. The primary demographic that Upstate Circle of Friends serves are of African Heritage, so the collaboration worked well for both organizations. With the addition of Unity Health on Main medical facility moving into the main campus, Oldways’ culturally relevant and evidence, based curriculum and recipes will be available to families of both African and Hispanic Heritage. This allows both demographics to learn about the history of foods that beneﬁt their lineages, but don’t take away from the integrity of their unique culture and traditions. Upstate Circle of Friends’ aim is to continue to provide opportunities to educate the communities we serve our collaboration does that, and so much more.
We understand you had a recent African Heritage class collaboration with a local beekeeper. Could you tell us more about how you used African Heritage as a way to learn more about local pollinators?
There were two activities that the Students at Southside had that centered around Goodes Honey Beez. The ﬁrst class was not food related. It involved using beeswax from his hives to make our own lip balm. The other class we made sweet potato protein bites, using the honey to sweeten the bites, as well as using it as a garnish/topping.
Do you have any tips for bringing A Taste of African Heritage to the high school audience?
Remember young people have their own thoughts and ideas. Speak to them in a way that is respectful, and that energy will transfer into the kitchen as you are preparing recipes. Just be yourself, have fun, and allow for feedback.
Which A Taste of African Heirtage recipes were most popular with your students?
The “After Chop” Fruit (I added several other fruit just to bulk this one up because we were serving extra people and papayas and mangos were pricey) and Spinach Cucumber Dill Salads. I believe they enjoy the familiarity of those speciﬁc recipes for taste and culture!
What message do you have for people who want to live healthier but don’t know where to begin or aren’t conﬁdent in the kitchen?
Learning how to eat healthier does not have to be intimidating, get in the kitchen and add a spice or herb to your favorite dish, make your own dressing instead of buying it from the store, or replacing reﬁned grains, like white rice with a whole grain. There will be mistakes, embrace them. You will get more comfortable the more you do it!
Thank you so much to Tiﬀany Davis, Upstate Circle of Friends, FYI Chef, Goodes Honey Beez, and all of the great organizations helping people rediscover the goodness of cultural food traditions. To learn how to bring the A Taste of African Heritage cooking and nutrition program to your community, browse our program FAQs or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Photos courtesy of Whole SOL Organics.