By Sam P. K. Collins
With the holiday season fast approaching, a coalition committed to food equity has set out to curb District residents’ unhealthy dietary choices with a gathering that will familiarize them with locally produced foods and spices they can share with the whole family.
The inaugural Ethnic Eats Holiday Party, hosted by the Fresh Food Factory Market and United Nations of Individuals Fighting Impossibilities, will take place at Martha’s Table on Elvans Road in Southeast in early November.
There, guests will learn how to use various vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices in uniquely prepared holiday meals that can be ordered in large quantities.
“This is a chance to introduce them to a better quality of life and different food options. We host various demos and trainings to help people understand what foods are best and in what circumstances,” said Amanda Stephenson, owner of the Fresh Food Factory Market, a business based in the Anacostia Arts Center.
On Nov. 2, the Ethnic Eats Holiday Party will feature more than 15 local caterers, crafters, bakers and chefs sharing a bevy of freshly prepared holiday hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees and desserts — not much different than what residents usually consume during the holidays.
Stephenson expressed her hope that families watching the demonstrations would be compelled to start a relationship with the local vendors that will lead to better health outcomes.
“In the last months of the year, people gain one to three pounds, and that’s not good for them,” she said. “We’re consciously countering that and hoping that people connected with various organizations can order through these vendors during the holiday season.”
Some experts designate the holiday season as the time for overindulging in readily available food that’s high in calories and fat. Eating more fruits and vegetables, engaging in more aerobic activity and avoiding holiday treats on display have been heralded as methods of maintaining weight in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas
The Ethnic Eats Holiday Party counts among several efforts to raise the public consciousness about the perils of unhealthy food. Earlier this month, several D.C. Council members, with the support of the Don’t Mute My Health coalition, introduced legislation for an excise tax on sugary drinks they said would curb consumption and fund public health programs for communities east of the Anacostia River.
People living in Wards 7 and 8, home to a significant portion of the District’s food deserts, would have much to gain from expanded food options, Last year, a report by the Washington Council of Governments and Virginia Commonwealth University showed a nearly 30-year gap in life expectancy between D.C. residents living in the affluent Ward 3 and Ward 8. In Ward 8, people suffer from diabetes, hypertension and other diet-related chronic ailments related to not having enough walkable grocery stores.
Since opening in the Anacostia Arts Center in May, the Fresh Food Factory Market has exposed Ward 8 residents to spices and grains originating from India, Ethiopia. Haiti, Ghana and other places of significance to the District’s immigrant population. EasyNTasty Jollof Rice counts among the several products gracing its shelves.
Penelope Cudjoe, one of the masterminds behind the manufactured West African food staple, has been scheduled to lead a cooking demonstration at Martha’s Table on Nov. 2. Since launching their venture four years ago, she and her husband Kwamena Cudjoe have built a following among jollof rice eaters, old and new, that frequent nearly two dozen stores in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Penelope Cudjoe, whose relationship with the Fresh Food Factory Market grew out of concern for Ward 8 residents seeking alternative food options, said the partnership has been mutually beneficial.
“Since we started at Fresh Food Factory Market, our product has done very well for those who don’t know how to cook jollof rice,” said Cudjoe, co-owner of AMAC Foods International, LLC, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based business that produces EasyNTasty Jollof Rice.
“Jollof rice is an old food but this is the first time it has been packaged,” Cudjoe said. “It’s similar to jambalaya. We cut back on the cooking hours from more than an hour to just 35 minutes. If you use our product, you use less oil and no tomatoes, MSG and artificial colors. These are all-natural, plant-based ingredients used in an FDA-approved facility in the United States.”
This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.