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Project Aims For Nutrition While Keeping The Soul In Soulfood

Network for a Healthy California's African American Campaign healthy foods di...

Credit: Courtest of Network For A Healthy California

Above: Network for a Healthy California's African American Campaign healthy foods display.


Black history month is a perfect time to do a little re-examining of the link between the African-American diet and obesity. We'll hear about some small changes that can make soulfood, good for you.

Event Information

A healthy cooking demonstration will be held this Thursday, March 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Food For Less in Market Creek Plaza on Euclid Avenue.

Obesity is a problem for American society in general but for the African-American population in particular. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that black adults have the highest rate of obesity in the nation, with one in two African-American women qualifying as obese.

There are many factors that go into creating this statistic including, low-cost fast-food and high-calorie soulfood.

The network for a Healthy California has created a series of recipes aimed at making traditional African-American menus healthier, fresher and still delicious.


Lakeysha Sowunmi, is the Network For A Healthy California African American campaign health educator.

Read Transcript

Transcript Disclaimer

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Nutritionists say they can keep the soul in soul food while putting some healthy in. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, black history month is a perfect time to do a little re-examining of the link between the African American diet and obesity. We'll hear about some small changes that can make soul food good for you, and then we'll discuss the effects of music in your ear. Loud, constant Ipod use may increase the risk of hearing problems of that's all ahead this hour on These Days, first the news.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Obesity is a problem for the American society in general, and for the African American population in particular. Numbers from the centers for disease control show that black adults have the highest rate of obesity in the nation, with one in two African American women qualifying as obese. There are many factors that go into creating this statistic, including low cost fast food, and high calorie soul food. The network for a healthy California has created a series of recipes aimed at making traditional African American menus healthier, fresher, and still delicious. I'd like to welcome my guest, Lakeysha Sowunmi, she is African American campaign health educator. Lakeysha, good morning, and welcome to These Days.

PARIS: Good morning, Maureen, thanks for having me. [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. What do you think are the factors that increase weight gain in the minority community? Do you have an old family recipe that you're made healthier by changing some ingredients, give us a call with your questions and your comments. The nobody's 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Lakeysha, what are some of the barriers to good health and healthy eating that exist in low income communities.

PARIS: Well, Maureen, there are a number of things that contribute to this health disparity that we face. I would like to start with access to fresh fruit and vegetables at our local stores. Most of the corner stores, the fruit aren't this fresh, and the vegetables aren't that fresh, and they are not high quality. And also, some of the communities may not have safe and clean parks. So that our kids can go out and have their physical activity.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so that's just two of what I goes are a number of factors that go into the whole concept of the fact that African meshes have this problem with obesity at least in national statistics, now, Lakeysha, you started out as a volunteer in a program to get people to eat healthier and to make people aware of the community, tell me what you were noticing, and what you tried to fix.

PARIS: Well, Maureen, I'm just an everyday mother, and basically, even in schools, and some of our faith based organizations, I noticed that we were preparing potlucks that weren't so healthy, you know, a bunch of calories, and a lot of fat, and also in the schools, in the vending machines, they could have high calorie snack, and they would have soda, and they would offer drinks and food that weren't healthy for our kids. So some of the things that I stepped up to do is I worked with the principal, and I basically asked them to ask the parents to provide healthier snacks for their kids, for things such as birthday parties and classroom activities. And also we removed [CHECK AUDIO] alternatives, and so you know, those are some of the things as -- which I think is my responsibility as a mother those are some of the things that I did to make sure that my kids were healthier.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Lakeysha, you were named champion mom. What does that mean.

PARIS: Well, a champion mom is pretty much a mother that insures that her family is healthy, and also her community. You know, it starts at home, I provide healthy fruits and vegetables for my in which. I hope headlight for my kids. So it started at home, and as far as the community is conserved, I work with faith based organizations, regimen, and just things like that, and they nominated me to welcome a champion mother for that.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Lakeysha Sowunmi, she is [[]] and still delicious alternatives for African American menus, and also more options in neighborhoods to get healthy, fresh food. The number here is 1-888-895-5727. [CHECK AUDIO] in the community, trying to get people involve would, now, when you live in a community, where, as you say, the corner market, there's a couple of old nasty old apples, and not much good, fresh greenery, and natural products, what do you do? Where do you go?

PARIS: Well, you know, it's the unfortunate thing, and the America for healthier California, what we're trying to do -- when we actually do is go into local grocery stores [CHECK AUDIO] that they can add to their food that'll be healthy, and we also work with a lot of community events, and we get the word out that way also. And as you mentioned earlier, we have a soul food cook book, and with the cook book, there is low calorie food, low fat dishes in it. It's I healthier twist on traditional meals. So we're in the community, and be we teach people how to shop when they're on a billion.

CAVANAUGH: And do people have more access now in all communities to farmer's markets and things of that nature?

PARIS: Well, not necessarily. And that's another thing that we promote. We just like to let people to know -- to find their own farmer's market. And we work with the local farmer's market to make sure that these people are getting high quality fruits and vegetables, up, at a row cost.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And not paying an arm and a leg federal them.

PARIS: Exactly. And that's what the local farmer's markets do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me say that we are taking your calls, if you'd like to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. And Rothiel is on the line, she's calling -- I guess she is from Mississippi, good morning, Rothiel, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning.


NEW SPEAKER: How are you?


NEW SPEAKER: My question was, how do we get the word to the bigger community? And I heard your caller just say some great things, exciting, faith based, going into the grocery stores and giving demonstrations. It's good. That's good stuff. How do we reach the people? How can we -- how can we get the word out in a bigger way? Newspapers we have, the WWW --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Rothiel, I think we're doing that right now, but I want Lakeysha to comment, how do we get the word out? [CHECK AUDIO].

PARIS: He said it's always time to do the right thing. And you, you sound really passionate about that, so basically I would just say, work with community leaders, it may take months, it may take years. You have to do a lot of foot work yourself. If you want toy zoo a big change, sometimes you have to do the footwork yourself, go into the grocery stores, talk to the managers, and you know, those are some of the things that I had to do is talk to the managers, like, look, you know, can we get some more fruits and vegetables?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what do they say, Lakeysha, when you say that? Is it all, like, oh, yeah, fine, we'll do that. Or do you get some push back?

PARIS: You know what? At first [CHECK AUDIO] they'll get on board for maybe about a month or two, and then they'll go back to the same way. So it's a continual fight, put it that way. But like I said before, if you want to see a change, and you're passionate about it, you have to continue to, you know, talk to the council member, talk to the political figures in your community. And change will come. But you have to definitely stay persistent and stay consistent if you want to see any change. And as far as the faith based organization is concerned, the church that I attend, I -- the pastor pretty much gave me the go ahead, and basically, I go there, and I -- you know, I teach the congregation about healthy eating, we do physical activities, and I have definitely see a change right in my own church. So if you give people in the faith based community some stand up and say, you know what? I want to see a difference, then it will definite -- would be a change. If the pastor supports it, you will definitely see a change. And that's where you start.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that the campaign for a healthy California, and your campaign, Lakeysha, starting not only food but drinks too. You've got a whole thing called Rethink Your Drink. What's that about?

PARIS: Yes, rethink your drink, that's really important because a lot of people they don't understand why they're obese. They don't understand why they're having all of these healthy issue, but an important component with that is the things that we consume and we put in our drinks. Now, for example, if you take soda, a 20-ounce seed has 250�calories, and it can have as much as 17 tea spoons of sugar. Now, that is a lot. And pretty much what we're trying to put out there about rethink your drink is have the people read the nutritional facts, turns those cans around, read the nutritional facts, see how many calories you're consuming and see how much sugar in that drink.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Lakeysha Sowunmi, she is African American campaign healthy educator. We're talking about an [CHECK AUDIO] to eat healthier, and eat fresher, and we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let's talk about cooking in the African American community. Because cooking is a deep part of [CHECK AUDIO] many traditional recipes in the black community are so heavy in salt and fat. What were those reasons?

PARIS: You know, it's funny because that's how -- that's part of our culture. We come together, we come together at funerals, after funerals, we have all the soul food, and it's comfort food, it brings people together, come over to my house, I just baked this chocolate cake, so it's part of our culture. But the thing about it is, we can take something that is grown fresh and then what we do sometimes is go ahead in the kitchen, and we'll fry it or oh, my goodness, if we're fixing greens maybe we'll put some pork, some really fatty pork in it, and things like that. And I just think that -- we just have a long tradition of that. And so we have seen the effects of doing that, though, it's not working. And so that's why I think we lead the way in so many, you know, diseases and illnesses, and things like that because that's the way we were born, that's the way we were raised. And so now with the African American campaign, we are out here giving people healthier alternatives while you can still enjoy your meal, but a healthy alternative to that favorite dish that you have.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you give me a quick for instance?

PARIS: Okay. For instance, let's see, we have a recipe in our soul food cook book that includes black eyed peas, mango, peppers and a few other fruits and vegetables, well, you mix this together, and you have this mouth full of -- it's really good, that's a healthier twist on black eyed peas. Now, most people, they like to add different things to get flavor, but with the fruits and vegetables added, you have a mouth full of flavor. That's an example.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. Daniel is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Daniel, welcome to these days.

NEW SPEAKER: I used to live in the hood a lot when I lived in the north part of the country, and it is a very sad fact that there isn't a very good traditional value there in the community it is. But there is a good option here in San Diego. I live in Clairemont, and I know -- in the south areas of San Diego also, they have big power line, and they have big pieces of land issue the power lines that are sometimes just grass land it is that are fire hazards that could be used for community gardens of I know in Clairemont here, they heard have guard knows for kind of nursery type [CHECK AUDIO] there. We could coopt, work together, on some of this, and have maybe some of the [CHECK AUDIO] help us with water issues, and at the same time, give back to the communities in a helpful manner.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Daniel, thanks for the call. What about community gardens, Lakeysha.

PARIS: Well, actually, we have a community garden, it's actually there on Euclid avenue. And basically the community garden is good because not only can the parents get involved, but you can also get your children involved, and you know, they can learn the bisques of gardening. And when your fruit or vegetable is ready, you can just get it, and take it home and prepare it the way that you want it. But I think that's awesome, if we can get more community gardens because then we won't have an excuse as to, well, oh, it's too extensive to buy fruits and vegetables. I mean the community garden, that's a good idea.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, that's still -- you must hear this a lot because when it comes to going to the store and getting fruits and vegetables as opposed to going to McDonald's and getting of their specials, it's still gonna cost you a little bit more to go to that grocery store and get all those ingredients, and plus the time involved. So what do you do when people bring that up?

PARIS: Well, Maureen, I always tell people like I said ever about, change isn't easy. But I would just start basic. [CHECK AUDIO] buy fruit and vegetables that are in season, and those are, I mean, low cost. Visit your farmer's market, and like I said before, the farmer's market, they also have high quality from fruits and vegetables at a very low cost. So those are some things issue because I do hear that all the time, like I said benefit, it's really no excuse, you just have to go ahead and compare prices and do your research.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Brae's on the line from San Diego. Good morning, brae, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: [CHECK AUDIO] always replaced it with smoked Turkey, and I don't know if that's any better calorie wise, but it's definitely better in terms of fat, and the type of meat, [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, thank you brae. What do you think, Lakeysha.

PARIS: Yes, and you know, that's what I do also, it's the smoked Turkey, it's definitely -- it has loss calories, and les fat, so a smoked Turkey leg is definitely a better alternative.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, we've been talking a lot about obesity in had the African mesh community, but it's more than simply carrying around a few extra pounds because there are also diseases, you touched on this, that go along with that, diabetes, and heart disease, and that affects the African American community, especially diabetes disproportionately, doesn't it.

PARIS: Yes, yes, it does. Type two diabetes is really on the rise. And you upon, the African American community is facing a health crisis, and it's just not diabetes. Some people they think that it's just diabetes and obesity, but it goes beyond that, it's heart disease, it's high blood pressure, it's high cholesterol, and all of those things go along with the amount of physical activity we're having and also our diet.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. My guest is Lakeysha Sowunmi, for the healthy California [CHECK AUDIO] push here in San Diego to create a series of recipes and to show people how to eat healthier and fresher. Brendan's on the line from downtown. Good morning, Brendan, and welcome to These Days. Of.

NEW SPEAKER: [CHECK AUDIO] introduce the children to new vegetables and new things all the time, and really start them at a very young age, and eating in a very healthy way this they can carry on through the rest of their lifestyle, and it's one of my passions to get young children to consistently eat healthier foods and just to carry that on into their lifestyle into high school and into college. And I think starting at -- eating, like, very different foods too, issue not sticking with the -- so many kids I think just quiet stuck in a rut with their parents feeding them, up, convenient food, that's not necessarily the best choices.

PARIS: Yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Brendan, thank you, thanks so much from the call. Let's hear from lake as well, lake is calling from San Diego. Good morning, lake, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning, how are?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Great, thank you.

NEW SPEAKER: Awesome. [CHECK AUDIO] as far asking snacks, snacks are concerned, you know, you see regular snacks, doorito chips, and [CHECK AUDIO] what are some of the option as far as that is concerned?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Snacks, thank you for that.

PARIS: It's really big. Thanks for that question. But you know, I recently said a studies [CHECK AUDIO] grab for a snack before they would want to sit down and actually eat a meal, so snacks is a really big issue. And also I think kids are eating unnecessary snacks. Some parents think that, okay, let's give my kid a snack for a reward or let me do this or that, and just keep them happy. But as far as snacks is concerned, I would definitely keep healthy snacks available for the child. And [CHECK AUDIO] because as the previous caller said, in the long run, it actually starts when they're children, and then it goes into their adulthood. So I would just explain to your kids, [CHECK AUDIO] and then just give them more fruits and vegetables. So there are a lot of snacks out there, you know, more healthier snacks for kids that I would always go back to eating more fruits and vegetables. Give them snacks but more fruits and vegetables?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, in addition to fruits and vegetables, [CHECK AUDIO] or would you just say the best thing to do is to hand them an apple?

PARIS: Well, the best thing is hand them the fruit and vegetable. They also have, like, a hundred calorie packs out there for the kids but I would also -- I mean, I would always just recommend the fruits and vegetables?

A. Let's take another call, doctor Marcus is calling from Escondido. Good morning, doctor, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, how are you?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm well, thank you.

NEW SPEAKER: Just a caveat to that, I think I heard 270 calories in a soda. I think it's more like 140. I haven't looked in a long time.


NEW SPEAKER: My question or aspect that I wanted to cover, specifically, was marketing. What are we looking at, and what are we doing in our marketing efforts, and are we looking at our marketing efforts that target the African American community particularly?

THE COURT: I understand, you mean like fast food marking and snack food marketing?

NEW SPEAKER: Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me get an answer to that, doctor Marcus, thank you for the call. Lakeysha, what do you think of that? Ads directed toward African Americans for what we might call junk food?

PARIS: Well, [CHECK AUDIO] it starts in the community. I have seen a few public service announcements about eating healthier and also getting out to get physical act first, but it me, it -- I'm just a mother, I'm just a mother in a community. So it starts in the community, and then from the community, you know, hopefully it goes state wide. And then, you know, the marketing goes there. But most of the organizations like our organizations, and request the economy and everything, we don't have that type of finishing to justice put the -- oh, let's market here, let's market there, it's not fair. So one of the strategies that we use is going in that grocery store, going to the community events, and we also partner with a lot of other organizations in the community, and we work together like that. It's really no marketing strategy. And to talk about -- you told me that it was a hundred and 70�calories, I was actually speaking with something that I saw, I had like two servings. So just to clarify --

CAVANAUGH: That's a 20-ounce you're talking about, a 20-ounce beverages.

PARIS: Yes, yes. And it was two servings, so that's why I said 250�calories.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, do you -- we're running out of time, Lakeysha, so I wonder if you could answer this in a very short way. Are you making any progress do you think?

PARIS: Oh, yes, definitely. Just personal, with the schools, like I mentioned perfect, I've seen definite changes in the school, the parents, when they come in with with the snacks, and party gifts and things like that, it is totally different, the vending machines are looking better, and also like I said, in the faith based organizations, that's really big because that's the heart -- a faith based organization is the heart of the community. And so when I see changes right there in the church, I know things are upon hag.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lakeysha, thank you so much for speaking with us today. I really appreciate it.

PARIS: Thank you so much, Maureen, for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lakeysha Sowunmi, African American health campaign educator, if you would like to comment go on-line Days. Coming up, prisoning your hearing in the Ipod era, that's as These Days continues here on KPBS. [CHECK AUDIO].


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