The “Real Food” Farm|Quenching Baltimore’s Food Desert

We’ve gotta talk about this ’cause the thirst is real. Open scene…”My stomach is eating a hole through my back”. I could simplify that saying with one word–“hangry” (no typo). “Hanger” may run up on you after a long day at the office when your only nourishment has been a coffee and a pack of mixed nuts courtesy of the mini snack bar in the breakroom at work. It normally happens when you’ve been savagely focused on a project and you opt out of a lunch break because…well, you’re floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee and you wanna flex on every-damn-body with your presentation in tomorrow’s meeting. Justifiably, you skip a meal but you’ve pushed it to the limit and by the time you set your sights on a food, you’d pretty much eat an entire cow. Any cow. It can be a cow covered in poo, a cow with ten eyes, a cow dipped in dextrose or a cow glazed in sugar. “Get in my belly!” is all you can think.

For most of us who live in Black and Brown neighborhoods, healthy food options are few and far between.

For myself and others, getting to the “hangry” state is pretty risky business. I mean, I do my darndest to make sure “hanger” doesn’t creep up on me because I tend to make thee worst food choices when I’m famished. I’m talking a Popeyes and KFC. Why? Because their proximity is convenient (walking distance from my job). I’m ashamed but look at my situation. Let’s say I wanted to grab a fresh smoothie or a salad, right. My options are limited to fast food smoothies (a joke), fast food salads (yuck and also comical) and grocery store salad bar salads (also yucky and germy). Often times, I end up grabbing a piece of fruit to hold me over until I get home. Once I’m home, I toil over a meal for about an 1.5 hours before I eat the food my body is so desperately in need of. The willpower required to bypass all of the sweet and salty fast food-immeasurable. Honestly, sometimes I fail, even though the consequences have proven to be lethal.

See the difference in mortality rates based just on popular food items in neighborhoods in Baltimore City below.

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But let’s rewind, real quick. To a time when I worked in Southside Jamaica, Queens and I was in an extreme food desert. In NYC I had no car and I used my feet and Metro card to get around. In Jamaica, every store within a 10 minute walking radius of my job was either fried chicken, pizza or a dollar store. I remember my boss eating a slice of cheese pizza, cheetos and a gatorade for lunch every day and thinking to myself “How is he alive right now?”. I mean, the calories were there but the nutrients were not. “Who could survive off of that type of diet?” I asked myself. The answer is–lots of us do. We satisfy our hunger for the moment but in the long run, we’re slowly killing ourselves. In impoverished neighborhoods, there are lots of people who rely on public transportation to move about their daily lives. But who is going to hop on a bus to get food when you can walk right up to the Chinese restaurant on your block and order an egg roll, four chicken wings, french fries and a soda for $4.75. Save the bus fare and save the hike, right? That’s why I was so elated when I noticed The “Real Food Farm” parked across the street from my job today. “Real Food Farm” works toward a just and sustainable food system by improving neighborhood access to healthy food, providing experience-based education, and developing an economically viable, environmentally responsible local agriculture sector. Yep, most of their produce is grown right here in Baltimore and tended to by the hands of those who live here. They’re also stocked with produce from local farmers. I snagged some delicious watermelon from Black Dirt Farm, a black owned farm, on the Eastern Shore. Sweet! That was actually two birds with one stone because I’ve been trying to support Black-owned business when I can.

It’s wonderful to know that there are initiatives like Civic Works’ “Real Food Farm” that prioritize people who really need the access, education and opportunities. Yep, in addition to the mobile food truck, you’ve got the opportunity to take your school group for a visit to their Clifton Park farm to see how all the juicy goodness is grown right out of our Baltimore soil. Educational opportunities like this are made possible by donors and volunteers who devote their time to making healthy lifestyles a possibility for all.

The best part? The Real Food Farm accepts EBT! Yep, there’s no excuse not to grab up this healthy goodness as an alternative to all the yuck that is strewn about the neighborhood.

Oh! There are volunteer opportunities if you’re interested.

This Saturday Oct. 1st is the 14th Annual Ricky Myers Day Of Service

Join in at the Clifton Mansion to earn your $5 credit towards Real Food Farm produce! Register at civicworks.com/dayofservice.

Do you guys shop locally for your produce? Do you have your own garden? Do tell below!

Feature|Founder Of N’Joy Eats & Prep Transformed Her Life Through Diet & Exercise

One super dope aspect of my wellness journey is that I’ve crossed paths with some pretty amazing women of every shade, age and faith. From the elderly women who faithfully attend their Silver Sneakers class at my gym every morning to the fit IG beauties that share their stories with the world. One of my favorite IG inspirations is Indiana based Chef Shay of N’Joy Eats & Prep. Her transformation is bomb and she inspires others to lead a healthy lifestyle through her exercise, meal prep and nutrition expertise.

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Chef Shay of N’Joy Eats & Prep

Ok, so it was so hard for me to choose the best photos because everything looks so good. These are just a few examples of Shay’s meal prep. Nutrition is so extremely important for us all but ESPECIALLY for those of us whose goal it is to lose weight. You know how the saying goes: You cannot outwork a bad diet. Like…it will never happen. You have to swap out the bad foods with better ones. You have to lower your caloric intake. If you need more proof than what I am telling you, please keep scrolling to Shay’s story below…

“When I saw the picture I not only saw the weight loss but I saw the pain and unhappiness I had been carrying for years. I had finally tapped into my JOY and I was never looking back.” – Chef Shay

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“Hi you can call me Chef Shay .I am 26 years old straight from Jersey. I’m very excited about working with Junk Fit! I am a certified nutritional advisor and chef. I began my healthy journey after dealing with some challenges in my life that rocked at my self image and happiness. I am now down 6 dress sizes, able to hold my head high, and live life the way I want to. Once I set a plan for myself and took an active role in my life; my goals began to manifest. Cooking healthy meals is fun and rewarding because I never see it as a diet. I love teaching clients and their families how to incorporate healthy eating to their lifestyles. I believe Junk Fit encompasses all that I practice and teach in my daily life. It is a platform to uplift our community by providing them with the tools and skills that will upgrade their wellness. Staying in shape is an added bonus to the lifestyle. I’ve also just recently obtained my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mental wellness definitely plays a significant role in how we treat our bodies. Exercising and eating clean can definitely benefit our cognitive perception of ourselves. I am so honored to be a part of an organization such as JUNK FIT that makes all that we teach engaging and fun!

Challenges: The first challenge was identifying why I wanted to lose weight. At first it was because I didn’t find myself pretty enough. I hated taking pictures, I hated trying on clothes, I hated my stomach etc. I thought I would be prettier and more confident if I just lost 10 lbs. I had to fall in love with myself first. I had to build on my confidence and not look for validation from other’s. I had to explore why I had chosen food as a comfort to begin with. I had chosen bad food as a comfort, because there were voids in my life .Grief and an unhealthy long term relationship were the little demons I had to address. Once I began addressing and fixing those issues, I naturally began improving. I wasn’t weighing myself anymore. All I wanted to do was be active because I love the thrill of competing and challenging my body. People gave me compliments as the weight fell off and it surprised me until I took a picture of myself. When I saw the picture I not only saw the weight loss but I saw the pain and unhappiness I had been carrying for years. I had finally tapped into my JOY and I was never looking back.

Advice: Stop investing in spanx, pills and control tops and get yourself in the gym and in the kitchen. Stop making excuses about your weight, no one cares .Being in shape is not about vanity or attention. It is about upgrading and sustaining your life, so that you can enjoy life and the experiences. No Fad Diets just start letting go of foods that do more harm than good. Much Success!”

You can keep up with Chef Shay’s inspirational journey on Facebook, Instagram and via njoyeatsandprep.com.

xo,

Jazz

my 10 Tips For Transitioning Vegetarians

The last time I tried to go vegetarian, I did it “cold turkey” – no pun intended. I was really impressed with my cut-off skills. However, I only lasted a measly two months. It’s no small feat for a 30 year old, carnivorous, Jamerican girl from the “Buffalo wing” region. I gave up milk, butter, eggs, meat, fish, cheese…everything! It was such an extreme transition for me that it turned out to be too much at once. The thing I’ve noticed about myself is that I’m either all in or all out. In true gemini fashion, I don’t really have a middle ground. This characteristic is both beneficial and detrimental depending on what I need to get done. In this case, the goal is becoming a vegetarian. This time around, to do it right, I’m setting small goals for myself towards a lasting and successful transition.

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The first phase of my transition was the elimination of poultry, beef and pork. I’m not a huge meat person anyway so my first few meatless days weren’t all that hard. If you’re always checking for the meats with every meal, you might want to eliminate one animal at a time. One week you stop eating cow, the next week you give up chicken etc. However you decide to begin your journey, you’ll need to know what lies ahead. Here are my findings:

1. Avoid settings where the aroma of meat can penetrate your nostrils. Breaking a lifelong habit like eating meat is similar to beating any other addiction. You simply cannot place yourself in environments where meat is being prepared, served or eaten. This is cruical especially if there isn’t a vegan alternative available.

2. Meal prep is life. Realistically, none of us can avoid the temptation of meat all the time. You can have way more control over your cravings when you’re PREPARED with your own meatless goodies. This saved me a few times. Whether it’s work or a friend’s house, bring your meals and snacks to avoid eating whatever’s around.

3. Give your circle a heads up. One mistake I made this time around was keeping my transition on the low. Because last time was a bust, I was apprehensive about sharing my goals with anyone. So when I went to my sister’s house and she placed mashed potatoes, green beans, rice and a juicy chicken breast in front of me, it took all of my willpower to kindly and sadly reject the meal. Instead, I ate mashed potatoes, rice and green beans when she could’ve made me the salmon that was in the fridge. Share your lifestyle change with others so they won’t inadvertently sabotage your goals.

4. Never let your stomach hit rock bottom. Meaning, don’t allow yourself to get so hungry that you’ll “eat anything”. In those moments of brief starvation, your fatigue will compel you to eat whatever is at hand.

5. Try meat alternatives. Nowadays, there are grocery isles full of tofu chicken tenders, eggplant breakfast sausage, veggie burgers and much more. The possibilities are super exciting. I had fun experimenting with a tofu stir fry. Although it wasn’t quite the same texture as meat, the flavor was very similar.

6. Check your existing diet and swap the old for new. If you normally eat eggs and sausage for breakfast, you might want to swap your animal  sausage for a vegan sausage and later swapping out your 1 egg for 2 cups of oatmeal (same amount of protein). This way you match not only your taste bud’s desires, you’re also keeping up nutritionally.

7. Create a list of likeable, plant based proteins. Most of us don’t keep track of our daily protein intake but many of us get way more than we actually need. The average person needs 45-65 grams of protein every day (fluctuates based on gender and age). We can easily meet the recommended daily amount using plant based foods. My list includes various nuts, oatmeal, legumes and for now, yogurt and fish.

8. Look for the “V” stamp. Lots of the hassle of “what’s safe to eat” is simplified by a teeny, tiny V for vegan label on packaged foods. Right now, advertisers are eager to please the quickly growing number of vegan consumers. If it has the “V”, it’s good to eat. There’s soups, microwave dinners, sauces and much more that are entirely plant based. Good for your tummy and time!

9. Do not attempt to convert others. As opposed to forcing your new ideology onto your friends and family (which normally backfires), just tell them YOUR story. Normally, your peeps will want to know what’s new with you anyway and the argument for vegetarianism ends up speaking for itself.

10. Do it for the right reasons. In a day where folks without celiac disease are bragging about eating gluten free, it’s easy to get wrapped up in food fads. There are two things that are the true driving forces of going vegetarian (for me). My health and for the poor animals. When you care enough and are passionate enough about either of these issues you can be successful and achieving  vegetarian, and maybe down the line, vegan nirvana.

Good luck!

P.s.- Do you have any tips for those of us who want to go vegan? Do share!

XO

Jazz

Healthy Snacking: Yummy Kale Chips Recipe

This weekend could’ve turned into a nutritional disaster. The blizzard casted heavy shade over my entire weekend itinerary and like many others trapped indoors, cabin fever almost brought out the beast in me. Luckily, I forged my way through ten blocks of the white stuff to hunker down with my sister where she put me on to a healthy treat!

Lots of us find it difficult to tastefully integrate kale into our diets. *Slowly raises right hand* For me, eating kale felt like chomping on raw collard greens. It really does help to explore more innovative approaches when incorporating things like kale, beets and other yucky veggies with super duper amounts of antioxidants and vitamins into your diet.

‘Exactly how super duper is kale’ you ask? Here’s the rundown:

1 cup=33 calories, 6g carbohydrates, 3g protein

Rich in fiber, vitamin K (7× the RDA), vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium. All of which are generally lacking in the modern American diet. A single cup of steamed kale per day has been proven to lower cholesterol, improve bone health and can also combat blood clotting, alzheimers and cancer.

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You’ll need:
A bushel of kale de-stemmed (and rinsed of course)
Sea salt
Fresh pepper
Cayenne pepper seasoning
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 large glass baking dish

1. Preheat your over to 310°
2. In a large bowl, toss your olive oil and kale until the kale is evenly coated. Dont overdo the olive oil. It should be a light sheen of oil not a coating.
3. Space your kale out on the baking dish.
4. Season to your taste buds with light sea salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
5. Bake in the oven for about 14 minutes or as soon as you notice them beginning to brown.
6.  Cool for about a minute.
7. Crunch away!

This snack was so quick and tasty that I’m definitely going to add it to my snacking goodie bag. Do you have any tactics for turning boring veggies into tasty treats? Do share!

Xo, Jazz

Required Reading | “By Any Greens Necessary” Author Tracye McQuirter, MPH

When I peeled back the wrapping paper on what felt like another token Christmas gift (yes, I’m childish), I had no idea that my brother was gifting me something that would alter my perception of the American food industry forevaaa (Cardi B voice). I’ve seen plenty of vegan and animal rights films but the deeper impact of a good ole paperback just cannot be debated. “By Any Greens Necessary” by Tracye Lynn McQuirter is a must read for all African Americans–especially black women. You can hear this same message from a gazillion different sources, but hearing it from a sista just makes the message so much more personal and tailored to our needs and interests.

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Tracye Lynn McQuirter, MPH

We have the highest rates of many chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented by adopting a plant based diet and eliminating animal foods. It’s common knowledge that animal products are packed with cholesterol, saturated fats, antibiotics, fecal matter, mucus and many other substances that these poor animals encounter during their filthy stay at the barn house. Regardless of all that we’ve read about the American meat industry we are still so reluctant to adopt a vegan lifestyle because we think animal flesh is an essential component to our diets. What most of us don’t know is that our bodies do not need animal products to lead a healthy lifestyle.

In “By Any Greens Necessary”, you’ll learn that contrary to what the USDA nutrition guidelines advise, 70% of African Americans cannot safely digest lactose (big shocker there).  I can’t even look at milk without shuddering. As a child, I digested milk like a champ. As an adult? Not so much. I, like many other black men and women, developed a lactose intolerance with age. Milk simply hurts these days. Hurts my stomach and gives me painful cramps that last for hours if I’m lucky. Sometimes the pain has side affects like constipation and nausea. So why on earth does the USDA recommend 2-3 servings of dairy per day? They essentially ignore the fact that we cannot safely digest it. In fact, many Asian, Native American and Latinos have a hard time digesting lactose as well. The only group that can digest lactose with ease is Caucasians. Yet, it is required that cafeteria workers place a carton of milk on each school lunch tray–whether the child wants the milk or not. It begs the question WHY? How on earth does dairy merit inclusion on the USDA’s 5 food groups? Why, when meat has been linked to heart disease, high cholesterol and many outbreaks of deadly viruses, does the government continue to allow excessive marketing, cheap and unhealthy production, despicable conditions and deceptive labeling to lead the masses to literally eat themselves to death? The recommendation of animal products on our guidelines is a sad and villainous representation of all that is wrong with our country.

If that little tidbit of information wasn’t compelling enough to make you go out and grab the book, maybe this will. My eyes nearly rolled out of my head when I read that dairy had been linked to the dreaded uterine fibroid. That’s plural for most of us. Two summers ago my 3 little fibroids landed me a stay in Brooklyn Hospital for a week on an ice and water diet. I was so miserable. That’s when I learned that a whopping 90% of Black women will develop uterine fibroids between ages 20 and 50. In numerous studies, the growth of fibroids have been linked to dairy, ham and beef consumption. Complications with fibroids can lead to hysterectomy which means no little chocolate babies for you and hubby.

Ladies, please, please, please do yourself a favor and grab this book. It is in fact a matter of life and death. Sista to sista and with love, you owe it to yourself to go out and get all of this knowledge!

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xo,

Jazz

 

 

Back To School: 10 Lunch Essentials That Support Brain Development

It’s back to school time and amidst all the hustle and bustle remember one very important factor in your child’s performance – nutrition! Arm them with the nutrients they need to succeed. Most foods marketed to young children are absolutely the worst things for them. Breakfast cereals packed with sugar and processed ingredients, juices with random coloring, chips sprinkled with vibrant “cheese product”. There is little to no nutritional value in these items. Think about the affects these foods have on your child’s brain over an extended period of time.

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Let’s help our kids in school and get them back to basics. Here is a list of items you can grab on your next grocery run that have been proven to support better brain function.

Water (instead of juice)

Drinking water and brain function are integrally linked. Lack of water to the brain can cause numerous symptoms including problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches, sleep issues, anger, depression, and many more. The brain is one of the most important organs in your body to keep fueled. It is approximately 85 percent water and brain function depends on having abundant access to water. Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.

Whole Grains

Our brains need energy to function just like any other organ in our bodies. Whole grains are carbohydrates which break down to glucose. Unfortunately, not all glucose is created equal. Some sugars have a high glycemic index which means the energy releases into your body at a rapid rate, shocking your blood stream and supplying you with a high amount of energy and then causing you to crash once it has worn off. Whole Grains have a low glycemic index. The energy they supply is slowly released providing you with a steady stream of energy. When grabbing your breakfast cereals, keep this in mind. Make sure the cereal is made with whole grains and also go the extra distance and make sure there is little to no added sugar. Better yet, just grab the plain whole rolled oats oatmeal.

Eggs

Egg consumption is known to improve concentration in children as they are extremely nutritious, having an abundance of brain-boosting proteins, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. They can also be served in a number of ways, either by itself or as a topping for sandwiches.

Kale

Deep green-colored fruits and veggies are among the best foods you can give to your kids. However, kale stands out as a super brain food for kids. Its abundance of folate and vitamins enhances the development of the brain and protects it from damage as they age. It also contains a powerful detoxifying agent, and assists with the growth of new brain cells.

Apple

It’s no wonder apples are every kid’s favorite. They’re a sweet and refreshing snack that does wonder’s for dietary function. However, the apple assists in brain development as well. It’s main brain-helping ingredient is quercitin, a chemical found mostly in the skin of apples. This compound is seen to have a direct effect on the prevention of cognitive decline in both short and long terms.

Blueberries

Many studies have linked blueberries to improving or delaying short term memory loss. Blueberries are also rich in antioxidants, which work to neutralize free radicals linked to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other age-related conditions.

Tomatoes

There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.

Broccoli 

This vegetable is a great snack and is super rich in  vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.

Avocado

This is not only delish on our tortillas and salads, but it also helps with cognitive function.

Walnuts and other nuts

Walnuts improve working memory, problem-solving and motor function. Nuts are loaded with proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals are known to develop and maintain superior brain functions. Some nuts are rich in Vitamin E, selenium, and folate, 3 of the most brain-friendly compounds known to man.

Operation Babyface: Turn Back The Clock With Proper Hydration

While it might not be the most tasty beverage available, water is undefeated in not only quenching thirst but it also does wonders to quench those thirsty little skin cells of yours. Most of us think of water in terms of digestion and organ function but we often dismiss our epidermis (our skin is an organ, remember that from grade school?). As we age, our bodies retain less and less water. This can leave our skin cells, shriveled up if we don’t hydrate properly. Skin is often the first indicator of dehydration so it figures that when we are properly hydrated, our skin takes on a youthful appearance.

My water intake used to fluctuate on a daily basis and it took me a while to figure out why on some days I had the face of a newborn and on others I looked like a dried out baseball mitt. It was really bothering me. The first thing I did was cancel out coffee. I did some Google research and found lots of articles pointing to coffee as an acne trigger. If you know me, you know coffee is bae. But, it had to go if I was going to figure out what was haunting my skin. Next I began eating hella carrots. I always noticed that my complexion would brighten after eating carrots with rabbit-like fervor. In the midst of all this no coffee  and baby carrot torture, I figured I’d take that extra step and guzzle some water. The next day I noticed a HUGE difference in the texture of my skin. It was very moist and supple whereas the day before, both my skin and lips were super dry. I will admit to faltering on my water intake a few days in and what do you know, my skin began to get dry again. My lips began to peel. Most of us think that our lips are dry because we haven’t used chap stick or lip balm. But what about the ancient humans who didn’t have these things. How did they hydrate their lips? They drank water! How’d they manage to do all that back-breaking farming, hunting and pyramid building? They went to the Nile and sipped! Ha!

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In all seriousness, drinking the proper amounts of water can assist in digestion, organ function and not to mention our muscle function. You don’t know dehydration until you’ve worked yourself into a quad cramp, which usually comes from overworking the muscle in the absence of proper hydration. Did you know that water makes up a whopping 75% of your muscles? Imagine what you’re doing to your muscles when you don’t hydrate before your workouts! Check the image below to see more ways water impacts your overall health.

yesiknowthatIf you’re struggling with drinking your daily water, try creating a water alarm/reminder in your phone. Or you could try carrying a bigger water bottle instead of a smaller one. Many people opt for fruit infused, homemade water as a tasty alternative. There are plenty of ways to get this done! As always, sharing is caring. Drop some feedback or share some water drinking tips below!

xo,

Jazz