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Native Food Ways: UNCP begins a community health and wellness outreach


UNC Pembroke began a major health initiative on November 9 with the Honoring Native Food Ways gathering. More than 100 people from the campus and community attended.

Besides serving up healthy and tasty Native American foods, the program combined cultural education with nutrition education. At the same time, the University launched its larger program – the Rural Health and Wellness Nutrition Project, said co-coordinator Dr. Cherry Beasley of the Nursing Department.

“Today, we coupled Native Foods with an emphasis on healthy eating using the Glycemic Index,” Dr. Beasley said. “We picked nutrition because it is a core factor in obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“We have information to share including recipes,” she said. “Our senior nursing students are here to take blood pressure and blood sugar levels,” she continued.

The program will rely on building partnerships inside and outside the University, Dr. Beasley said.

“We have surveyed local healthcare providers, our faculty and staff and the Lumbee Tribe to inventory our resources,” she said. “Our intention is to engage all of UNCP’s resources, and it is amazing what we have found.”

A grant from Unilever Corporation’s Raeford, N.C., manufacturing facility helped fund the Food Ways program with an $8,000 grant.

The Nutrition Project already has formed partnerships on and off campus with the Robeson County Cooperative Extension Service and the Lumbee Tribe, which was represented by a group of elders.

Co-coordinator Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, chair of American Indian Studies, said the event planted a seed that she hopes will grow.

“We had a good turnout of elders who were very enthusiastic,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Our idea is that if we show elders how to cook healthily, they will take that knowledge to their family events over the holidays.

“They are matriarchs, and they do the cooking for large family events,” she said. “They set the example for their families.”

At noon a group of Lumbee Elders cooked healthy collards, cornbread, Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa’) salad and roasted sweet potatoes with Janice Fields, Cooperative Extension nutritionist. They milled corn and wheat to maximize the nutritional value of the whole grain.

“What we do is teach healthy eating to groups like this,” Fields said. “A new program we are starting is called Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less.”

With Fields were horticulturist Kerrie Roach, nutrition educator Ava Locklear and Sarah Mamarella, a nutritionist intern from East Carolina University. Mamarella will spend a year at the Cooperative Extension Service, Southeastern Regional Medical Center, and other sites.

“From the data on obesity, Robeson County is significantly higher than North Carolina, about 7-8 percent higher,” she said. “That is significant.”

The Lumbee Elders, who cooked for the event in the Extension’s kitchen, were very adept in the kitchen and extremely knowledgeable about cornbread, collards and other regional foods.

Rebecca Bell was on a mission.

“I haven’t cooked with salt in several weeks,” Bell said. “I am determined to get off blood pressure medication with diet and exercise.

“I am here to learn more, and I like what I see,” she said.

Linda Carter wanted to know if there are cooking classes for persons with diabetes and hypertension.

Dorothy Chavis pronounced the Quinoa corn salad “delicious.”

“Linda explained how to use the Quinoa,” Chavis said. “It has to be rinsed or it’s bitter, but it adds a whole grain to the salad.”

Honoring Native Food Ways was staged in the University Center Annex. On the menu was sweet potato and fry bread, corn soup, squash, Lima beans, black walnuts, cider and grape dumplings, Dr. Jacobs explained.

Nursing student Alexis Rivera Rodriguez said his participation fulfilled a community service requirement. He was joined by Stephanie Hammonds, Susan Lopez and Shana Nixon.

“Our community service project is about preventing illness and promoting wellness,” Rodriguez said. “We brought some materials about healthy foods.”

UNCP students Devada Whitfield, Sara Pack and Cortland Kirson read Native creation stories about food.

“Many people don’t realize that foods like tomatoes and potatoes are native to the Americas,” Dr. Jacobs said. “When Europeans arrived, they internationalized them.

“The Unilever gift bought food and materials for this event,” she said. “We are also linking with an African-American Read-in project for elementary school students and a ‘Diabetes Across the Life Span’ program for healthcare providers.”

Three programs are planned for the next year with Unilever’s aid:

  • An African-American Read-in project for elementary school students featuring healthy snacks and
  • A Diabetes Across the Life Span program is planned for healthcare providers.

Dr. Jacobs, who is a social work professional, summed up.

“What we have tried to do is join with others to carry our message,” Dr. Jacobs said. “We want to involve as many groups as possible – the tribes, students, faculty and staff as well as local farmers and agencies.”