The words “eat your vegetables” aren’t familiar to me from my childhood because the practice of doing so just came naturally. Growing up as a first generation American in a household with Panamanian parents, eating vegetables is just what we did. My family’s native cuisine – which is an exotic fusion of Latin and Caribbean flavors – is innately reliant on vegetables not only as compliments to meat and fish but as star ingredients themselves. Carrots, cucumbers, celery, peppers and various peas took center stage in so many of the dishes we ate. Yuca and yams made regular appearances and avocado (which I know is technically fruit) was always in the picture next to a well-dressed salad. Fresh herbs and dried spices were always part of the equation hence everything was always WELL SEASONED, even the fruits. From spicy grilled mangos in the summertime to plantains roasted with cinnamon in the winter, most of what we ate was from the ground up and full of flavor.
My parents, both of whom are fantastic cooks, took turns making homemade meals every single night so my memories of eating nothing but deliciousness throughout my childhood are vivid and what I don’t remember is corroborated by many stories. My intro to solid foods I’ve been told was loaded with steamed gourds (pumpkin was apparently my absolute favorite) and puréed versions of the same vegetables my parents ate. This veggies-first approach to eating is exactly the same one I follow when it comes to my own son’s diet and the reason why he’s loved his fruits and vegetables since he was first introduced to solid foods.
Though the food I grew up on is the foundation for my personal food philosophy and the basis for my diligence about my son’s intake (and more importantly, what he doesn’t take in—i.e. a ton of sweets and processed junk food), it is not what’s considered typical for people of colour. The stereotypes connected to what Black people eat tend to skew unhealthy. From fatty, greasy fried things classified as “soul food” to the fast-food chains that line the streets in predominantly Black neighbourhoods across the country, the diet that the mainstream associates with Black culture couldn’t be further from healthy.
Despite the racial uprisings of 2020 and society’s slow-growing interest in inclusivity, there is still a slew of systemically racist practices in the food business and the health world overall – specifically in the way messages of nutrition and health are delivered to consumers of color. What’s thought of as mindful and in line with wellness, is targeted towards and uniquely messaged for White people. The visual sprinklings of generic diversity here and there are a far cry from making “healthy” accessible and more importantly appealing to all. That distinct separation is why I am so deeply committed to spreading healthy messages to the masses but more importantly, to living a healthy lifestyle at home and providing a framework for what it means to eat healthy for my son.
From my work as a recipe creator- developing and demonstrating healthy recipes in the television, digital and print spaces – to researching and writing about healthy trends, products and services for mainstream publications, I am determined to be a voice of healthy living with a dark complexion. Breaking down health and making it relatable to everyone but especially people who look like me is a top priority but most of all I’m dedicated to showing the next generation that wellness is not exclusively for White people and is in fact beneficial for everyone, including people of color. The old saying “we are what we eat” is 100% fact and applies to everyone. My mission is to spotlight and create accessible and delicious options for people of every race, color and creed to navigate their diet with that adage in mind. It’s a difficult task that cannot be left undone and I welcome the challenge.
Stir fried pears
1/2 tsp coconut oil
1 cup chopped Bartlett pears (peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes)
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp lemon pepper season
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Mint for garnish
Heat oil in a skillet then add pear and sauté for 2-4 minutes on med heat, stir frequently.
Add lime juice then the spices and salt and stir well to evenly season the pear pieces.
Add vinegar, stir again then remove from heat. Garnish with mint and serve warm or let cool, refrigerate and serve cold with mint and a dollop of vegan whipped cream.
Follow our Mother Muse Nicole Young Here
Photographed by Sharon Schuster