Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

Kwanzaa Thoughts from Oldways

African Heritage Logo - Kwanzaa Culinarians.

Kwanzaa Culinarians thanks Oldways Program Manager Sarah Dwyer for this contribution. Join our Tweetchat with Oldways and The Duo Dishes on Tuesday, December 20th at 1:00 pm pst/4:00 pm est as we talk about all things #kwanzaa. Be sure to follow @KwanzaaCulinary, @OldwaysPT and @TheDuoDishes to participate and win giveaway prizes.

This year, celebrating Kwanzaa will be extra special for the Oldways team. Many of us here have spent the last year immersed in African Diasporan history and health, as we worked to develop the new African Heritage Diet Pyramid and Plates. We learned so much from our committee of experts about African Diasporan history, foodways, and health. We talked with grass-roots pioneers working to improve health and stability in African American communities all over the country. And at the end of this powerful year, we would like to help celebrate Kwanzaa and African Heritage, showing the world what we can take from that legacy to improve our futures.

It All Starts With A Goal
The seven principles of Kwanzaa all lead back to the same goal: wellbeing. How can we hope to achieve unity, self-determination, collective work, sense of purpose, thriving commerce, creativity, and faith without it? Kwanzaa’s focus on enhancing the wellbeing of our families, communities, and cultures brings about a unique potency for positive change as we approach the New Year. Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, tells us that the seventh principle, Imani (faith), “teaches us to believe in our capacity as a people to remain an informed, active and powerful presence for good in the world.”

So, the big questions to contemplate this Kwanzaa are: how do we create that good? What are the biggest problems facing African Americans today? And how can we best fix them?

Whatever we do, everything starts with health. Whether we want to improve our schools, our neighborhoods, or our jobs, good health must lay behind it. Today, African Americans experience many chronic diseases at a higher rate than other demographics. The most common of these health issues are high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer. These conditions are among the number one killers in the world, but they are also preventable—simply through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Unfortunately, many are resigned to the “inevitability” of these diseases, but this is the mindset and trend that Oldways aims to change.

We have found a new kind of inspiration.

AHHPyramidKwanzaa - Kwanzaa Culinarians

Let the Old Ways Be Our Guide
Kwanzaa begins with reaching back to build up, and that is truly what the African Heritage Diet and Oldways are all about. Oldways’ African Heritage Diet Pyramid and Plates are based on the traditional diets of the African Diaspora – Africa, the Caribbean, South America and the American South. These regional eating patterns offer us a delicious, affordable, healthy diet and lifestyle model that meets the guidelines promoted by health professionals today.

Traditional African Heritage meals are based on an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens; tubers like sweet potatoes; beans of all kinds; nuts and peanuts; rice, flatbreads and other grain foods, especially whole grains; healthy oils; homemade sauces and marinades of herbs and spices; fish, eggs, poultry and yogurt; and minimal consumption of meats and sweets. This is a powerful new direction in the way we think about and consume food, and scientific research shows that these foods and eating this way can help:

  • Lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure & stroke
  • Avoid or help treat diabetes
  • Fight certain cancers and many chronic diseases
  • Reduce asthma, glaucoma, and kidney disease
  • Nurture healthy babies
  • Achieve a healthy weight and avoid obesity
  • Reduce depression
  • And lots more!

Trying It On
Kwanzaa is a wonderful time to put the attributes of this diet and pyramid into practice. In the spirit of the 7 Principles, here are 7 Steps to celebrate health and heritage during your Kwanzaa festival this year:

1. Boost Flavor With Spice. Curries, peppers, coconut, fresh herbs, garlic, onions, fresh lemon, and all spices are low-sodium ways to add incredible flavors to grains, beans, vegetables, and seafood. Try a brand new herb this Kwanzaa to celebrate African heritage.
2. Make Vegetables the Star of Your Dishes. Steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled or raw, enjoy veggies like greens, cabbage, green beans, or eggplant in larger portions than the other parts of your meal. Also, One-Pot Cooking lets flavors sing together! Let okra, corn and tomatoes collide in a “Mix Up,” or add extra color and flavor to your greens with purple cabbage and leeks. If you’re grabbing seconds, just go for the veggies!
3. Change the Way You Think About Meat. Bring a vegetarian meal to one of your Kwanzaa events. With the zesty flavors of African heritage, you may not even notice the meat’s not there. We’ve got plenty of vegetarian recipes to help you on the Oldways website.  (Link)
4. Make Rice & Beans Your Kwanzaa Side-Dish Staples. Fiber-filled Rice-and-Beans is a favorite meal throughout the African Diaspora and all over the world. Add whole grains like millet, sorghum and teff to your soups, or partner them with black eyed peas  for added luck this Kwanzaa.
5. Family Support & Food Fellowship. Food is meant to be shared, and so is good health. Think of your Kwanzaa dinner table as a “healing table” this year—a place where people come to share beautiful, fresh foods and reinforce a long, happy and healthy life.
6. Jazz Up Fruits for Dessert. If there’s a party, there’s obviously got to be dessert! Bring a healthy medley or fresh or frozen fruits like melons, peaches, berries, and mangos—plain or sprinkled with chopped nuts or coconut. They add a sweet taste of satisfaction at the end of a meal!
7. Drink to Your Health. Give yourself a little challenge to see how much water you can remember to drink over the holidays! Add crushed fruits or small amounts of 100% fruit juice to water or sparkling water to make refreshing “ades” (like lemonade!). Iced tea with a little honey is another refreshing alternative to soda and other highly sugared drinks.

What would happen if this year’s Kwanzaa was dedicated to health? What if we all decided to put an end to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and maybe even cancer? The possibilities are endless, but one thing’s for sure: that “good” that we’re trying to lift in the world could rise to an altitude higher than any of us have ever known.

Happy and Healthy Kwanzaa from Oldways!

Be sure to follow Oldways on Facebook and Twitter.

About The Duo Dishes

Chrystal Baker is a private cook, recipe developer, culinary production artist and freelance contributor to, as well as a culinary production team member for various TV shows, commercials, photo shoots and online content. She maintains, a Los Angeles-based food blog that features dishes influenced by family tradition, regional fare and worldly flavors. She also shares travel stories and links to published work via a personal blog, You can follow her trail on Instagram and Twitter-- @AnynEverywhere and @TheDuoDishes.

2 comments on “Kwanzaa Thoughts from Oldways

  1. Pingback: Baking With Olive Oil This Kwanzaa « Kwanzaa Culinarians

  2. Love this new food pyramid/paradigm!


Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on December 12, 2011 by in 2011, Nia, Personal Story and tagged , , , , , .

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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