Stemming food apartheid

A woman somewhat hesitantly combs through the vegetables in her dish with her utensil in a foodiefreshmama Instagram video. She admits, “This is a different taste for me however, I feel that it makes me feel good inside.”

“It makes you feel good inside,” a voice echoes. “Food is feeling!”

The woman crinkles her nose, laughs and says, “I feel it.”

The voice proclaiming “Food is feeling!” belongs to Nikki Warsop-Lindo, CLC, a mother, culinary nutrition educator, community chef and writer in Brooklyn, NY.

Warsop-Lindo is devoted to bringing food justice to her community and beyond.

She hopes to remove barriers to healthy eating and stem the food apartheid that is crippling vulnerable communities. Warsop-Lindo is passionate about providing culinary nutrition education to communities that need it most, to the communities she identifies with. 

For the the past two  years, she’s served food-insecure residents of Northeast and Central Brooklyn by facilitating access to healthy food options.  Alongside community organizations like the Northeast Brooklyn Housing and Development Corporation,  she regularly conducts culinary nutrition education workshops and demonstrations for families, seniors, food-pantry clients, and young learners in and around her community.

She aims to empower and support community members, her neighbors, through thoughtful whole-foods instruction and dialogue in a way that is culturally sensitive and honorable of the varied and dynamic food histories that exist in her community. Warsop-Lindo says she holds a strong deference to rooted cultural patterns and mindsets as it relates to food.

The end-game as she puts it: to help her neighbors build the knowledge and ability to choose and prepare healthier foods that will support and fortify their bodies and, by extension, their wellness.  

Alongside this work, she advocates for first food justice: “Breastmilk, liquid gold, the truest of whole foods.”

“ My aim is to draw connections between our workshop discussions around the nutritional benefits of whole, plant-based foods and breast milk’s natural superiority as the optimal first food for our babies – and how these both support family health and wellness,” Warsop-Lindo explains.

Warsop-Lindo found herself charged to help others after her own challenging pregnancy and traumatic birth experience.

“I’d always had an appreciation of ‘good’ food and its impact on our health, but I struggled with being consistent with eating healthy,” she begins.  “After my extremely challenging pregnancy and birth experience, I was fortunate enough to have a support system that was fluent in the old adage: let food be thy medicine. So when conventional, prescriptive medicine dropped off, healthy foods helped mend my body after a traumatic delivery and postpartum complications.”

She goes on, “I found myself in a space where I wanted to be a support to others in similar situations because I know the challenges of being new to parenthood, having a desire to feed your family with healthy, nutritious foods, but feeling helpless to do so, because you live in a city that doesn’t make it convenient or affordable to do so.”

A deprived and depraved food landscape

Warsop-Lindo points out that while her neighbors in central Brooklyn are vibrant, lively people,  the community is plagued by diseases like diabetes and hypertension, often diet-related.

“Processed foods overwhelm our communities,” she reports.

In fact, when Warsop-Lindo’s daughter started to indulge in complementary foods, she rather quickly lost the stamina to continue finding minimally processed foods that would “build up her [baby’s] body.”

Serendipitously, while at a community event, she discovered a community chef training program where she learned things like healthful food preparation, knife skills, proper food selection and storage, and food seasonality and locality, a beacon in an otherwise disadvantaged area.

It was here Warsop-Lindo learned how to take stock of her food landscape. She explains it this way: If you wanted to find an organic gala apple, how far would you have to leave your neighborhood to find it? Is the distance prohibitive? Is the cost prohibitive? Then consider access to ‘fake foods’ at fast food joints, convenient stores and liquor stores. Which is easier to get  to – financially and physically?

In some communities like central Brooklyn, some families have ready access to greasy burgers, fries drenched in unhealthy oils, and sugary drinks and sodas. While in other Brooklyn communities, other families have ample access to fresh, wholesome foods.

Even amidst Brooklyn’s gentrification which has brought more whole food options to key zip codes, some families of color don’t feel welcomed in these spaces, she says.

“There’s an underline understanding that this wasn’t created to serve me or my family but, instead, the new crop of neighbors,” Warsop-Lindo explains.  “And even if I’d like to shop here, the cost may be prohibitive.”

She goes on, for some families in these communities, a “full” fast food meal may cost nearly the same as two organic, gala apples (factoring the transportation cost to trek outside of your neighborhood to source these items).  A cost some folks in the community simply can’t stomach.

“If that’s not your circumstance, understand that circumstances like these affect the food options/decisions for a lot of mommies and their babies.”

Dismantling food apartheid  

Warsop-Lindo and her neighbors are dismantling this phenomenon where communities are shut out from being able to access whole, fresh, organic food– otherwise known as food apartheid– through community culinary nutrition education.

Warsop- Lindo explains her role this way:  “I remind people to eat their fruits and vegetables.  They already know do that; I’m not teaching anything new. I only facilitate conversations and practical instruction around healthy eating in a food justice context, giving them a little nudge in a culturally appropriate way.”

Warsop-Lindo has also worked with middle-school aged children in transitional housing through an after-school culinary arts program. Even in an incredibly trying time in their lives, she watched the students’ self-confidence flourish as they developed recipes and tried cooking techniques together.

“The whole act of making a meal is creationary,” she explains. “When you create you build self esteem. And they are building skill sets that will last a lifetime.”

Similar to Brooklyn Daddy Iron Chef events, Warsop-Lindo is in the process of creating space for pregnant and parenting mothers with children under two to socialize and cook with one another. It’s a pre/postnatal nutrition education workshop designed to address food access challenges for Brooklyn moms. These culinary nutrition workshops will emphasize the nutritional benefits of the dishes prepared together in community and draw parallels to the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding to baby and mom.

Benefits abound

Bringing families together around the table not only encourages healthy eating practices, but it facilitates bonding time.

“Especially in New York City, time is so incredibly elusive…you’re constantly running from this thing to the next,” Warsop-Lindo says. “Cooking together offers a moment in time to just slow down.”

Cooking inspires conversation. In the simple act of chopping an avocado, there’s opportunity to explore texture, color, flavor.  

Food transcends time. The flavor profiles found in amniotic fluid and breastmilk connect children to their ancestral foods.

“In communities of color, we are keen on recognizing and honoring our cultural heritage and defining our identity on our own terms,” Warsop-Lindo explains. “Flavors offer a powerful connection to ancestry.”

Warsop-Lindo shares one of the foods she enjoyed in her youth that her grand aunt prepared: cornmeal porridge.

“I can continue that lineage to my child,” she comments. “That’s an incredibly powerful ability.”

Food heals. Phytochemicals– chemicals produced by plants– can improve health conditions, so Warsop-Lindo weaves this information into her community events and encourages her neighbors to consume “good, curative food.”

“You should feel satisfied after you eat; your body should feel a bit of vigor, not weighed down by extra conconctions put in [processed] foods,” she advises.

A trusted messenger

The importance of a familiar face in communities of color cannot be minimized, Warsop-Lindo emphasizes.

Health messaging is easily dismissed in neighborhoods that have developed a distrust for the medical community.

“I feel extremely  blessed and privileged to be in a position to support women and their families, especially those that look like me,” Warsop-Lindo says. “I hope to grow in this capacity and grow my reach.”

Connect with Warsop-Lindo on Instagram @foodiefreshmama.

Watch for her children’s book series about prematurity, Mighty Tiny Tot.

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