March is National Nutrition Month®. The theme for 2022 is “Celebrate a World of Flavors”. This month we are celebrating different cultures that impact foods eaten across the United States. Join us each week as we highlight traditional meals and ingredients from around the world. How can you celebrate with us? Try making some of these meals or incorporating some of these ingredients into your meal plan this month. Educate yourself on a food culture different from your own. Donate to Second Harvest to help us provide culturally diverse foods for your neighbors. Though our world is beautifully different, we all share a love and respect for our food cultures.
(Note that this list is in no way comprehensive. The list is researched based off traditional foodways and cannot be generalized to the whole population of people who identify as part of these cultures.)
Week 1: African American Foodways
African American foods have greatly shaped American cuisine, especially that of the American South. Traditional ingredients, dishes and cooking methods can be traced back to Africa. Common foods in the American South, like watermelon, okra, yams, black-eyed peas and some peppers were brought from Africa through the slave trade. Slaves grew the seeds for such foods and made dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, pepper pot, and Hoppin’ John. Slaves introduced new cooking methods as well, like deep frying fish and barbecuing meats, which were both were documented in West Africa before the slave trade. The term “Soul Food” was coined during the 1960s to identify and celebrate foods representing the heritage of African Americans. (Mark the month of June for National Soul Food Month)
- Common ingredients: rice, beans (black-eyed peas or red beans), chicken, and greens (collards, mustard, turnip), grits, cornmeal, okra, onions, tomatoes, cucumber, variety of fruits and melons, buttermilk, cottage cheese, milk, variety of meats, and animal-based fats for cooking
- Traditional dishes:
- greens cooked with smoked meat – collard, turnip, or mustard greens stewed with pork and served as a side; the leftover nutritious liquid is called potlikker and can be used in other soups or enjoyed as-is
- barbecue ribs – ribs of pork or beef slow-cooked with live fire and smoke and generally smothered with a mustard-, vinegar- or tomato-based sauce
- fried okra – sliced okra pods dipped in milk and coated with a flour, cornmeal, and seasoning mixture fried in hot oil
- gumbo – a stew consisting of stock, meat or shellfish, celery, bell peppers, onions, and okra
- Hoppin’ John – rice, chopped onion, black-eyed peas seasoned with bacon or other pork product and salt
- fried chicken or fish – chicken pieces (thigh, breast, wing, or leg) or fish fillets coated with seasoned batter and fried, leaving a crunchy crust on the outside and a juicy center
- fried green tomatoes – unripe green tomatoes are sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper, coated in cornmeal and shallow-fried until crispy on both sides
Week 2: Hispanic/Latinx Foodways
When we talk about Hispanic/Latinx foodways, we include food patterns from Mexico, Spain, countries in Central and South America, and the Hispanic Caribbean countries. Dishes are influenced from ingredients native to these countries as well as ingredients from Europe, Africa and even Asia brought from Spanish settlers. This foodway covers a lot of ground, so food patterns may be similar, but ingredients and cooking methods can vary from region to region. Beans, rice and corn/maize are found across many of these food cultures.
- Common ingredients: tomatoes, avocados, onions, plantains, peppers/chiles, potatoes, bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, cornmeal, tortillas, rice, beans, beef, chicken, pork, fish, milk, cheese, coffee, chocolate, cilantro, cinnamon, seeds (like pumpkin, sesame, etc.)
- Traditional meals
- Empanadas – turnovers in flour dough stuffed with chicken or beef
- Arroz con leche – rice cooked in milk with sugar & cinnamon
- Tamales – steamed cornmeal dough filled with beef, chicken or vegetables, often eaten on special occasions
- Enchiladas – corn tortillas fried and dipped in a chili sauce and filled with cheese, chicken, or beef; served with cream cheese and shredded cheese
Week 3: Sub-Saharan African Foodways
Sub-Saharan Africa is the area of the African continent below the Sahara Desert. This area covers a lot of ground, so foodways can change drastically from region-to-region. Many Sub-Saharan countries prepare meals high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Many spices and herbs are used to add flavor and seasoning to the foods. Food culture in many Sub-Saharan countries emphasizes family meals and eating by hand around communal bowls of food. Dishes are influenced by native ingredients as well as by foods introduced by European and Asian travelers. Food choices and meal patterns are also influenced by religious food practices, like those of Islam, Judaism and Orthodox Christian faiths.
- Common ingredients: corn, millet, sorghum, cornmeal/maize, rice, pumpkin leaves, yams, beans, plantains, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, okra, coconuts, oranges, guavas, peanuts and peanut butter, curry powder, ginger, garlic, cloves, mint, fermented dairy products, pork, fish and seafood, beef, chicken
- Traditional meals:
- Umngqusho (Zimbabwe, Southern Africa) – a dish traditionally made with samp, dried corn kernels that have been pounded until broken (similar to hominy), and nuts or black-eyed peas and spices
- Koose with kooko (Ghana, Western Africa) –black-eyed pea patties spiced with red pepper flakes and served with millet porridge
- Maafe (Nigeria, Western Africa) – a peanut soup made with sweet potatoes, peanuts and peanut butter, tomato paste, cayenne pepper and ginger. Some variations include chicken or beef and greens.
- Misir wat (Ethiopia, Eastern Africa) – a spicy stew made with red lentils, onion, berbere (an Ethiopian pepper powder), tomatoes, garlic and ginger
Thanks for joining us on this food journey this month as we celebrate different food cultures from around the world and within our communities in East Tennessee. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with our National Nutrition Month® festivities. Be sure to tag us if you try new foods from another culture this month!