UHEMU Health Initiative

Sancocho is a Puerto Rican and Dominican "stone soup" - leftovers make a stew. See a healthy version of Sancocho here.

AFRO-VEGAN by Bryant Terry provides delicious alternative recipes to traditional Soul Food.

SWEET POTATO SOUL by Jenne Claiborne provides a flavorful vegan Soul Food twist.

Ancestral Wellness Wisdom
By Queen Mother Imakhu

Holistic wellness practices and remedies are documented as far back as the medical papyri from Ancient Egypt (Khamet). The word charei meant sound mind, body, and soul. The Khametic zunu (physician) understood that good health required wellness in every aspect of the patient's life.

Throughout indigenous culture, there has always been an understanding that the earth provided everything that we need for good health. Each family or community had its own health remedies based on what nature provided locally. This is true today. I've experienced that no mater where I lived in the NY/NJ/PA area, there were always naturally occurring plants to address my health needs, and also the prevailing illnesses of the region.

For aeons, our indigenous ancestors ate from the earth's bounty, and remained close to their environment. What changed? European invasion and enslavement. Disconnected from their homelands, the enslaved had to learn the strange flora and fauna, and their functions. Black and Brown captors were given the castoff, unwanted food of the enslavers. Through creativity, and the will to survive, discarded scraps were turned into desirable delicacies. Still, the most desired foods came fresh from the garden. It was considered a blessing if a slave master would permit individual family gardens. This was also true when the sharecropping system developed.

 

My mother told me how my beloved grandparents, who left southern sharecropping and became northern business people, were "allowed" to have their own vibrant family garden because the landowner liked them. Even when Grandma and Grandpa moved to New Jersey from North Carolina, they maintained a fresh garden alongside their soul food establishment. Their preference was always in procuring fresh fruits and vegetables, if not from their garden, then from someone else in our community.

Grandma readily shared health remedies that would be considered "holistic" today. And I'll always remember Grandpa teaching me how to pick out the right watermelons. Fresh produce was always their true delicacies, not cookies or candy. This was true of all of my family elders. Once on a family visit to see my great, great Uncle Mil'on (Milton), who had just been moved to a nursing home, my mother insisted that we stop at roadside fruit stand. She purchased a bag of peaches. Uncle Mil'on, who was born blind, gratefully held every single peach to his nose with the joy of a child.

I've observed how so many of our people have fallen away from the desire to eat delicious, fresh food, in exchange for grab-n-go  "convenience" foods marketed to us. Over the years, as my elders have gone to the ancestral realm, I recall how each were affected by what they ate, and the medicinals they'd ingested. It was painful to see Grandma succumb to illness after being diagnosed with a variety of issues, including heart, lungs, arthritic, and skin. She had a tray table full of required, daily medications, each pill with its own side effects. Grandma began to deteriorate. On her death bed, her doctor realized Grandma had lupus. He'd been treating separate ailments instead of the one core source.

Grandpa died of stroke complications. His lusty appetite for soul food and liquor surely played a part - especially as a soul food restaurateur and bar owner.

Numerous other elders left here poisoned by pharmaceuticals, poor diet, and alcohol. The generations of mental illness, easily traced to imposed chemical imbalances, and to what Dr. Joy Leary has termed "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome," is the other side of the Black and Brown "dis-ease" equation that people of color don't like to address. Self-medication through drugs, alcohol, and comfort foods was the acceptable norm.

 

 

 

Puerto Rican filmmaker Khadijah bint Costello's film clip "The Search for Khadijah,"  talking about her challenge finally find balance while living with Bipolar Disorder. She conducts a panel discussion with other Sisters of Color who speak openly about their mental health issues.

Khadijah bint Costelo is founder/director of Newark Speaks to You.

There were, however, relatives whose longevity and happiness were testaments to their healthy lifestyle practices.

When I made the decision to live more holistically, my cousin contemporaries questioned if it was a religious choice (I'm a practicing Khamite). Rejecting our traditional family soul food recipes made no sense to them. I explained, "Have you observed our family's health history? There's your answer."

Certainly, the comfort foods that are grandly paraded out at family gatherings can be hard to resist. Nobody made fried chicken like my stepdad, Alfred Mayfield. Aunt Carolyn's creamed corn pudding was pure joy. Any and everything that my great Aunt Bea made, whether, macaroni and cheese, mixed greens, and oh-my-goodness, her peach cobbler, was divine. There is an emotional feeling attached to eating what is considered "poor people's food." But as we come to know better, we should do better.

The other matter that has come to the fore in our community is hoarding. Cleanliness was a given for our communities. Now, due to exposure to mass consumerism, and memory of lack (fear of going back to not having enough), hoarding has become the embarrassing family secret that overwhelms and consumes. I've noticed that hoarding practices are becoming fairly common among activists and elders who have lost many comrades and friends. For them, hoarding is a way of holding on to time.

Mainstream society has had a major, adverse affect upon our people physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, these negative conditions can be reversed.

UHEMU Storytellers is committed to teaching the history of how we, as Black and Brown people, have developed a psychology that justifies poor eating habits based on our generations of needing to survive. UHEMU also provides wellness workshops to educate our people about healthy lifestyle alternatives, including classes in Healthy Food Shopping, Vegan Soul Food, gentle Khametic Yoga, Herbal Remedies, and Your Home is Your Hospital.

Be aware that this article is not written to dissuade individuals from any prescribed medications they are currently taken for diagnosed medical conditions - especially regarding mental health issues. The intention is to encourage readers to take a closer look at their general health practices, and to expose themselves to additional holistic support for overall well being. 

Contact UHEMU to have one of our Wellness Specialists present a workshop or lecture in your area. Let our healing begin.

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