A Celebration of African Heritage and Health

A few days ago, you couldn't find my kitchen table as I anticipated correctly that every corner was covered by bowls and dishes of leafy greens, cabbages, millet, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, and layers of injera – the traditional whole-grain flatbread of Ethiopia. These were just some of the menu items I planned for an African heritage potluck I hosted to commemorate African Heritage & Health Week.

African Heritage & Health Week is an exciting new initiative founded by Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage. During this kick-off week to Black History Month, Oldways invites everyone everywhere to enjoy at least one meal with African roots. To help diners explore, we have created a new “African Heritage Dine Around Town” section on the Oldways website that offers dining destinations across the nation. If a meal at home shared with family and friends is more appealing, Oldways suggests making Jollof Rice. This is a traditional African rice dish that is delicious and healthy, plus budget friendly.

Guests at my African Heritage & Health Week potluck were also my former students – an amazing group of men and women who participated in the piloting of Oldways’ new cooking class series, A Taste of African Heritage. Over the course of six weeks, these students celebrated the healthy history of African heritage, learned about the innate nutrition of the old ways, and cooked up an array of traditional, plant-based meals.

The essence of the African Heritage & Health program is that of celebration - showing that many of today's most applauded foods in the nutrition world have African and African American roots. Because of the way African American ancestors ate and lived, they saw little to no chronic disease - a stark difference from today. Oldways’ African Heritage Diet brochure's cover line reads: "Diabetes is not a part of African heritage. Neither is heart disease." It's this celebratory spirit combined with the reality of the heritage, that draws me to teach through the old ways and keeps me inspired every day.

A major part of human history is the food that has shaped and sustained cultures around the world. We hope to see a sharp rise in the popularity of the delicious flavors and traditional foods that offer a key to better health in the African community. African Heritage & Health Week is an opportunity to raise awareness and elevate this cuisine, which is far from the unhealthy soul food some might think of. There’s no better time to dedicate a week to African Heritage & Health than during Black History Month.

What will you do?


Sarah Dwyer is the African Heritage & Health Program Manager at Oldways.

Photos courtesy of the author.