African cooking class encourages healthy living to address racial disparities in health

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COLUMBIA - Not all Americans are equal when it comes to health, but one local class hopes to use cooking to educate and motivate people to change their behaviors in an effort to address these disparities.

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department and the nonprofit organization Oldways are hosting the “Taste of African Heritage” class in Columbia. The class lasts from July 24 through August 28 and is held at the Family Impact Center.

According to Oldways representative Kyle Potvin, the class is funded by a grant through the Walmart Foundation, so participants do not have to pay to take it. It is first come first serve, and there is a waiting list to get in.

But this is not only a cooking class. In this class, people learn the history and culture of African cooking in order to eat healthier.

According to the American Heart Association, African Americans are more likely to have heart disease and high blood pressure than other Americans. The American Diabetes Association reports African Americans are 77% more likely to have diabetes than white americans. Some of these health problems are genetic, but class instructor Verna LaBoy said the food education and community support offered in the class can help address some of these problems.

“I’m feeling better. I’m losing weight. I feel more energy. And I’m surrounded by people that are excited about the same thing and it’s contagious,” LaBoy said.

LaBoy said she suffers from hypertension, a form of high blood pressure, and wants to use what she teaches and learns in the class to naturally improve her health and stop taking medication.

To prove participants get positive results from the class, instructors measure a person’s weight, blood pressure and even waist circumference at each class. Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Health Educator Laura McCulloch said data is not yet available on any changes.

Dee Campbell Carter attends the class and said she has lost three pounds since starting. People aren’t only seeing change in their bodies; some participants have even started their own gardens and used what they grow in their cooking.

“We now have a garden with greens and we grow our own greens and we eat greens everyday, which we didn’t use to,” Campbell Carter said.

Though the class has a focus on African cooking, LaBoy said everyone can benefit from learning healthy eating habits in this style.

“You don’t have to be African American to be in the class and to enjoy the rich culture and the foods of the African continent,” LaBoy said.

The problem of disparities in health between African Americans and white Americans is a nationwide issue, but LaBoy said she believes the benefits of A Taste of African Heritage class can transform the health and lives of people of all races.