Just Food Conference Brings Latinos to the Table on Food Activism

Yadira Garcia of Happy Healthy Latina conducting a cooking workshop in El Barrio, NYC in 2016 (Photo/Walter Roeder)

Yadira Garcia’s close relationship with food began when she fell down a flight of stairs in her junior year of college, leaving her unable to walk and in enduring pain.

The disability caused sudden spikes in her cholesterol and blood pressure, and she ended up with prescriptions for Oxycontin, Vextra and Lipitor. She said she suddenly had found herself, “a prisoner in her own body,” and at 20, was told this is what her life would be. Then she lost her health insurance.

“When you’re not handed the right road map, you can’t get to your destination,” Garcia said. “So, I went back to my elders. I thought, ‘What did my grandmother eat?’ I went finding these foods. I started to eat well and started to see how my health was improving and changed. I went from a walker to a cane. It was a three to four year process – very incremental. Eventually, I got off my cholesterol medication.”

Garcia told her story to open the 2017 Just Food Conference held this week at Columbia University’s Teacher College in New York City where nearly 800 food workers, farmers, scientists, activists and citizens gathered to collaborate on creating and advocating for an economically equitable, environmentally sustainable and healthy food system for all.

Now 33, Garcia is a food educator, community chef, and has her own blog, Happy. Healthy. Latina., where she posts her latest healthy recipes and answers readers’ questions. You can also check out her latest project there – a new cooking show, called “Healthy Cocina,” which is produced by actress Zoe Saldana, and also features Saldana’s sister Cisely.

Garcia, who was raised in New York City but whose family hails from the Dominican Republic, said our ancestral knowledge is our power. She decided she wanted to give away the knowledge she had, and she also put herself through culinary school – the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York.

“I learned how to activate Latino foods,” she said. “I make medicinal sofrito.”

In addition to hosting cooking workshops with seniors and ex-offenders in the community, teaching them how to use food in a healthy manner, Garcia is also on mission to get nutritional education to youth by spearheading wellness classes in schools.

“I am extremely concerned about H.R. 610 – the (proposed U.S. House) bill that will affect snacks and meals in schools,” said Garcia. “I feel an urgency now to tap the community … We train parents how to make demands. If we don’t know what’s happening, we’re silent. I talk with them to add their voice. We the people are the only ones who can make a change. We the people have to use our voice. Instead of being scared, we can talk … There is power in numbers.”

“I think this is why I was given my ability to walk again, to be able to share my testimony,” she adds.

While eating healthy foods is a challenge for some, for others, it is getting sufficient food at all, along with getting food that is nutritionally beneficial.

JoseChapa

Jose Chapa, farmworkers legislative campaign coordinator at Rural & Migrant Ministry at the 2017 Just Food Conference in NYC. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Jose Chapa, 32, justice for farmworkers legislative campaign coordinator at Rural & Migrant Ministry, said food and restaurant workers are the most food insecure population – many can’t afford to feed themselves, and injury and illness rates at work are also high.

“Part of what I do is try to get the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act passed,” said Chapa, a panelist at the conference. “In the 1930’s, when the New Deal was passed, farmworkers were excluded from many rights like overtime pay, or a day of rest. The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act would enact a 40-hour work week and an option for a day of rest. A lot of the time, the standard of living is so low, there are no sanitary requirements, no protections for farmworkers. Only recently, they were given minimum wage and access to drinking water in the fields.”

Rural & Migrant Ministry, a non-profit located in Poughkeepsie, New York, aims to change unjust working conditions for farmworkers, and will be a part of the Cesar Chavez Rally for New York State Farmworker Rights on March 30.

Chapa, born in China, Nuevo León, Mexico, feels close to this cause, because he grew up as a migrant farmworker. He migrated with his family to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas when he was 4.

“My parents wanted a better education and future for me and my brother,” said Chapa, who came to New York three years ago to fight for farmworker rights, while the rest of his family is still in Texas. “Every summer, my family would go to Iowa and Minnesota to work the fields. My family worked picking corn and cotton every summer from when I was 4.”

He said he personally worked in the fields from age 15 through 16.

“I remember conversations of my dad talking to farmers in broken English. I heard racial epithets. That impacted me,” said Chapa. “The first time I went out in the fields to work, I had a heat stroke because it was so hot. Those two things drew me to this work.”

In addition to educating the community about the bill he wishes to see passed, he also reaches out to similar organizations to collaborate. He said he tries to create a sense of community where farmworkers can gather and talk about issues they are facing – especially with the increasing fear of immigration enforcement.

“I’ve heard of more activity of border control by Buffalo,” said Chapa. “We refer folks who are fearful to other organizations depending where they are in the state. What would help a lot is the passage of this bill. We have very good speakers on our side, and we are hoping these voices can give farmworkers a voice.”

RicardoSalvador

Ricardo Salvador uses chart to show how poverty intersects with race and ethnicity during keynote address at “The Future of Food Justice” session on March 13. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Dr. Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Washington, D.C., delivered the conference’s final keynote address, “The Future of Food Justice.”

“The footprint of inequity is something I want to talk about,” said Salvador, 59. “Without a just food system, we can’t have a just nation.”

He explains that a just food system is one that doesn’t exploit food workers, and the current model is based on production for as much profit as possible. The fundamental purpose of the food system, he said, should not be one which enables us to solely survive, but one which also nourishes us.

“Profits should not the primary goal, but healthy people and animals,” said Salvador. “But this is not feasible because most people are not informed. We need to point people to places where it’s working – that is concrete and real.”

One of the ways the Union of Concerned Scientists has taken action to coordinate and align leadership is by forming The HEAL Food Alliance. The national organization was founded in 2015 to bring together farmers, food service laborers, scientists, policy experts, and community activists in order to achieve effective policy change in our nation’s food system. It does this by empowering local leadership, training future politicians in policy issues and working against monopoly power structures.

This topic is close to Salvador’s heart, because like Chapa, he comes from a Mexican farm-working family. After the 1942 agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, also called the Bracero Program, his uncle and hundreds of thousands of mostly indigenous people migrated to join the agricultural labor force in various parts of the U.S.

“This set the pattern for decades of subsequent migration and exploitation,” Salvador writes in his blog.

“I have family farming in California and in Mexico, and they were all exploited,” he said. “I felt they were discriminated against – no matter how hard they worked. That’s why my work has turned into social justice work.”

Salvador’s research suggests that the U.S. has one of the highest rates of income inequity in the world. Other studies also have documented this.

“This is what needs to be undone…You deprive people of their land, and you will create impoverished people,” said Salvador, noting the income equity found in some Native American reservations. “There is an exploitation of human beings for the creation of wealth.”

Salvador continues to say, if we want a society where we all thrive, we need to invest in each other.

“If we are all one race, we really need to believe it,” he said. “All of us here now are making the future. We need to be careful not to commit the same errors … You have to believe things will get better, because you fight for them. I came from people who took big risks.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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10 tips for an emotionally healthy new year

Wellness expert/personal trainer/nutrition coach, Josette Puig, giving a group fitness class. (Courtesy Josette Puig)

Wellness expert/personal trainer/nutrition coach, Josette Puig, giving a group fitness class. (Courtesy Josette Puig)

It’s a brand new year, and you are anxious to start 2013 with vigor, but there’s a small problem –you’re feeling sluggish after about a month straight of holiday parties, drinking, and not eating right.

Not to worry; here comes wellness expert and author of “Frumpy to Fabulous: One Change a Week to a Healthier You,” Josette Puig, to the rescue. She says emotional health and energy are intrinsically tied to your overall health, as well as what you eat.

“People are so overwhelmed with so many diets, they don’t realize processed food is making them ill,” says Puig, whose own doctor gave her antidepressants before she learned it was processed foods and sugar which were making her feel unstable.

What inspired Puig to write her book was the frustration of seeing others not know how to eat as well — depriving themselves entirely of carbohydrates and meat. She recommends doing one change a week to improve your physical and emotional health.

Here are her 10 tips to an emotionally healthy year:

1. The most important thing to do first is detox. — Cut out sugar, processed foods and alcohol from your diet for a good month, at least. They are depressants, physically and mentally; they suppress your immune system. Puig recommends Stevia if you need a sweetener, as it’s natural and it’s not going to harbor any sort of side effects like other sweeteners do. Certainly, if you can keep this up as a lifestyle, even better.

2. Start your day with a motivational quote. — Whether you stick them on your nightstand or your Facebook wall, it triggers something and changes your frame of mind. Puig says that’s one of the biggest things that have helped her, especially in becoming a motivator for others. You can subscribe to receive them daily in your e-mail, or even download a free app for your smartphone.

3. Exercise — even if for as little as 10 minutes. — It releases endorphins, and they make you happy. Ideally, it is great to do first thing in the morning to kick start your day, but get it in whenever you can get it in. Even if you turn on your radio while making dinner, that’s better than not doing anything at all. If you enjoy running, swimming — whatever you enjoy doing, that’s what you should do in order to keep it up.

4. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up. — It can be something as simple as wheat toast with peanut butter. This will set your energy and pace for the day — not just physical, but emotional energy, too. If you start your day by skipping breakfast, all you are doing is slowing down your metabolism and your emotional energy, as well. If you are not hungry, that’s a huge sign that your metabolism has shut down and not working properly. Puig says it took her four months to get my metabolism working properly like a well-oiled machine. She says if you skip breakfast for long enough, you’re going to start storing fat in places you used to not store fat — this is a red flag.

5. Increase your Omega-3 intake. — This can be found in walnuts, avocados, olive oil and fish oils. Omega-3 helps with the brain, metabolism and helps you lose weight. Puig highly suggests fish oils before bed, as they will help you sleep and feel better. They also help people with depression, as they improve emotional energy.

6. Say “yes” to good carbs. — Make sure you have complex carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This includes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread – and then fit in your snacks with omega-3s in between. You want to stagger it to keep your energy stable all day long. This is better than having coffee and a doughnut for a midday snack, which will give you a sugar high and then crash. Puig maintains great energy the entire day by eating apple slices with natural almond butter, or avocado and sliced turkey roll-ups. As a national fitness competitor, she says she eats six to seven times a day — even Greek yogurt and an ounce of crushed walnuts and honey before bed — which helps her sleep better and helps keep her metabolism up.

7. Drink a lot of water. — The key is drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 150 pounds, you need to be consuming 75 ounces of water. And drink more, if you are trying to lose weight. When people are tired, they think, ‘Let me eat a candy bar,’ but sometimes all they need is water. For every ounce of caffeinated beverage, you are taking away an ounce of water. It’s also great for your skin and relieves headaches.

8. Get rid of the deadweight friends. — Negative people can drag you down emotionally and be very draining. Determine who is anchoring you down, and your real friends pushing you forward. You have to take care of you first. Puig says she has had a better life after doing this and feels she’s setting an example to her four children. She says to surround yourself with positive people, because in this day and age no one is looking out for you but you.

9. Sleep. — So many people aren’t getting enough sleep and that affects their emotional well-being. Not many people know how to turn off the light and roll over anymore, causing them to burn out. Start turning the television off and putting your phone away an hour before bed. Puig says she has noticed her children unwind much better after doing this. She says it’s just a habit that most people have lost in this era of technology. Find something else to do to unwind like reading, meditating, or chatting with your spouse. Have some sort of routine to re-learn how to turn off the light and go to sleep.

10. Set short-term goals. — These help with emotional well-being. Puig says she lost 40 pounds in 2004, by setting short-term goals. She says making one change a week, such as doing pushups on her toes instead of her knees, helped her keep pushing herself. Two years later, she was in a fitness competition. For every day she works out, Puig also puts a dollar in a jar. With the money she saved at the end of the year, she was able to take herself on a cruise for her 40th birthday. It’s just a little thing to keep you going.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.