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Celebrating African American cooking at Tufts

In honor of February being Black History Month, a Tufts graduate student, Brandon Ransom,and PhD student Katia Powell from UMass Boston hosted an informative lecture on the role of food and nutrition in African-American communities.

Mealtimes provide food and fellowship and tighten the bonds of the African-American family. The intimate presentation encouraged lively discussion about traditional African American fare, which is famous for bringing comfort but infamous for clogging arteries. Brandon added some perspective to the conversation as he reminded the audience that African-American cuisine emerged due to limited resources. Slaves had very limited access to ingredients and had to work with what little they had. This fostered tremendous creativity in the kitchen and led to discoveries that encouraged spicy and unique combinations of flavors.  From fried chicken to gumbo today, traditional African-American food is widely adored.


Source: WBUR

The downside is that when food is this good, it is not always healthy. Katia took over this conversation and focused on obesity in African American low-income communities. Unfortunately, as a cuisine born of necessity, the low budget ingredients are often unhealthy and high in cholesterol and fat. In 2012, Katia launched a program called Strive 2020, which teaches public school students about nutrition and the importance of exercise and a balanced diet. Katia was able to lose over 200 lbs, and she is proud to spread her story and hopes to affect other lives in the community who are similarly struggling.

Here are some recipes inspired by the talk and Katia’s story:

Macaroni and Cheese 


  •  2 cups macaroni
  •  2 cups onions, chopped
  •  2 cups evaporated fat-free milk
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1¼ cups low-fat cheddar cheese, finely shredded nonstick cooking spray, as needed


  1. Cook macaroni according to directions—but do not add salt to the cooking water.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Spray casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Preheat oven to 350
  4. Lightly spray saucepan with nonstick cooking spray.
  5. Add onions to saucepan and saute for about 3 minutes.
  6. In another bowl, combine macaroni, onions, and the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  7. Transfer mixture into casserole dish.

Spicy Okra


  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen, cut okra
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 14½-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper (or habanero chile), pierced 3 times with a fork
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Rinse okra in a colander under hot water.
  2. Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat.  Sauté onion for about 3 minutes.  Add tomatoes (including juice) and chile, and boil.  Stir the mixture for 8 minutes.  Add okra and cook, gently stirring, until okra is tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in salt and pepper and discard the chile.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Source: Serious Eats

In addition to these recipes, make your way to Petsi Pies in Somerville, where Renne McLeod makes consistently delicious pies. She has taken age-old recipes and masterfully preserved a good ol’ down-home eating experience.

-Camille Bergsrud

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