In the U.S. and Africa, communities of African descendants are experiencing a high rate of diet related disorders like diabetes and heart disease, and one Nigerian-American woman in Washington wants to change that.
Nutritionist Tambra Raye Stevenson is on a mission to inspire young girls and women in the diaspora and in Africa to embrace their heritage from farm to fork and become leaders in nutrition.
Stevenson, who defines the kitchen as her destressing space, last year launched a nonprofit called WANDA, which stands for Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture.
Based in Washington and Nigeria, WANDA focuses on developing the next generation of women and girls as leaders in nutrition.
'Army of women'
"My daughter who was going to school and the teacher didn't feel the need to have healthy food in the classroom," Stevenson said. "And I thought the only way to combat this is to have an army of women who care about creating a healthier generation and it starts with us as women to take back our communities."
She also sees a huge food challenge: the United Nations has declared a Decade of Action on Nutrition, and the World Health Organization has estimated 4 million people in Africa will die of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart attacks by 2020.
"Without any intervention we will find ourselves in the same crisis as we have with AIDS, malaria and TB," Stevenson said.
A nutritionist, she founded NativSol Kitchen in Washington and partners with local groups in African countries.
"I focus mainly on providing nutrition education, cooking demos, lectures in America and abroad," Stevenson said. "And it was from doing that that really sparked me of seeing the need that more girls across the world like in Africa need to know that nutrition is a career. It's not just about good nutrition and our bodies."
She shares her discoveries of African heritage foods such as hibiscus flowers, which are used to flavor drinks and are believed to benefit heart health.
"Food is a powerful tool. It can either heal us or kill us. Food also is identity; we see ourselves as a reflection of what we eat on our plates, in our bowls, in our hands," she said.
Seeing a lack of children characters in nutritional literature, Stevenson created Little WANDA and recently released a bilingual children's book series, Where's WANDA?
Little Wanda is an engaging role model for girls tackling a food and health issues in the community with the help of Big Wanda, a food entrepreneur.
"It's really important to know it is a community effort to support the Little Wanda in our communities to become like the next Big Wanda and that's what the story does," Stevenson said.
Nikki Wood, who attended a recent event with her two young children, supports the program.
"(It is) another way we can support other women who are doing great work especially trying to educate our children and goes our community on better eating and health from a global perspective. I am just excited about it," Wood said.