”]”]North Carolina has the dubious honor of being part of the “Stroke Belt”: a geographic area in which people have more strokes–and are more likely to die from strokes–than people in other areas of the United States. No one knows exactly why we have this extra health risk, but the theory that holds the greatest weight (no pun intended), is that Southerners tend to eat a diet full of bacon or other pork products, and high-salt, deep-fried foods. Even vegetables are sometimes prepared by boiling them with a chunk of fatback.
This type of cooking is part of Southern heritage. Which means that taste buds are attuned to the flavors not just since birth, but for generations. The food is part of our heritage, our culture. Medical experts who want to try to reach Southerners with a message of healthier eating have to fight taste, memories of grandma, and community standards.
So maybe medical experts aren’t the best means to the end.
An article in The New York Times reports that the Rev. Michael O. Minor of Oak Hill Baptist church in North Mississippi has been waging a war against obesity and bad health from the pulpit for more than a decade. And he and his message are gaining some strong support:
The National Baptist Convention, which represents some seven million people in nearly 10,000 churches, is ramping up a far-reaching health campaign devised by Mr. Minor, which aims to have a “health ambassador” in every member church by September 2012. The goals of the program, the most ambitious of its kind, will be demanding but concrete, said the Rev. George W. Waddles Sr., the president of the convention’s Congress of Christian Education.
Part of the re-education involves hands-on nutrition by example. In the Bel Mount Missionary Baptist Church, they hold “Taste Test Sunday,” when the women of the church create a buffet of healthier substitutes for standard favorites. It’s harder to argue with change when it tastes about as good as the original.
Other churches are growing community gardens, helping to create farmers’ markets, banning fried foods at church functions, replacing sweet tea with bottled water, offering an unusual sight–plates of fresh fruit.
“You get used to it,” said Arelia Robertson, who has been attending the [Oak Hill Baptist] church for almost eight decades.
Not exactly a resounding endorsement, but it’s a start. All great journeys start with a single step. Church by church, the Baptist pastors might be able to minds as well as hearts.
To read the full article in The New York Times, click here: Preaching a Healthy Diet in the Deep-Fried Delta