A plate of the Bronx Salad made of a mix of baby greens tomatoes, red peppers, kale and selection of toppings on the side like mangos, black beans, avocado, red onions, corn, plantain chips and Honey Dijon salad dressing. Photo by Keziah Tutu
Can a simple salad transform the eating habits of the unhealthiest county in New York State?
That’s the goal of the Bronx Salad, a dish created by a group of nonprofits to convince South Bronx residents to make healthy food choices. The South Bronx has been dubbed a “food desert,” and three groups are attempting to change that stereotype, but face a battle when even well-laid plans collide with real life.
Take Zoesha Rosa, a 24-year-old South Bronx native, who juggles being a full-time student at Lehman College and two part-time jobs. Finding the time to plan, shop and cook is one challenge. Another, is the savory foods she grew up eating as a Dominican, which her mom, who she lives with, loves to cook.
“Rice, beans and fried foods are a part of the Latin culture,” she said. “Trying to eat healthy now, is hard because I get tired of the same things. Fish, chicken, fish, chicken that’s boring.”
After a long day, Rosa must resist the urge to grab a quick bite from the many fast food restaurants along her way home from the 5 train at the Third Ave-149th St. station.
Her biggest temptation so far has been the Wendy’s just two blocks from her building.
“There is a McDonalds, Burger King or Pizzeria on almost every corner but looking for a salad bar is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo,” said Rosa. “After a while it becomes exhausting so you give up.”
For the first time, Rosa recently tried the “Bronx salad” with a variety of baby greens, kale, red peppers, tomatoes and a selection of toppings like mangos, black beans, avocado, red onions, corn, plantain chips and Honey Dijon salad dressing on the side.
“This right here is good but it could use some grilled chicken,” she said as she plated a second helping of the salad she bought from the XM Café at the Bronx Museum.
The Museum is one of a list of 20 locations that offer the salad on their menu including the Bronx Tavern, Fine Fare Supermarket on 459 east 149th St., Mottley Kitchen, on 402 east 149th St. and other Bronx locations. These restaurants serve it intermittently, each with their own twist.
The salad was launched in 2016 after a Robert Wood Johnson report ranked the Bronx number 62 out of the 62 unhealthiest counties in New York State. The salad was created by the combined efforts of Bronx Health Reach, a non-profit that markets the salad, United Business Cooperative (UBC), an organization of local restaurants and SoBro (South Bronx), an economic development organization.
Henry Obispo the president of UBC and creator of the Bronx salad, says the salad is only the beginning of the borough’s healthy food transformation. This month, Obispo will be launching 20 healthy items in 20 restaurants and most will be vegan. He says the idea behind this is to create access to health.
“We’re going to have Bronx granola bars, cold press juices and more,” he said. “I want to give the Bronx things it hasn’t seen or have.”
Michael Mcnamee, the community planner and program manager at SoBro, works closely with Bronx Health Reach to conduct surveys to study the eating habits of the customers who buy the salad at participating restaurants.
“One of the biggest things we noticed, when we asked people why they choose the food they eat, the biggest things are taste and price,” he said.
The price of the salad varies. The restaurants are given some leeway so it ranges from $5 to $16 depending on the restaurant.
For many residents $16 is too expensive for a salad.
“The South Bronx has been home to poverty, food deserts, unemployment and so on,” said Brandon Diop a 23-year-old SoBro instructor who teaches middle schoolers how to grow food hydroponically.
As well as ranking as the unhealthiest borough, the South Bronx is also ranked the poorest district in the nation, with 38 percent of its residents living below the poverty line and 49 percent of children living in poverty.
While Joseph Diaz, 45, the owner of Da Boogie Down Café and carrier of the Bronx salad, features the salad on his menu for $7.50, he knows he’s facing cheaper competition.
“The only drawback is with all the McDonalds, Burger Kings and other fast food restaurants its easier and cheaper to go get something for five bucks and be full. A salad can only keep you full for how long,” he said.
Da Boogie Down Café customizes the Bronx Salad with a variety of proteins and vegetables. The salad generally sells for $7.50 or higher depending on what’s added.
“People who have tried it generally like it,” he said. “Then again, the person who’s going to order it is already a salad eater. It’s a good thing but I think it needs to be pushed a little more.”
The three partnering organizations hope to do just that by introducing the salad to more local food spots like bodegas that don’t typically carry many healthy options.
Once a month the salad is offered to 600 kids in the after school programs at BronxWorks Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center.
Obispo says naming the salad after the Bronx was part of a strategy to change the stigma of bad health and other negative stereotypes surrounding the borough, while also recognizing the food heritage of the almost 60 percent Latino/Hispanic population.
“The salad does represent the strong Latin culture here in the Bronx and it’s made up of ingredients most families would find in their kitchens but wouldn’t necessarily put together,” he said. “We wanted to use familiar ingredients so they [Bronxites] know this is something made for them.”
The patrons of Dred Barbershop and Salon get haircuts yesterday afternoon. Photo by Keziah Tutu
Not every African immigrant is upset over Trump calling their homeland a “shithole.” At Dred Barbershop and Salon in the South Bronx, some believe he was right on target.
“Trump is 200 percent right. Some parts of Africa are a shithole,” said Ghanaian immigrant Mohammed Ali Akirugu, 34, a regular customer at the barbershop. “The way he said it was not right, but what he said was right.”
President Trump’s comments were allegedly made during a bipartisan meeting with senators in the oval office where, they discussed a deal to protect America’s borders and immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries who are on temporary protection status (TPS).
Akirugu, a Ghanaian immigrant and regular customer at the barbershop said the economy back home made it difficult for him and now his younger brother, who recently graduated with a political science degree from the Islamic University College, Ghana, to find work.
“We video chat every day and nothing has changed since I left,” he said. “If you don’t have political connections somewhere you can’t get a job, that’s a shithole.”
According to a 2012 study released by africaneconomicoutlook.org, Ghanaian youths make up an estimated 33 percent of the population. Youths between ages 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 25.6 percent, twice that of those between the age of 25-44 and three times that of those 45-64.
Solomon Oolong, 27, a Ghanaian immigrant who emigrated to the United States two months ago, shared the experience of his inability to find work after graduating in 2012 with a degree in Business Administration from Valley View University in the Greater Accra region of Ghana.
“I literally begged for work to do, but everywhere I went, there were no openings,” he said. “We have all the resources in Ghana, but our leaders won’t help us so we end up living in hell.”
Oolong supported himself by opening an internet cafe with money he earned from his National Service at a military hospital in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. National Service is temporary paid labor all graduates of accredited Ghanaian institutions are required to perform for a year to the nation.
“Some of my mates who I graduated with came to me for work,” he said. I couldn’t believe it. These guys were graduates.”
Oolong said he does not find President Trump’s comments as an insult or an attack on his identity as an African man.
“Trumps comments don’t affect me because he doesn’t know me personally,” he said. “He’s speaking to our leaders. It’s a wakeup call for them.”
Kofi Addison, a 35-year-old barber who has worked at the shop for 11 years, also expressed his support for President Trump’s comments.
“I love my county, I love Ghana but the politicians there only enrich themselves,” he said. “My job is to work hard, improve myself and hope my people back home change their mindsets.”
Germain Ouedraog, 25, a college student from Cote D’ivoire, was among the few who expressed their anger towards the president’s comments.
“What he said was not right,” he said. “He should think about the past, the United States would not be this great nation without Africans.”
Ouedraog came to the United states on a student visa, with the hopes of completing his college education and finding a better job to support his family back home.
“I’m paying my taxes to this country, not to Africa,” he said. “If I come from a shithole country, it is my tax money that aids development here.”
He said the president should show more respect to the immigrant community and the leaders of African nations should invest their resources in their people and nation.
“It is time to think of ourselves and stop depending on others,” he said. “If Africans would unite and start fighting for ourselves, maybe Trump would see how great we really are.”
Volunteer Ashley Ellick sits behind a t-shirt table as volunteer Celia Hoskins looks at the display in the lobby of the East Village Cinema. The women are volunteers at NYC Mental Health Film Festival. Photo By Keziah Tutu
Films that create awareness of mental illness were the focus of yesterday’s NYC Mental Health Film Festival at the East Village Cinema.
“My grandmother suffered from mental illness. I want to understand some of what she experienced,” said Eric Williams, a first-time attendee of the NYC Mental Health Film Festival. “By learning about what other people go through, we can then learn about what we need to do to help.”
This is the 13th year of the film festival sponsored by Community Access, a nonprofit organization that supports people living with mental illness. Eight different films were screened during the one day festival, ranging from short pieces to documentaries.
Films were chosen by a screening committee made up of Community Access employees and volunteers at a meeting held at the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation services, a nonprofit organization in Albany. Genres ranged from documentary, fiction, animated films and autobiographical stories.
“A lot of the time, mental health is associated with homelessness and substance abuse, but there are a lot of people in professional fields that too suffer from mental illness,” said Eugene Smith, 64, a veteran volunteer of the festival. “These films help bring that to the forefront so there is less stigma.”
Some of the film producers also experience mental health conditions, said Sandy Brower, a member of the screening committee.
“The personal stories told by producers, who have a personal connection to mental health, are the most impactful,” she said.
Films must meet certain guidelines to be screened at the festival. They can’t be too long or too expensive to screen. They can’t be too emotional or violent for an audience who may also be suffering from mental health issues.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, and 1 in 25 adults experience a mental illness that interferes with or limits major life activities.
“I was diagnosed with manic depression and psychotic episodes beginning at age 19, and I was in and out of institutions and on various meds,” said Steven Muff, who has volunteered at the film festival for 12 years. “I’m involved with this work because they keep the conversation going, not that anyone has any of the answers, but it’s important to discuss.”
Many volunteers at the festival have mental health issues, Muff said, adding that there is a stigma surrounding mental illness and it is important to educate different communities about what it is and what it can look like.
Celia Hoskins, volunteer who has bipolar disorder, shared her experience of watching one of last year’s films about a young black boy who was confronted by police while having a manic episode.
“It seems as if the moment someone mentions mental health and the authorities are involved the situation turns violent,” she said. “But this film showed how it can be handled gently.”
Ashley Ellick, 24, another first-time attendee and volunteer, came to learn how to build support systems for those affected by mental illness. This cause is especially important to her because her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia 10 years ago.
Growing up in an African-American household, mental illness was never spoken of until her brother’s diagnosis, she said. Now she wants to create awareness.
“Mental health is almost like a myth in the black community,” she said. You don’t talk about it, you pray it out.”
African-Americans and Hispanic Americans use mental health services at about half the rate of white Americans, and about one third the rate Asian Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“My advice to others is just be informed, be supportive and listen,” Ellick said.
A group of protestors rallying against Housing Budget cuts passed by President Trump Thursday afternoon at the NYCHA Head Quarters in Lower Manhattan. Photo by Keziah Tutu
Public Housing advocates rallied against President Donald Trump’s plan to cut over $6 billion from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Budget yesterday.
“Before I moved to NYCHA Queensbridge, I lived in Sunnyside for five years, but I was evicted from my house to a shelter,” said Ok Soon Son, a current resident of one of New York City Housing Authority’s Queensbridge housing developments.
Son came to protest in front of the NYCHA headquarters in Lower Manhattan. Twenty-five years ago, Son was evicted and then threatened by child protective services to either find another home for her two young children, or risk losing them to foster care.
“All human beings should know that housing is not a luxury but our basic human right,” she said. “If there was budget cuts and the government did not give me a house in NYCHA Queensbridge, my family could have been separated. There should be no family being separated from each other because of housing.”
Under President Trump’s proposed 2018 fiscal year budget, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will cut NYCHA budget by $6.8 billion. These cuts will affect public housing organizations which provide housing to about 400,000 New York City residents.
According to the NYCHA, this will affect the availability of public housing units, increase the cost of rent and affect supplemental housing programs such as Section 8.
District Council 37 AFSCME, the union for NYCHA workers, along with the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, formed a circle at the protest and shouted, “’What do we want? More funding! When do we want it? Now!’”
Julian DeJesus, a member of District Council 37 AFSCME said, the rally isn’t only about getting more funding, but it’s to make sure those funds go to the right places so residents live in better conditions.
“We know that it will be difficult to create a better system in NYCHA and public housing across the country if they don’t have the funds to do so,” he said. “We want people to live comfortably and there is no reason why people should be living in slums.”
DeJesus said that with the community’s involvement, the goal is to get the president and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and other community leaders to see the importance of funding public housing.
“We don’t want them to cut what we already have, which is already lacking,” he said. “We’re on the defensive at this point but if we could get more people out here, more people fighting, more people aware, we would be in a better situation.”