Baltimore is my home.
I was born and raised here. I went to school here. I made my first friends here.
I had my first informal cooking lessons with our neighbor Miss Muriel across the street from the house where I grew up.
I remember going on school field trips to the Walter’s Art Gallery, the National Aquarium, the Baltimore Zoo, and Fort McHenry.
Some of my favorite summertime memories center around O’s games at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards with my family, walking to the local snowball stand, and spending hours splashing around at Swan Lake Swim Club in Northeast Baltimore.
I realize this positive perception of my hometown isn’t shared by everyone.
In the midst of the negative media attention our city often receives, I have a message of hope to offer.
Positive things are happening here, too. They may not be getting the same press attention, but they are worth talking about.
They need to be talked about.
As I was sitting in church Sunday morning, reflecting on what I experienced at a remarkable event in the city on Saturday, lyrics from one of the songs we sang resonated with me more than usual:
For greater things have yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done in this city.
I felt so strongly that the message was about Baltimore. Just one day prior, I had gotten a glimpse of one of those “great things.”
Tessemae’s, a local company known for their ingredient integrity and commitment to creating the best-tasting, natural, condiments and salad dressings, partnered with other organizations to put on a Crop Circle in Baltimore at New Hope Academy.
Provide free produce to the community through a pop-up farmer’s market.
Tessemae’s partnered with a California-based company, Renaissance Food Group, which donated over 30,000 pounds of fresh food to be given away at no cost.
Since one out of four Baltimore City residents live in food deserts, without access to fresh fruit and vegetables, the Crop Circle was an opportunity to remove that barrier.
Volunteers arrived at 4 a.m. to set up the pop-up farmer’s market and would remain for nearly 12 hours, helping to distribute the food to local residents.
Dozens of companies, including radio stations and non-profits, provided samples, education, and information.
One of the vendors, Great Kids Farm, puts produce in city school salad bars and sends kids on field trips to the farm to learn about farming and gardening and to taste fresh food.
I met Ryan Brant, who started his own non-profit, Positive Strides, after his personal journey as an injured athlete, including four knee surgeries and a back surgery, all before the age of 25.
His noble mission is “to provide guidance and financial assistance to athletes who have suffered catastrophic or life changing sports-related injuries.” Positive Strides focuses on nutrition, too, because they know that what we eat impacts injury prevention and recovery as well.
Chef Egg, a fellow culinary educator and presenter, used the fresh produce to teach everyone how to make a minestrone soup, apple salad, and fruit smoothies.
We both agree on the importance of at least trying food before dismissing it, something I appreciate as a formerly picky eater turned foodie, and to avoid making comments about food we don’t like that others do like.
Chef Egg said, “Don’t ‘yuck’ my yum! If I like it, you don’t have to knock it.”
I met Joyce, who arrived at 7:00 that morning with her daughter and sister to help people in line who were wheelchair bound, so they could be moved to the front of the line.
She told me how she and her husband volunteered at a similar event a few years ago on their anniversary from 4:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening.
She told me how a local rec football team was on its way to the Crop Circle to volunteer as a team before heading to their football game that afternoon.
She told me about the coat drive her church was organizing for a local school.
Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done here.
Congressman Elijah Cummings took the stand to share his thoughts, journey, and message of hope. He advocated for figuring out how to get more grocery stores that sell healthy food at reasonable prices into the city.
He told this inspiring story about his own health journey:
About two and a half years ago, I made a decision about having to go through taking 5-6 pills a day for high blood pressure. I said, ‘There’s gotta be a better way.’
And so I decided that I was going to change my eating habits. I cut out sugar. I cut out all the buns that I used to get. I used to go in there to Dunkin Donuts and get three donuts. ‘C’mon don’t act like ya’ll don’t know what I’m talking about.’ And then, to top it all off, I got a Diet Pepsi!
…But then what I decided to do is I wanted to lose this weight.
So, I started concentrating on vegetables and fruit and trying to eat right, always having a tossed salad at lunchtime. [… ] And over the course of two years, I’ve lost 65 pounds. And let me tell you something – I feel so much better, and now I don’t have to take all them pills […]
But, I did not come here to ask you to do this. I have come here to beg you.
We have to address what we eat, and we must eat to live, not live to eat.
And that’s so important because in our communities, we have higher rates of heart disease, sugar diabetes, cancer. As a matter of fact, one of the things Johns Hopkins discovered is that, for those who live in food deserts, life expectancy is something like 20 years less, which means people are dying before their time and they’re suffering needlessly.
So, my only wish for you at this Thanksgiving is when you sit down to eat, remember, we are eating to live.
I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude, joy, laughter, and delicious, nourishing food. I’m grateful for your support for the work that I do and look forward to seeing what 2016 has in store!
If you’re looking for some recipe ideas for your Thanksgiving spread, check out the links below for some of my favorites: