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Kitchen Sisters Talk Community Action and How Food Brings Us Together

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Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva are the Kitchen Sisters (Photo via their website)

Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva are the Kitchen Sisters (Photo via their website)
Last night, NPR's Hidden Kitchens mavens, the Kitchen Sisters, brought in a full house at the California Endowment for a talk exploring the way a desire to better our lives can bring people together and inspire tremendous change, as part of an evening called "Who Glues Your Community Together through Food?"Lured perhaps partly by the amazing pre-talk eats on the bill (KogiBBQ tacos, Let's Be Frank dogs and brats, and fare from the Homegirl Cafe), the crowd packed the plaza, abuzz with anticipation of both the delicious food and the infallibly inspiring stories soon to come from the Peabody Award-winning duo of Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva.

The evening's discussion centered on the branch-like growth of community action in the face of challenges keeping people from living healthy lives. Silva and Nelson began the talk by first paying homage to their roots, and the stories that first brought them to their fascinating journeys in pursuit of discovering food and its preparation in the most unlikely of places. Spurred by a taxi-driver's revelation that great food came from a lone woman who set up in the late night hours outside the cab yard, the sisters were inspired to hear more tales like this one, and soon garnered hours and hours of tips and tidbits via phone messages. Their first story was about the George Foreman grill; not only is Foreman's own story one that reflects the power of true hunger, but how his best-selling item is used as a hidden kitchen itself also tells stories of small miracles and surprises. But the Sisters soon shifted focus off their own endeavors, and turned the spotlight on some incredible people and their work here in California.

In Central and Northern California, communities often face unprecedented roadblocks in their pursuit of healthy lifestyles. Just taking a walk in one Bakersfield community once meant facing packs of wild dogs, stepping over discarded needles on unpaved roads, and seeing graffiti at every turn. Now, however, thanks to programs like the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (they tend to just call themselves CCROPPies, partly to avoid the loaded "o" word and to pay tribute to the region's agricultural legacy) the people are working out and, more importantly, working together.

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It's a similar tale of triumph-in-progress in West Oakland, as a mobile produce truck leads to the sprouting of community gardens in a very urban African-American community in dire need of access to healthy food at affordable prices. Brahm Ahmadi of the People's Grocery raised a very profound point: Why don't we think of grocery stores as an opportunity to reach out to the community when it comes to public health?


A store with hidden potential for healthy changes in the community? Photo by balmes via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
But what hits closer to home are, frankly, the stories from closer to our homes here in Los Angeles. The young women of the Homegirl Cafe testified to the amazing ability of food to actually save their lives; their salvation from lives of crime and addiction nourished by employment at a restaurant in Downtown that is an off-shoot project of Homeboy Industries. And hailing from the "food desert" of South Los Angeles, three high school girls--three of the most poised, well-spoken, hard-working teenagers I have personally ever encountered, it's worth noting--spoke on behalf of their school's chapter of the Healthy Eating, Active Communities (HEAC) program.


Being resourceful can change our lives. Photo by Phantom Galleries LA via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
The youth focus on turning junk food-centric modes of thinking, and doing business, right in their own neighborhood, into healthier outlooks, by not only trying to encourage their peers to try something tasty and new instead of the same old Flaming Hot Cheetos, but by also going into local corner stores and working with the owners to "convert" the shops from ones that make getting junk food easier into ones that make the healthy options more appealing. The project, Market Makeovers, is how two stores in the vicinity of the girls' high school have come to put the chips and candy a bit further back and the fruits and veggies be a more alluring choice. The students also talked about their gardens, and the rewards of spending the day working in the space in order to bond with family members and friends, and bring home a selection of fresh produce--often items they've never tried before, thanks to the amazing work of educational garden programs like theirs.These kinds of stories deserve not only to be told, as the Kitchen Sisters will attest, but they deserve our support by whatever means possible, and they are the kinds of stories that serve to remind that if we work together hope is never lost. So often food does glue our community together, and can make us better individuals and communities if we are willing to rethink old bad habits, get our hands dirty and perhaps work up a sweat, and push for a better way of life...something all Californians, and all Angelenos, truly deserve.