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A family prepares a healthy dinner of green salad, green beans, ground beef and mashed potatoes.


Simpson County, Mississippi

A woman smiles as she sits on a bench holding a large bag which contains squash, zuchinni, carrots, purple cabbage, egg plant, acorn squash, tomato, and greens.

When I was growing up, we were not the family that ate out all the time because we just, financially, economically, we couldn’t. Those were treats.

My mother’s a country girl, so we ate from the ground, from the land. All the time, she’d stay in the garden, picking fresh fruits, vegetables. And, of course, we ate those vegetables. However, now I’m learning that, even though we had the fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, the ways we prepared them were not so healthy. And breaking that cycle is still, to this day, a hard, uphill journey.

You know, a typical Sunday meal would be greens, but they wouldn’t just be blanched or boiled. They would have to have fat. And then, on top of that fat meat, there would be oil added to that fat, because the fat makes it taste better, of course.

Then there would be cornbread, of course, and perhaps, depending on the season, there would be fresh corn. You would think fresh corn is healthy for you, but then, when you add the butter and the flour for the thickening, it all starts to become unhealthy. It tastes great, but it’s not healthy.

In Ms. Layton’s class, you find that butterbeans are not necessarily just vegetables. They’re starches, as well. And, when you incorporate a Southern meal with your cornbread, your butterbeans, or your fresh corn, and you wonder why, at the end of that meal, you’re lethargic. You know, of course, all those carbs compiled, you have to take a nap! There’s nothing else you can do.

Some of the changes that I make are to make healthier choices. If I have the butterbeans and the corn, then I have either a smaller piece of cornbread or no cornbread at all. You find that, growing up, that’s just a staple. It’s a part of your meal, your Sunday meal, your evening meals, cornbread with everything. So it’s hard to break because you feel like you can’t eat those vegetables without a piece of cornbread. But it’s doable, and the vegetables are actually good, even without the cornbread!

So, for me, it just about switching out. If you have this, then you don’t have the other, or you have a smaller amount of the other.

Some of the things that Ms. Layton taught in her class are things that we grew up, in elementary school health, learning. However, some of us hadn’t been in health class in eons, and these are things we don’t hear on a daily basis. So how can you incorporate things that you don’t know?

Maybe you know them, but they need to be reiterated.

There was some good stuff incorporated into some of the sessions that we had.

Losing weight helps you to feel better. Having more energy helps you to lose weight and feel better. So it’s like, it’s a full-circle thing—it just all-around helps.

It’s a huge effort to make the decision to do that, but, once you do and once you give it a little time, you notice it. You think, “Hmm, I didn’t need seconds,” or, “I am satisfied.” You don't feel as heavy when you don’t eat all those carbs and all those fats; you don’t feel as lethargic. So, once you start to recognize those effects, then you want more of that.

What would you say to encourage others to eat healthier?

Let’s face it, sometimes our Southern foods aren't the best for us, and we all need to make a change.

You should eat healthy because you matter.

Ultimately, you’ll feel better, and you’ll look better, as well.

Eating healthy sustains life, period.