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Food choices featured at ‘Healthier YOU’ forum

YOUNGSTOWN — Most people are well aware that exercise and healthful eating habits are vital for one’s wellbeing, but Jodi Mitchell offers a different take on — and taste for — promoting the concept.

“We rescue produce from local farms and produce wholesalers. Last year, we rescued 366,000 pounds of produce, and we donated about 66,000 pounds of it to local food pantries,” said Mitchell, the community-relations director for Cleveland-based Perfectly Imperfect Produce.

After salvaging such food that is deemed safe for consumption, the business typically packages it in boxes and delivers it to homes, churches and workplaces. Boxes contain random assortments of fruits and vegetables to promote healthful eating habits, she said.

To that end, Mitchell brought a box filled with blackberries, beets, oranges, cabbage, a sweet potato and other foods to Sunday’s “A Healthier YOU” gathering at the B&O Banquet Hall, 530 Mahoning Ave.

She was among the estimated 24 vendors who were part of the 2 1/2-hour program, which the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods — ACTION — Food Task Force hosted.

The gathering also was the kickoff for a series of food workshops aimed at giving people added tools to adopt healthful lifestyle and eating habits, noted Dollaine Holmes, the task force’s program coordinator.

“We want to teach people to have more vegetables and less sugar, fat and salt,” she said.

Another thrust behind the effort was to bring a variety of segments of the community together to work toward reducing what some see as “food insecurities,” in which many inner-city residents have little or no access to full-service grocery stores and healthful foods, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said.

“This has to become a behavior of ours,” Brown said, adding that he also hoped the gathering would showcase initiatives to teach and promote healthful habits that will benefit the region as a whole.

Another major piece to the food workshops, which also reflect the fact that a greater number of people want a wider array of healthier choices, is to have classes to teach people healthier ways to cook traditional meals. This can be done in churches, for example, by making certain substitutions without spoiling the recipe or making the taste “boring,” said Ron Fasano, ACTION’s grant developer.

The third phase of the effort is to identify those with diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems to see if they might be interested in being enrolled in medical-treatment programs, mainly to measure their progress, he said.

Specifically, ACTION plans to survey such people to assess the most pressing health concerns, then tailor nutrition education efforts to the greatest needs based on the results, Fasano said. Members will be given quizzes on healthful eating after each session and a test at the end, with the hope that they also will develop higher confidence in changing their habits, he continued.

“Everybody here has a vested interest in our community,” Fasano said about Sunday’s gathering.

Healthful foods offered at the event included lemon couscous, grilled chicken, marinated vegetables, vegan quinoa soup with kale, marinated grilled tofu, vegan pot pie soup, a chicken fajita bowl and tofu with broccoli and brown rice. Others were a combination of cornbread, salsa, black bean salad and guacamole, courtesy of Trina Williams and Jennie Uplinger, owner and manager, respectively, of A Fresh Wind Catering LLC on the North Side.

Also available was line dancing, massages, yoga, blood-pressure screenings and reiki, a form of alternative medicine called energy healing.

In addition, the “Healthier YOU” program provided information and pamphlets on bicycle safety, area farmers markets, nutrition education, safe sex, job-skills workshops, baby sitter safety trainings, pregnancy testing, health screenings and religious offerings.