Natural Food Festival returns to the Deuces on Saturday, May 20

The Natural Food Festival 2023 returns to the Deuces this Saturday, May 20, from 9-3 p.m., bringing health experts, food vendors, presentations and more. 

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – This Saturday, May 20, from 9-3 p.m., The Natural Food Festival 2023 returns to the Deuces, bringing health experts, food vendors, presentations and more together to educate and explore the need for developing healthier relationships with our nutrient intake.

Sharlene Emmanuel Edwards, MPH, BSN, RN, CIC, and founder of My Better Living Health & Wellness Consulting, is a nursing consultant whose education service is designed to engage and motivate diverse healthcare teams and the community into action and success. She’s also part of the 3 Black Vegan Girls Initiative, along with #TheBurgCares founder Shundra Allison, helping host the festival.

“In 2019, #TheBurgCares, Inc. formed the 3 Black Vegan Girls Initiative to raise awareness of the benefits of plant-based eating among African Americans in St. Petersburg,” Edwards shared.

TheBurgCares is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire health and behavioral changes among families and within communities through health promotion, target marketing and education.

Edwards said that the initiative emerged out of a desire to increase healthy eating and address the disparity among Black people in St. Petersburg related to cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature deaths.

She added that economics plays a huge part in the community’s health and is listed as one of the Social Determinants of Health — factors within our living environment that impact our quality of life and health outcomes.

“There are more people rent burdened, unemployed and living below the poverty level in the zip codes in St. Petersburg that have the highest percentage of Black residents (33702,33705, 33711, 33712, 33713). Due to these social and economic factors that increase the risk for illness, Blacks in St. Petersburg have rates of death for breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and premature death,” Edwards noted.

Now a public health advisor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and former director of disease control for the Florida Department of Health, the 3 Black Vegan Girls co-founder stated that what started as a Facebook group with 25 members sharing plant-based recipes grew to over 100 members, several health documentary screenings and the first Natural Fest in the spring of 2019 with over 100 attendees.

Edwards shared that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing health issues within the community became even more critical. The glaring differences in the health of Black people when compared to other races showed stark differences in health outcomes related to several factors, including historical inequity and racism.

Concerning the challenge of increasing health and health equity in our community, Edwards shared that one of the festival’s goals is to open the dialogue between residents who live a plant-based lifestyle to converse with those who are curious about the transition or want to learn more.

“This festival presents all the different facets of plant-based eating, healthy lifestyle and all the ways we can increase our quality of life within our community.”

She acknowledged that cultural eating patterns also factor into health outcomes. “We are all creatures of habit in the Black community, especially when it comes to food. We don’t eat everyone’s mac-n-cheese, and we must know who made the potato salad before it goes on our plate.”

Edwards said that eating in Black families is more than enjoying food; it’s about enjoying family, comfort and recognizing traditions. These generational habits are hard to break. But part of transitioning out of unhealthy eating habits is also acknowledging that it’s OK to do something different than we were taught. “

It’s OK to open up our palate to something different than the norm,” she stressed.

One of the ways they will be presenting to encourage a change of eating patterns is by offering a “vegan spin on a classic southern dish.” Chef Omaka with Yes Chef Village will prepare southern classics with a plant-based menu.

Hopefully, it will open people up to the idea of enjoying tradition without the guilt. Also on the menu is a session with The Well called “Mindful Tasting,” where people can open themselves to different flavors they may not be used to.

Vendors will sell vegan foods, smoothies, organic teas, local raw honey, recycled handbags, natural jams and salsas, crystals and gemstones, candles, holistic health services and more.

To further the 3 Black Vegan Girls initiative’s impact in St. Petersburg, as well as develop new efforts to educate the community on healthy eating, #TheBurgCares has formed a partnership with The Deuces Live, Inc. and My Better Living Health and Wellness Consulting, LLC to bring another wellness initiative to the community: The Deuces Food Forest.

The Deuces Food Forest will be the new home for access to local produce and foods and the new hub for future community education classes on sustainable living, growing personal gardens, benefits of plant-based eating, and ways to use food for health and healing.

“The goal of this project is to increase access to fresh, whole foods as well as information on living healthier,” Edwards explained.

There will be health screenings and presentations from community organizations, including The St. Pete Youth Farm and One Community Co-op, guided meditation, and entertainment.

The Natural Food Festival will happen on Saturday, May 20, on the Deuces corridor and around the new Deuces Corner Park and Pavilion on 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue South. The day’s lineup includes speakers, vendors, presentations and health screenings.

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