This year marked the 30th anniversary of women’s history being celebrated nationwide during the month of March. That’s three decades of marches and megaphones, I-can-do-its, prayers, tears, moments of silence, discoveries and innovations, and better-late-than-never-wins. Last month on March 25, DC-based non-profit, Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture (WANDA) joined in this year’s monumental celebration with an event fit for the history books.
WANDA chose to honor five women who’ve spent the better part of their lives paving the way for dietary and agricultural successes on the African continent and in the diaspora with the 2017 WANDA Awards. The first event of its kind, featured honorees included Ambassador Dr. Robin Sanders, Dr. Sunyatta Amen, Anne Walden, Celebrity Chef Elle Simone and Linord Moudou, who make up a mix of gastronomy gurus, media makers and master nutritionists that WANDA has joined forces with to effect change.
WANDA takes the farm-to-fork experience and makes it its own – supporting young girls and women of African descent and inspiring them to transform their personal health, their communities, and food systems through education, advocacy and innovation, all while honoring sisterhood. Anne Walden, a veteran African-American dietitian and the oldest of the awardees (aged 91 but often forgetting that she is), conveniently captures the essence of WANDA’s work by saying, “It is important to teach anyone that is willing to be taught.”
Since its inception in 2016, WANDA has become a significant change agent in northeastern Nigeria, where more than 2.1 million people have become internally displaced persons due to deadly attacks by Boko Haram as well as inter-communal clashes. Through the provision of nutritious meals and sharing their recently published story of Little WANDA, a young fictitious shero who is on a mission to find the cure for her grandmother’s diabetes, WANDA is equipping women and girls with new perspectives on food business practices, health and a secure future as well as shedding light on a crisis in the region that otherwise gets little to no coverage.
Having served as the first African-American U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2007 to 2010, Dr. Robin Sanders is also an expert on this topic. During her tenure, she worked diligently with the Nigerian government on food and water security. She is now the CEO of FEEEDS, headquartered in Washington, DC. FEEEDS stands for Food Security, Education, Environment-Energy, Economics, Democracy-Development and Self-help. Her organization provides lectures, contributions to think tank panels and training and support for African Diaspora groups and small to mid-size enterprises on any issues or challenges spelled out in the organization acronym. Ahead of last month’s event, Dr. Sanders said she was very proud of young agripreneurs.
“African entrepreneurs are doing incredible things such as horizontal and container farms of organic produce and aquaculture farming.” She went on to advise more people to seek out social enterprise opportunities in the field.
Linord Moudou, health producer and journalist at Voice of America, echoed this sentiment, “It is an industry that is continuously evolving and always in demand. People will always need food for survival and agriculture is an important aspect of African economy and society.”
Driven by her Ivorian heritage and over a decade of experience in broadcast and print news, and PR, Moudou is one for switching up the narrative on whatever she reports. She believes that the next generation of African women and girls can do the same as researchers, producers and even retailers. Well, why not? After all, several contemporary online publications and blogs have managed to make jollof rice the “in thing” with Twitter exchanges and hashtag warfare.
Celebrity chef Elle Simone also brings a fun and fresh yet far-reaching take on what we eat. Simone worked for many years as a freelance culinary stylist, merging her inspirations and ingredients into sensory perfection. She recently transitioned and joined the cast of “America’s Test Kitchen” as a co-host. While Simone has had a lot of fun doing what she does, she has had to deal with a void in the culinary industry. That’s why she stepped out and created a safe haven for chefs like herself. As the owner of She Chef Inc., she provides networking opportunities for women chefs of color.
Dr. Sunyatta Amen like Simone loves to experiment with ingredients, specifically tea leaves. She is a natural health expert for ABC Morning News and the owner of Calabash Tea & Cafe found on DC’s bustling U Street stretch. If you’re looking for tasty, good-for-you blends accompanied by (I can’t believe it’s) vegan pastries, this homey, quaint joint is for you. Amen’s knowledge however goes way beyond the brewing pot and herbs. She is a believer of borrowing from the past to make magic and efficiency happen today. “Look back to what ancestors were growing and eating. Ask the oldest person.”
While Amen refers to indigenous crops and recipes, the same can be said for advocacy methods in the spheres of health, nutrition and agriculture. In providing a platform to showcase #HiddenFigures in the food system, WANDA encourages little WANDAs and big WANDAs to ask questions and look to the past for guidance on the path of growth and innovation – what’s worked, what hasn’t, why not, how can I be the change and what are the tools available to me?
So, the 2017 WANDA Awards was the hopeful beginning of a tradition and transactional learning experience set to shake up the world of food, dietetics and agriculture.
Eunice Onwona is a freelance writer who hails from Ghana. She has written for OkayAfrica.com and South African design publications.