When certified health coach and registered nurse Deitra Dennis comes to the table, she’s not just bringing plant-based food.
For Dennis, food is fun. Food is flavor. Food is family. Food is heritage. Food is love. And food is power — the power to live at your optimal health.
All of that richness, delight, and potential are part of the new Back to the Root 2-Week Jumpstart Program that Dennis has created in collaboration with MamaSezz, featuring the Back to the Root Bundle.
“I like to say, MamaSezz, go back to the root,” explains Dennis, an Ambassador of the African Heritage and Health Program of Oldways Cultural Food Traditions and a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Food for Life Instructor. “Back to our plant-based heritage, back to the food of our ancestors and family, back to food that supports our health.”
The Back to the Root Bundle begins with classics from Black American Southern cooking — chicken salad, rice pudding, potato salad, collard greens.
To make excellent plant-based versions of these dishes, Dennis knew that flavor had to be the top priority.
“When I work with people, I ask them often, ‘what is your why? what will help you continue the journey to plant-based eating?,” Dennis says. “Particularly for people in the African-American community, flavor is the ‘why.’”
So Dennis, in partnership with Chef Caroline from MamaSezz, developed, Aunt Mary's Chick'n Salad, Jerk Lentils, Mama Nellie's Rice Pudding, and more, with succulent, memorable, just-right flavor. The bundle includes suggestions for how to use the meals to make familiar dishes plant-based and tasty.
Dennis also created an all-purpose seasoning mix for the bundle, as well as a spice mix for another Southern must-have: collards and cornbread.
“Collard greens have to be smoky, they have to have some type of whole fat flavor, they need to have a salty flavor, just a bit,” she explains. “There are a lot of flavors in that spice mix!”
With the Back to the Root Bundle, Dennis aims to give people a sense of plant-based eating. The bundle gives people the root of their meal in one package, like a plant-based Hamburger Helper, and then helps them build endless possibilities around it. Ultimately, the Bundle shows how it can be easy, delicious, and familiar to bring more plants onto your plant.
The Back to the Root 2-Week Jumpstart Program, on the other hand, moves people from possibility to transformation.
“As a health coach and chef, I want to give people an experience of food. That’s what remains with you, the experience, whether it’s good or bad. So the program gives people good experiences to make memories of plant-based food that stay with them and help them make these changes,” Dennis says.
These experiences include the Bundle, daily email messages, three live group coaching sessions, a Jumpstart Journal, and a six-part video training series.
Plus, program members get two live online cooking classes where they can cook along with Dennis.
“I like to make things fun, and the cook alongs are creative and engaging, with music and food,” she says. “I show people how to easily prepare the dishes they love without oil, for example, or how to veganize it. People can’t believe how delicious things taste! And sometimes their husbands or family members can’t believe that they’re cooking from scratch!”
Even more importantly, Dennis has seen how mixing great experiences with great flavors and plant-based food helps people live in optimal health.
One previous program participant saw a improvement in her chronic kidney disease. Another saw her blood pressure drop of 135/84 to 117/64. Another lost four pounds and felt far less joint pain.
“People see their lives change through the program, and through this food. We know how urgent health problems are in this country, and we know how those problems, including COVID, disproportionately affect people of color. We know the stats. I have lost family members and patients to these problems. What I’m interested in is solutions, and this is a powerful solution,” Dennis says.
Dennis knew that food never exists in isolation. It’s always part of a person’s family, community, and heritage. Even a side dish, like chicken salad, has a story inside it.
To honor this complexity, she drew from her family roots for several of the Bundle meals. Aunt Mary’s Chick’n Salad is inspired by her own Aunt Mary and her beloved chicken salad. Mama Nellie’s Rice Pudding comes from Dennis’s mother’s recipe. The Mushroom Stroganoff pays homage to Dennis’s grandmother, who cooked for her husband and 14 children every day for decades.
And the concept of turning Southern dishes plant-based reaches back into an ever longer history.
“Prior to enslavement, the African diet was plant-based,” Dennis says. “The original soul food is plant-based! We are literally getting back to our roots as we start to eat this way. The African Heritage Power Plate project that I worked on is a great way to learn about that. It brings together the Oldways’ African Heritage Diet Pyramid and the Physicians Committee’s Power Plate framework. What we see is that getting back to our roots, or returning to traditional foodways of our heritage, can improve your health. That’s what happens.”
The collaboration between Dennis and MamaSezz means that people across the country will be able to get back to their plant-based roots and begin to live in optimal health.
“We’re thrilled to be an engine powering Deitra’s mission with delicious plant-based food,” says Lisa Lorimer, MamaSezz co-founder. “We know the potential of plant-based eating, we know it can be a solution for health problems that are hurting millions of people, especially in communities of color, and even more so during COVID. This partnership could not come at a better time. Deitra’s work as a health coach and plant-based leader is essential.”
“The central thing is, the bundle and the program will help you on your path to your desired health goals,” says Dennis. “We’re here to help you.”
And with Dennis and MamaSezz as guides, that journey will taste very, very good.
By Becky Karush
Becky Karush is a writer, copywriter, and family woman. She came up through newspapers and magazines, including Disney FamilyFun and Martha Stewart Whole Living, with road trips to teaching and farming. She’s run BeckyK Creative Marketing since 2012. She hosts and produces READ TO ME, a literary podcast that ends the cult of the critic and surfaces the power and beauty in great writing.