There’s no shortage of health initiatives on a national level aimed at America’s obesity epidemic, and the African American community is disproportionately at risk for heart disease and related complications. When it comes to sowing the seeds for healthy change in our community, four Black women are leading the charge.
Bianca Coats MPA, RDN, LDN
Eating God’s Way/ZCSD Supervisor of Child Nutrition
Bianca Plant’s motto as a nutritionist is “keep it simple.” She tells her clients to eat clean, wholesome foods and make sure that they have balanced plates. Lots of veggies and protein, and some carbs and fat to balance things out. Simple.
But her role as Supervisor of Child Nutrition for Zachary Community schools is anything but simple! Keeping the children of Zachary fed is a complex dance.
Coats spends her days planning menus and making sure they align with the federal and state nutritional guidelines, placing orders to get that food onto the plates of Zachary students, and coordinating with the nutrition leaders at each individual school to see what needs to be done to keep everyone fed. Your kids will probably know her best as the reason that they have whole-grain Papa Johns or Subway for lunch!
It’s a big job, but one that she does with enthusiasm and joy. You can see that spirit first hand if you tune into KLFY in Lafayette, where she has a live, monthly nutritional segment. In that capacity, she reaches people across the viewing area with helpful tips and tricks as well as wonderful seasonal advice.
Coats is also the author of Eating God’s Way, a cookbook and lifestyle blog dedicated to promoting lifestyle changes through healthy, beautiful meals.
Owner, Zen-Jus Juicery, Church Street
The ingredients for Zen-Jus are as follows: start with a Creole country girl, give her a class on holistic wellness while she’s pregnant and earning her master’s degree in kinesiology. Do not underestimate the combination of maternal instinct and a supportive and loving husband. Slowly add small doses of alternative medicine, while reducing meat intake and increasing natural remedies. The results are simply astounding!
Brittany Lawrence, owner of Zachary’s first cold-pressed juicery, is that girl. The Zachary native grew up in a typical South Louisiana household–that is, not necessarily super health-conscious. But her dad was a farmer, and he introduced her to broccoli and salads when she was younger.
She’d heard about holistic wellness but it didn’t resonate with her until she went through the grad school classes as a mother-to-be. “Nutrition class opened my eyes to the foods I was consuming,” she says. “A lot of family members had passed away to [preventable] food-related illnesses, and I didn’t want to continue that pattern with my kids,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence says being a Black woman in a health food store has allowed her to help other people of color on their health journey. “A lot of people come to our store because they see someone who looks like them,” she says. “Sometimes it’s good to hear from someone who looks like you.” She is happy to make healthy alternatives, including cold-pressed juices, fresh smoothies, healthy snacks, coffee blends, teas, juice cleanse programs, and locally made holistic retail items, available for Zachary at her brick-and-mortar store, located in front of Rouse’s.
Alexis Motley MS, RDN, LDN
My Kid Plate Foundation
Faced with educating two young boys in the Covid-19 lockdown, Alexis Motley decided to start a garden. With deep roots in Louisiana cooking and her years of experience as a professional nutritionist and registered dietician, she used the garden to teach the boys everything from nutrition, to food history, to science. When her youngest child returned to the LSU Laboratory Preschool the following year, it seemed like a natural fit to start a community garden at the school.
The Foundation now has eight gardens across South Louisiana and has a partnership with Southern University Lab Schools to develop six more this year. Every garden is planted with input from the community it serves, with special focus on finding things that can be incorporated into traditional recipes and that respect cultural eating.
Taking things from one garden to an entire network was made possible with a grant from Siggi’s Yogurt, aimed to empower nutrition professionals to develop programs to improve health in their communities. Alexis was chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants, and the The My Kid Plate Foundation was born. Students learn to plant and eat the rainbow, and they take these lessons home. Motley is growing healthier gardens and healthier communities.
Golden Vegan, Main Street
With an education degree from University of New Orleans and years of teaching, Neshia Rowe has a lot of experience knowing what people need and making it something they want. Golden Vegan is a place like no other for plant-based foodies. When Rowe started looking into vegan cooking as a way to improve her health, there were a few naysayers who couldn’t imagine life without meat. Then they tried her Boom Boom ‘Shrooms and quickly changed their tune.
Golden Vegan is currently open Monday-Friday from 11-5, but will hopefully have expanded hours soon. Rowe recently applied for a state program that allows high school students to gain work experience as interns. Future plans also include expanding a line of vegan vending machines to serve schools and businesses, so folks on the go can have a healthy option. The Golden Vegan is conveniently located in the strip center on Highway 19 behind Taco Bell, making it a convenient alternative for a game-time decision when swinging into that drive-thru parking lot!