Starting in June, Philadelphia will be the first city in the country to offer permanent sites for A Taste of African Heritage (ATOAH), a free six-week nutritional program consisting of classes on healthy dining options inspired by the culinary traditions of different African cultures.

"Philadelphia is a great location for us because of its cultural landscape," says Sarah McMackin, program manager for the African Heritage & Health program at nutrition education nonprofit Oldways, which developed the ATOAH curriculum. She was referencing the 2014 U.S. census, in which 44.2 percent of Philadelphia County residents self identified as Black or African-American.

Between 2013 and 2014, 100 ATOAH sites were established across the country, reaching approximately 1,000 participants. The courses led to increased consumption of vegetables, greater frequency of home-cooked meals, and reduced weight, waist measurements and blood pressure. The program was particularly successful in Philadelphia as a result of the work of four volunteer teachers.

Dejenaba Gordon is one such volunteer. Gordon started working with ATOAH in 2014, and is currently doing table demonstrations for the program in Camden. She said the classes she's taught helped inspire pride in African culinary traditions.

"With this course, I'm able to highlight different African countries. ... This promotes ethnic pride and part of the ethnic pride is being healthy and being strong," Gordon says.

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