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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Soul food survivor: The transformation of Trazana Staples

Grist is proud to present the Change Gang — profiles of people who are leading change on the ground toward a more sustainable society and a greener planet. Some we’ve written about before; some are new to our pages. Some you’ll have heard of; most you probably won’t. Know someone we should add to the Change Gang? Tell us why.
In her backyard in Nashville, Tenn., Trazana Staples is growing turnip greens, mustard, kale, and two kinds of garlic (white and Siberian). “That’s the winter garden,” she says, with a tone of pleased satisfaction.
Her vegetable patch isn’t just a good source of produce. For Staples, it’s a daily reminder that profound personal change is possible.

Ten years ago, says Staples, her idea of “eating healthy” was to choose the chicken sandwich instead of the burger at McDonald’s. And it wasn’t working. Only 5 feet 4 inches, Staples weighed 325 pounds and suffered from a host of fitness-related medical problems. Before she turned 40, she’d already had her gallbladder removed and had a hysterectomy. Her doctor was warning her “that I had to decide whether I was going to live or die.”

She began trying to stick to a diet, but after losing weight, she’d quickly gain it back. “I was like a yo-yo,” she recalls, ruefully.

Then, one day in 2007, she went to a local theater that specialized in independent films and saw Food, Inc., the documentary on the dark side of the industrial food system.

“That movie totally changed my everything,” remembers Staples. “I saw how healthy food is connected to the environment — there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And from that point on, I got involved.”
“I started learning how to blend and prepare my food. I began eating a lot of raw foods, fruits and vegetables, healthy food, tasty food. One of the challenges is to maintain our culture in natural foods, and I found that I can do that. I can keep my greens, and prepare them in a healthy way and they still taste good, and I can prepare my cornbread without the eggs, without the butter, and without the milk, and still have my soul food meal.”

Staples not only managed to change her eating habits once and for all (she has lost 120 pounds, and counting); she also remade herself into a crusader for healthy, sustainable food in her own community. She founded Another Avenue Cultural Resource Center to spread the new gospel and joined a half-dozen local progressive advocacy organizations.

The deck is still stacked against her. North Nashville, she says, is home to the largest “food desert” in Davidson County — a vast region where the only outlets for residents to buy groceries are corner stores that are more likely to sell fried potato wedges than bananas or apples. Even worse, notes Staples’ business partner, Bryan Trotter, some of the stores within driving distance that do sell organic food don’t accept food stamps for their produce. That places low income people who want to upgrade their diets in a double bind. To top it all off, for the last two years, Staples was pushing her healthy eating agenda with the help of a grant from the Tennessee Alliance for Progress — but when that group lost its funding, she lost hers.
But there’s no defeating Trazana Staples. She still intends, eventually, to turn the Another Avenue Cultural Resource Center into a natural foods store. She and Trotter have set plans in motion to create what they call a “Village of Industry” — a network of cooperative businesses based on sustainability that will provide sorely needed green jobs in an economically depressed area. In January, she kicked off Fruits Over French Fries, a new program targeting childhood obesity.

“I had to get a full-time job to keep the ship afloat until we get more funds,” acknowledges Staples. “We do have some people that give donations, or they come and do some physical labor; building garden beds or the compost bin or planting and composting, and all of that makes a difference, little by little. Rome wasn’t built in a day — these things take time. We have to change the mindset, and the best way to do that is for people to actually see you living it, doing it and applying those principles in your life. “

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. He lives in Berkeley, California with his two children and likes to ride his bicycle.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fruits Over French Fries © Let’s E.A.T.T.™

Fruits Over French Fries ©
                                       Let’s E.A.T.T.™
Fruits Over French Fries will kick off on Saturday, January 14, 2012 11am-2pm with an overview and open house of our project for Youth Service America & United Health Care at Another Avenue Cultural Resource Center and continue every Saturday until Saturday, April 21, 2012.  
During MLK Day and Global Youth Day, children will be taught the importance of giving back, caring for the earth and caring for each other. In teaching G.R.A.C.E (gardening, recycling, activism/action, composting, education) children will learn how to keep valuable vegetable and fruit peels from going into landfills. Winter leaves and vegetation to be composted make soil and prepare garden beds for spring planting. We will also engage helping elders in the community who need help with minor yard work, or minor task outside their homes.  In addition will provide homework tutoring and a healthy snack.

Another Avenue Cultural Resource Center
1104 33rd Avenue N
Nashville, TN 37209
For more information please call (615) 852-6203


Contacts:       Michelle Pendoley
                        Youth Service America
                        Trazana A. Staples                                         
                        Another Avenue Cultural Resource Center   


Youth-Led Project Addresses Childhood Obesity, Encourages Healthy Lifestyle in Nashville as Part of Global Youth Service Day

Nashville, Tennessee – January 10,2012 – Trazana A. Staples Founder/Executive Director at ANOTHER AVENUE CULTURAL RESOURCE CENTER in NASHVILLE, was awarded a $500 UnitedHealth HEROES Grant from YSA (Youth Service America) and UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth HEROES grants support youth-led service-learning initiatives addressing childhood obesity and healthy lifestyles.

One of 282 grants awarded nationwide, Trazana’s project; Fruits Over French Fries© will teach children will be taught the importance of giving back, caring for the earth and caring for each other . The semester-long initiative culminates on April 21 with Global Youth Service Day, the world’s largest and longest-running youth-led service campaign.

“These grants were extremely competitive, and Fruits Over French Fries© exemplifies service-learning and the UnitedHealth HEROES program,” said Steve Culbertson, President and CEO of YSA. “Young people in Nashville want to make a difference, and UnitedHealth Group, in conjunction with YSA, offers them resources to make a positive, measurable impact on their community.”

In its 24th year, Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) engages millions of young people via partnerships with schools and community and faith-based organizations. Projects and events will occur in more than 100 countries and all 50 states, and will address the most challenging local, national and global issues facing the world including health, literacy, childhood hunger and the environment. 

“We believe that children are uniquely positioned to come up with creative ideas to help their peers in the fight against obesity and to encourage healthier living,” said Kate Rubin, UnitedHealth Group vice president of Social Responsibility. “With UnitedHealth HEROES, we are helping young people take action to improve their overall health and quality of life in a way that’s not only educational, but beneficial for their entire community.”

“UnitedHealth HEROES is part of UnitedHealth Group’s overall commitment to help stem the rising tide of obesity, and related chronic health conditions like diabetes,” said Rubin.


For more information about Fruits Over French Fries© visit For more information about Youth Service America and Global Youth Service Day, visit

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Another Avenue Cultural Resource Center provides healthy living education and resources to address critical health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension

YSA (Youth Service America) improves communities worldwide by increasing the number and the diversity of young people, ages 5-25, serving in substantive roles. Founded in 1986, YSA supports a global culture of engaged youth committed to a lifetime of service, learning, leadership, and achievement. The impact of YSA’s work through service and service-learning is measured in student achievement, workplace readiness, and healthy communities. For more information, visit  

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers.  The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide.  UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.