Get Contemporary Each day helps get wholesome meals into the palms of black moms
It started with a green smoothie. When Jiana Murdic’s breakfast on the go piqued the interest of her fifth grade students, she brought unfamiliar fruits and vegetables such as kiwis and figs to surprise and delight them. The plant-based meals she took for granted became a major tenant of her student relationship – it wasn’t long before she realized that something else was at stake.
“I saw the connection between what my students ate before going to school and their ability to focus on the 90-minute reading block we had to start the day with,” says Murdic. Through conversations with parents, she realized that breakfast – whatever it was – was key, but that students were often affected by large doses of sugar in the processed foods available in nearby stores.
MORE ABOUT FIGHTING FOOD SAFETY IN PHILLY
The realization sparked a passion in Murdic that took her out of the classroom and drew her to The Food Trust, where she led the creation, development and implementation of HYPE: Healthy You. Positive Energy, a ten-year marketing campaign for Get Healthy Philly that raised millions in grants to the organization. However, her position there, school wellness coordinator and marketing strategist for the new initiative, was funded with grants and only lasted three years.
After Murdic struggled to find a long-term position that would allow her to pursue her passion while paying her bills, she worked as a school wellness consultant at the Global Leadership Academy (GLA) in West Philadelphia, running small wellness programs like Employee Wellness -Retreats, implementing healthier options in vending machines and creating healthier lunch menus.
Cheers to green juice! Photo courtesy Get Fresh Daily
After the academy expanded to open a second location, Murdic took the opportunity to expand their work as well. In December 2016, she started a social enterprise for a woman: Get Fresh Daily. Their mission is to provide nutritional and wellness knowledge to Philadelphia’s color communities through dedicated events and training. In addition to the wellness programs she runs at GLA, she offers a summer camp (Camp Excellence), cooking classes and community events.
Thanks in part to her victory in the Economy League’s Well City Challenge, she is now ready to keep growing.
Health differences are a form of violence
In the beginning, Murdic sat back in her background as an educator and built programs to give students access to information about wellness. It quickly became clear, however, that information was not the problem.
“We say all of these things about wellness and healthy living, but you look at your surroundings and say, ‘OK, I hear what you are saying but I have access to this corner shop that doesn’t have healthy food” , explains Murdic. “And I say, ‘Yes, you are exactly right.'”
Murdic described an excursion she had accompanied a few years ago while touring a group of GLA middle school students down Germantown Avenue, observing the various parishes along the street.
“We wanted to show the students what different communities are like in terms of access to healthy food and green spaces,” says Murdic. “Germantown Avenue, you can see how marginalized black communities are really saturated with liquor and fast food outlets, and then as you walk through Germantown it takes off. You won’t see any of this until you reach Chestnut Hill. And what really frightened me was that the kids didn’t know because they had never been there. “
“With criminal justice reform, people are really passionate about it because you can see it – you see this violence on the news and it’s shocking and hideous, but the thing about the food is that it’s not that shocking. It’s so much more subtle because these diseases increase over time. But it’s just as violent, ”says Murdic.
They were essentially a well-documented structural problem. A 2019 study of grocery retail in the Philadelphia neighborhood showed a clear correlation between low-income areas (where black Philadelphians are disproportionately represented) and decreased access to healthy food. This research was an important element of the Get Healthy Philly initiative and a motivating factor in Murdic’s perspective on food justice as a systemic problem. She says she saw the conversation change significantly over the past year.
“With criminal justice reform, people are really passionate about it because you can see it – you see this violence on the news and it’s shocking and hideous, but the thing about the food is that it’s not that shocking. It’s so much more subtle because these diseases increase over time. But it’s just as violent, ”she says. “Since the conversation last year included the idea of structural racism, people are more open to talking about how this is really anchored in our system, and why is that? Why do our churches look like this? Especially when people of color suffer so much more from diseases like heart disease, diabetes and even COVID. “
Over the past year, health disparities have worsened as black Americans have some of the highest death rates of any racial group nationally. Even before Covid, black Americans died of heart disease more than any other race or ethnic group in the world, and 60 percent more likely than white Americans with diabetes.
Make healthy eating accessible
These topics have shaped Murdic’s work and encouraged her to add summer camps and a weekly cooking class to the Get Fresh Daily program for families who mainly live in West Philadelphia and use 100% plant-based and culturally relevant recipes such as garlic al fredo pasta, vegetarian burgers with onion rings and buffalo cauliflower tacos.
Murdic keeps the cooking classes accessible and teaches a wide range of recipes. “[Since the beginning of the cooking class]I always go for really simple, delicious recipes with ingredients you can find on ShopRite, as well as maybe a vegan ingredient like almond milk or vegan mayonnaise, ”Murdic said.
“She has helped me learn that food preparation is not as difficult as I thought, and she has helped me make a gradual, achievable change. She doesn’t preach or force, it’s just about welcoming her and you can tell she’s really rooted in her. “
These simple ingredients, she says, can be hard to find. One mother told her that she couldn’t get items like tahini and that she sometimes had to travel to different cities to get what she needed for a recipe. When Murdic found that so many cooking class attendees were struggling to find ingredients that they could easily find in their Weavers Way cooperative, she realized that there was another need she could meet.
The inaccessibility of these ingredients inspired the Get Fresh Food Box, one of the ideas Murdic recently submitted to the Well City Challenge, a social impact competition seeking solutions to the millennial health crisis that won Philadelphians $ 50,000 Innovation-oriented ideas were supported in physical and mental health programs.
Their pitch was simple: a monthly meal box for millennial parents (especially mothers) that contains several vegan staples like vegan mayonnaise, yeast or almond milk, as well as recipes and access to the weekly virtual cooking class. Philly Foodworks and Weavers Way will partner with Get Fresh Daily to provide the boxes, which are offered at an affordable price and approved by SNAP.
When Murdic entered the competition in early March, not only did he win his category, but he also received the People’s Choice Award which grossed more than $ 17,000 in total for Get Fresh Daily to bring the grocery boxes to market. and take steps towards your bigger idea: The Freedom Greens and Gardens Project, which aims to transform Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia into a wellness destination.
As part of the Freedom Greens and Gardens project, Get Fresh Daily will partner with Greener Partners, a Philadelphia nonprofit that specializes in urban agriculture and improving food access, to create a herb and vegetable garden across from Malcolm X. Park, but Murdic says she hopes the project will be more than just that.
“This isn’t really a community center,” Murdic said. “We envision a destination where people can get support for their healthier lifestyles. This space is for ordinary people – I love our urban farmers, but not everyone wants to grow their own food. “In addition to community programming, the garden will serve as a pick-up point for the grocery boxes.
And later this summer, she and the other two Well City Challenge winners will present more detailed seats to another round of judges, with the potential to win $ 50,000.
“We say all of these things about wellness and healthy living, but you look at your surroundings and say, ‘OK, I hear what you are saying but I have access to this corner shop that doesn’t have healthy food” , explains Murdic.
“With that money, I could hire another employee,” said Murdic. “It would give me the leverage I need to use this momentum to build and grow even more.” So far, the summer camps have been funded through a combination of parent payments, support from the Global Leadership Academy, and small grants that have enabled Murdic to hire contract workers. She’s still the only full-time employee at Get Fresh Daily.
LaTonia Bassett, a mother of three who began sending her eldest daughters to the Get Fresh Daily warehouse a few years ago, appreciated Murdic’s bespoke advice. “We have some food allergies and I have a difficult family to satisfy, but I reach out [Murdic] often just for suggestions, ”says Bassett. “Where we started was’ What are you eating? ‘and then I’ll help you find a healthier version. “
The tips and tools Murdic offered helped both Bassett and her children, she says. “This idea is really cross-generational and I think that’s why it’s so popular. She’s helped me learn that food preparation isn’t as difficult as I thought, and she’s helped me make a gradual, achievable change. She doesn’t preach or force, it’s just about welcoming her and you can tell she’s really rooted in her. “
Basically, says Murdic, she hopes to be able to support other black mothers. Murdic is a single parent and says she has seen incredible resilience in mothers over the past year.
“This is for us,” she said. “This is about celebrating women who held it together and acknowledging that we are heard and seen. I look forward to giving people a voice. “
Header photo courtesy Get Fresh Daily