Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

FitDC Coach Carrye Brown Looks to the Past for a Healthier Future

Oct 01, 2015 10:10PM
by Catherine McCarthy

It was a history lesson that made D.C. resident and FitDC Coach Carrye Brown, 63, reconsider what she was eating. “Three years ago, I decided I wanted to know what the enslaved people ate in the Middle Passage,” says Brown, referring to the stage of the Atlantic slave trade where captives were taken by ship to North and South America. “If they could make it over and survive, I know we can too.”

While researching the topic, Brown discovered a curriculum based on the culinary traditions of enslaved Africans in the Americas. “If you look back at the foods that went where enslaved people were taken, they are grains, greens, lots of spices instead of salt. They didn’t have meat in the Middle Passage.”

Brown and her husband presented their research to their parish, St. Mark’s Baptist Church, in Southeast D.C. “It was a beautiful experience to be able to present it,” says Brown. “[and] encourage our parishioners to eat better to honor our ancestors. It’s not your heritage as an African-American to have high blood pressure.”

Brown found the experience so “meaningful and moving,” that she has taught the course two more times, first at a senior wellness center in Northwest DC, and later to a group of parents at a community center in Southeast D.C. She’s also taken on a new role as a FitDC Coach, working with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FitDC initiative to educate seniors in the community about healthy choices they can make.

“I was teaching my elders, and learning from them. It all triggered a change in my mind, and attitude,” she adds. Brown now substitutes fresh and dried herbs and spices for salt when cooking for her family, and gives new healthy spins to old favorites.

“In my family we used to cook greens for an hour or more, and season them with fat-back pork. Now I sauté them with olive oil, garlic that I mince, chopped bell pepper and onion.” Brown calls “onions, celery and bell pepper” the “trinity,” and says adding these three vegetables to any dish, raw or cooked, adds color, flavor and nutrients.

Growing up in “cattle country” in East Texas, meat used to take up the majority of her dinner plate. Now Brown makes vegetables the star of every meal, and continues to find new ways to incorporate more vegetables into favorite dishes. For example, a classic potato salad that previously consisted mostly of mayonnaise and starchy potatoes can incorporate red onion, bell pepper, and celery for flavor and crunch. Pairing roasted cauliflower or braised asparagus with spices like smoky paprika is “absolutely off the chain delicious,” says Brown.

The curriculum that Brown teaches is rooted in the concept of Sankofa, a symbol of the African Diaspora that means “reach back and get it.” Brown says it reminds her to “look at the past to move forward into the future,” one healthy change at a time.

For more information about FitDC and the coaches, visit


Global Brief
Health Brief