Michelle Lawrence

Recent Articles

New research shows Blacks cope better than others with early childhood adversity

News Analysis

By Michelle Lawrence

Contributing Writer

 

From ancient philosophers and mystics to modern skeptics and intellectuals alike, the topic of human suffering has spanned the ages and continues to be the source of great contemplation and debate. Why does human suffering exist? Of course I do not pretend to know the answer, but what I do know is that research shows that African American people tend to have a coping mechanism that protects them against the effects of early childhood suffering and defends them against cognitive deterioration in adulthood. According to Lisa L. Barnes, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and her colleagues, the biological basis of the protective effect of adversity in older African Americans is unknown. Last December, Rush University Medical Center researchers found that older African Americans who experienced adversity and suffering in their younger years lost their cognitive powers at a slower rate than White Americans who experienced similar childhood circumstances. Continue Reading →

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Trained doulas can improve childbirth outcomes — Emotional support ‘inseparable’ from cultural support

 

 
 
 

By Michelle Lawrence

Contributing Writer

 

Recent research from the University of Minnesota shows what women like Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra have known for decades: Cultural support during pregnancy has a positive impact on birth outcomes among women of African American heritage. A birth outcome is defined as the result of a pregnancy and depends on several factors such as whether the infant is born early, survives childbirth, and is born weighing at least 5.7 pounds. “When we compared birth outcomes among culturally diverse Medicaid recipients who received prenatal education and childbirth support from trained doulas with those from a national population of similar women, we estimated a 40 percent reduction in cesarean rates,” said Katy Backes Kozhimannil, lead researcher on the U of MN study. “When you look at the potential cost savings associated with a rate reduction of this magnitude, Medicaid reimbursement for birth doulas could be a case where adding coverage on the front end could ultimately result in real dollars saved.”

Currently, taxpayers fund nearly half of all U.S. births through state Medicaid programs, which generally do not cover doula care. A cesarean birth costs almost 50 percent more than a vaginal birth, with average Medicaid payments of $9,131 for a vaginal birth and $13,590 for a cesarean delivery. Continue Reading →

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Cook to enchant yourself and your loved ones

While sifting through the daily array of political comments, announcements, advertisements, and bundles of self-promoting rants and web links, something on Twitter caught my attention — a tweet from someone in my circle that said: “How you get him, is how you keep him.”

I know. I know. It’s the title of a book. But like most phrases coined by our people, it’s one that contains lots of wisdom. Think about it: How you get him, is how you keep him. Continue Reading →

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The healing effect of cooking is in the hand of the preparer

Salut a los espíritus of this house and the espiritu que abre las puertas,” (greetings to the spirits of this house and the spirit that opens doors), I said as I entered the small one-bedroom apartment of my spiritual godfather from Cuba. Kneeling down to greet Elegua, the gatekeeper of the crossroads in Cuban Santeria, whom by custom sits behind the front door, I saluted the ancestral spirits that dwell in, guard and protect my godfather’s home. Sitting down on the sofa, while remaining still, and very conscious of my body language, I listened while my godfather began to conduct the ritual of welcoming me into the space. “Mafarefun,” he said to each of his personal ancestors and the ancestors of the Yoruban tradition. “Mitchelle aa-quita,” (Michelle is here) he said. Continue Reading →

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Chicken curry harnesses healing power of spices

 

Is it “chicken curry” or “curry chicken”? While I’ve heard it called both, what really matters is that it’s yummy and healthy, too! A few years ago, I became interested in the healing power of spices, specifically those such as tumeric (pronounced “too-merick”), an ingredient in curry powder that is known to contain medicinal

properties that stimulate liver functioning and reduce inflammation. I also became interested in cinnamon, which here in the United States isn’t typically used in savory dishes but is commonly present in North African and Indian curries. Like tumeric, cinnamon contains medicinal properties, particularly those that reduce blood sugar and increase brain functioning. Continue Reading →

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Collard greens and chicken sans fat

 
Soul food reinvented using a blend of cultural flavors
 

Growing up during a time where the daily aroma of fried chicken drifted throughout homes seldom locked, I recall the magical experience of tasting those crispy morsels, prepared ever so carefully by hands that had worked on railroads and cleaned the homes of wealthier families. But times have changed, and now that we are aware of the negative health effects such as high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes that accompany deep fried delicacies, it’s time to reinvent those delicacies that connect us to our past and heritage but also compromise our physical well-being. A few weeks ago while listening to Leela James’ “Soul Food,” where she sings, “Sip me up like lemonade from a mason jar. Make it good like some chicken fried in a pan of lard,” I suddenly got a huge craving for fried chicken and collard greens. Yes, yes. Continue Reading →

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Cooking from the essence: Who we are is in what we eat

While good nutrition is certainly important, and the food that we eat influences our health, so does the essence of the cook who prepares it — an essence which not only affects the flavor of the food, but which also determines the overall mind-body-spirit reaction we have to it. Cooking is an act of personal power, and eating allows our bodies to undergo a biochemical process that affects our moods, influences our behavior, and ultimately shapes our identity. In a sense, we are not only what we eat: We are who we eat. Food expert Christina Pirello agrees and writes: “We run a risk of giving our destiny to any chef who claims to know how to cook a pot of rice. He or she is in charge of who we are and what we feel and how we behave. Continue Reading →

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Restaurant visit sparks battle of the palate versus the soul

 

 

 

 

By Michelle Lawrence

Contributing Writer

 

A few weeks ago, a fellow food enthusiast and I sat down over a plate of bleu cheese-slathered hot wings to talk shop and all things food. Indulging ourselves in a ritual feast of the high-cholesterol bar favorites, she suggested that I try Victory 44 — a chef-run gourmet restaurant in the Victory/Camden neighborhood of North Minneapolis — a neighborhood known for being a “food desert” due to its shortage of places offering quality produce and nutritious foods. So, acting on her suggestion, one Saturday evening my husband and I decided to take a trip to Victory 44 — an oasis in a food desert. As my husband and I entered the restaurant through its rear door, we were immediately greeted by chefs who were busily cooking up dishes in the open kitchen lined against the western wall. With its high ceilings, hardwood floors and airy atmosphere, Victory 44 oozes urban chic. Continue Reading →

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Changing diet doesn’t have to mean sacrificing cultural identity

 

 

By Michelle Lawrence

Contributing Writer

 

 

If music is the language of the soul, then cooking is the language of the heart. Incidentally, it is the heart which is most affected by the type of food we eat. Yvette Salter, 42, of Winston-Salem, NC is one of many African American women who have begun looking for alternative ways to prepare food that is tasteful and heart healthy: foods such as her crab-stuffed tilapia. “I love fish, especially fried fish, but when my blood pressure began to go up, I had to start looking for different ways to make it. That’s when I started researching different recipes and found one for crab-stuffed tilapia. Continue Reading →

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Soul food: like Black art or music, embodies transformation

 

 

By Michelle Lawrence

Contributing Writer

 

As Mother Nature has shifted her aura to accommodate the cool, crisp shades of winter, I am reminded that the season of harvest has passed and now is the time for thoughtful reflection, thanksgiving, festivity, and celebration. While watching the withered and snow-dusted leaves dance across the landscape of my back yard, memory took me to an experience in 2008 when I was privy to dialogue among a group of African American elders about culture and cooking. During the dialogue, which flowed like a potluck dinner, the elders dished up stories about the techniques used by their ancestors to transform throwaway scraps into sumptuous delights — techniques that allowed them to transform food once considered garbage into food considered “soul.”

Entranced by the rhythm of the dancing leaves, I suddenly experienced a flash of insight, an epiphany: Seeds planted in my mind three years earlier by that group of elders were coming into fruition as a personal harvest. At that instant, one solid question emerged in my mind: Why is the term “soul food” unique to African American people? The elders had answered the question that day. Continue Reading →

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