by Alison Brown
Food justice champion Tambra Raye Stevenson continues to inspire. The Oklahoma native and Washington DC-based food policy advocate takes us on her spiritual, professional, and passion-driven journey to advocate for good nutrition and social justice for all.
What do nutrition and justice have in common? The answer is Tambra Raye Stevenson. The resume of this Oklahoma native and Tufts graduate describes the action and dedicated work of a phenomenal social justice and nutrition advocacy leader. Tambra Raye Stevenson, founder of Washington D.C.-based NativSol Kitchen, is empowering families to take charge of their health, urging those of color to connect back to their roots by preparing the cuisine of the African Diaspora.
“NativSol formed out of my own journey seeking my African heritage and spirituality and asking such question as, ‘Does MyPlate really reflect who I am?’” Stevenson reflected.
Throughout this process of self-discovery and growth, Tambra has also engaged with faith-based, nutrition programs throughout the District. But her work extends far beyond the realm of community nutrition education. Tambra is actively involved in both national and local food and social justice policy and advocacy efforts. As a public policy chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Organization of Blacks in Dietetics and Nutrition, Tambra is a vocal supporter for the consideration of culture, race, and ethnicity in dietary recommendations. On the local front, she is the founding member of the D.C. Mayor’s Office on African Affairs’ Health Education Planning Committee and chairs the nutrition subcommittee.
Despite this long list of accomplishments and her undoubtedly positive impact on nutrition advocacy in the future, Tambra was not always interested in nutrition as a professional career. Stevenson’s general interest in nutrition, however, stems from her “curiosity of why people in [her] family were dying.” Like many other African Americans, Stevenson saw the chronic disease-related deaths of family members become more a norm rather than an exception.
While at Oklahoma State University, Tambra became a Biology-turned-Human Nutrition pre-medical major after a classmate encouraged her to visit the nutrition department. From that moment she seriously began to consider the nutrition field as a career possibility. Following numerous nutrition research summer internships, Tambra later entered the Tufts’ Health Communications program at the Tufts School of Medicine. There she was actively engaged in the Boston community and took advantage of the cross-consortium with Boston University and Emerson College. At the academic level, she honed her skills in translating nutrition science into relatable messages that resonated with all people, not just the scientific elite. Taking the “whole brain approach” when it comes to nutrition and food, Stevenson began to think more creatively about food and nutrition as well as approaches that could be used in the community setting.
Shortly after graduating, in 2004, Stevenson began the Emerging Leaders Program, a highly competitive federal internship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designed to train young leaders to oversee national programs and initiatives. Continuing her journey, Tambra began working for the U.S. Department of Commerce where she helped to promote minority business opportunities at home and abroad. Though these professional experiences didn’t relate to nutrition directly, she gained invaluable experience in program management and understanding the workings of the federal government.
It wasn’t until 2007, however, with the tragic and sudden death of her father, that Tambra took heed to her true call to service and returned to the nutrition profession with more creativity and consciousness. The mother of two began to ask herself, “What legacy am I passing onto my children? Am I living a life of purpose?” Tambra then began practicing yoga as a way to stay grounded and continued on her path of nutrition education and food justice advocacy.
When asked what motivates her, Stevenson painted a picture of spiritual perseverance, passion, and a calling for justice and health equity. And while many may (or may not) agree, Tambra argues that food justice has to be framed as a civil rights issue in order for true change to be instigated. Extending this analogy to the abolition of slavery, Stevenson suggests that the “Harriet Tubmans,” “Harriet Beecher Stowes,” “Frederick Douglasses,” and “William Lloyd Garrisons” each play a different role in reaching various influential stakeholders, and all such roles are necessary in the fight for food justice.
My 45-minute phone interview with Tambra was riddled with nuggets of truth and wisdom, and in a particularly insightful moment, Stevenson said that change happens when someone creates an opportunity from what is not being said.
As a constantly evolving leader, Stevenson is creating these opportunities as she continues in her career. In celebration of her birthday and connecting to her newly learned, Fulani roots of Niger and Nigeria, Stevenson intended to travel to her home of African ancestry in September, but due to the Ebola outbreak, she instead had an amazing experience in Ghana. As a self-described, “curious child seeking truth beyond the noise,” Stevenson is continuing on in her spiritual, professional, and passion-driven journey to advocate for good nutrition and social justice for all.
To learn about NativSol, visit facebook.com/nativsol.
Alison Brown is a Food Policy and Applied Nutrition, Ph.D. candidate interested in addressing racial and ethnic health disparities through community education and civic engagement approaches. In her spare time, she enjoys running and making healthy, affordable meals on a shoestring, grad school budget!