Bronx Roots Vegetarian and Wellness Festival aims to improve borough’s health outcomes

Group of healthy food ingredients. Overhead view table scene on a wooden background.
The Bronx Roots Vegetarian and Wellness Festival was held on Saturday, July 23, to promote healthy living in the Bronx.
Photo courtesy Getty

Holistic healing practitioners Abena Anum and Marilyn Johnson hosted the Bronx Roots Vegetarian and Wellness Festival in an attempt to promote healthy living in the city’s unhealthiest borough.

The Bronx, currently ranked last of 62 New York state counties in terms of health outcomes, according to the 2022 County Health Rankings National Findings Report, includes neighborhoods in the southern portion of the borough known as food deserts, where residents have limited access to quality nutrition, rely heavily on processed foods and are often oversaturated with bodegas in place of supermarkets. Additionally, 1 in 4 Bronx residents — some of the highest rates in the country — are affected by food insecurity, according to a 2021 report by the United Hospital Fund and Boston Consulting Group.

The Bronx also suffers from the worst unemployment rates in the state at 8.6% entering August, and was disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with cumulatively higher death and hospitalization rates than any of the city’s other boroughs, according to a 2021 report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The health rankings report further found that 30% of health outcomes, including the length of life and quality of life, are based on health behaviors including tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use and sexual activity. This statistic, although not specific to the Bronx, ignited the #Not62 Campaign for Family Wellness in the Bronx, a call to action to improve the overall health of the borough’s residents.

“I became aware of #Not62 and said ‘wow. We really need to correct this,’” said Anum, founder of Bronx Holistic Healing. “As a lifelong resident of the Bronx I see the fast food places everywhere and the other parts of the Bronx being a food desert.”

In her more than two decades of holistic healing — an idealistic form of healing that Anum describes as focusing on the entire body, mind and spirit — Anum has found herself forced to travel to other boroughs in order to attend events that promote what she calls a clean lifestyle. Now, she says she has everything she needs to live a healthy lifestyle in the Bronx, and believes others do too.

“I would say we are 62 and rising,” Anum said. “The Bronx has been going through a process of waking up and making the connection between eating and overall health.”

The Bronx Roots Vegetarian and Wellness Festival welcomed local artisans, vendors and wellness enthusiasts to Seabury Park. Photo courtesy Abena Anum

Anum knew of a small network of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts in her neighborhood before hosting the festival. Despite misconceptions of wholesome activists only practicing in more “uppity” boroughs, Anum says the Bronx is full of the vegan eateries, juice bars, massage therapists and spiritual practitioners needed to curate this health-forward way of life. 

Anum began coordinating holistic events in the Bronx in 2012 and has since produced more than 40 opportunities for Bronx residents to collaborate and share their products and ideas. 

“It’s all connected in your body and your soul,” Anum said. “Eating vibrant foods … it brings more life to you. When you’re taking care of yourself in addition to healthy eating, that kind of raises your energy and raises up your lifeforce.”

The July 23 wellness festival in Seabury Park was sponsored by Partake Foods, a vegan, allergen free and gluten free cookie company; Nature’s Fynd, a nutritional fungi protein distributor; Raw Rev, a vegan snack company; and Black Girl Everything, a resource for Black women and girls. The free event hosted more than 30 guests with 11 vendors passionate about holistic healing and healthy living. 

“My mission has always been to expand the network and expand the awareness of (healthy living) so people know that what you’re looking for is here in the Bronx,” Anum said. “I’m just looking to also promote some change.”

The festival included an array of local vendors, artisans and speeches from health advocates from the Bronx community who share a goal of increasing their community’s quality of life. 

Afterwards, local eatery Bronx Eats hosted a food demonstration using local produce to create a Mediterranean salad and attendees participated in a roundtable discussion to discuss ideas on how to bring what they learned from the festival back to their communities. 

John Gray hosted a Revitalizing Chair Massage booth to “realign, rejuvenate and restore” attendees. By stretching and massaging different parts of the body, Anum said patrons feel more relaxed and energized by the end of the session.

John Gray offers a revitalizing therapeutic massage to attendees. Photo courtesy Abena Anum

Abiodun Bello, founder of Crotona Park Running Club, and holistic nutritionist Genny Mack were the keynote speakers of the festival. Mack pitched the benefits of a plant-based diet and Bello spoke about the benefits of his running club. 

One vendor, Eli’s Baage, sold authentic Ghanian goods including waist beads and raw organic shea butter. Waist beads are a traditional way of monitoring weight loss and weight management by looking at where the beads fall on the body over time to identify progress. The booth offered free waist bead training and samples of organic shea butter. 

“What I am hoping to bring is just the knowledge of what things are used in Ghana as far as a healthy way of living, such as the skin care and the waist beads,” Garner said.

Other vendors at the event include Evolving Wellness Shop, Aligned Wire, Goddess Innergy, Royalty Body Cream, S&S Health and Wellness and The Wild Juice.

-Christian Falcone contributed to this report

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