How Way 2 FRESH Eats Is Making Healthier Food Options More Accessible to All
When it comes to eating healthy, mealtimes are usually a no-brainer. But there’s that craving—the one that hits around 3 p.m. when we need something flavorful and filling to keep us out of the workday slump or re-energize us after the school day.
Unfortunately, if we don’t have healthy food at hand, our hunger usually leads us to the vending machine or takes us to the drive-thru to hit up the dollar menu. For those living in urban food deserts, the options are even more limited. When the only fruit in the corner convenience store is the overpriced banana browning on the counter, that cheap bag of chips next to it looks a lot more enticing.
However, Siddik Lartey, the chef and creator behind Way 2 FRESH Eats, is striving to change how St. Louisans snack. Through his fun-focused menu, pop-up food stands and raw food workshops, he’s guiding people toward healthier, locally sourced plant-based foods one Watermelon Pizza and Waffle Cone Fruit Scoop at a time.
Guided: Tell us about the mission of Way 2 FRESH Eats. What was missing in the market that you felt needed to be filled?
The primary focus of Way 2 FRESH is to try and provide fresh, healthy food alternatives, particularly to people living in food desert areas, but really to everyone. We primarily gear our recipes to those times between major meals because that’s a niche I feel is underserviced. That’s when we make our most unhealthy food choices—when we’re really hungry and short on time. But because all of my recipes are raw recipes, they don’t require a stove, microwave or oven. You can create something healthy and delicious wherever you’re at in that moment.
Another thing that lent itself perfectly to my business model is going out to where the people are. I’ve done some traditional food vending, but I’ve really found the pop-up model is more of what my vision is leaning toward. Sometimes when you’re vending an event, there’s a cover charge that keeps people from attending, but when you do a pop-up in the community, it’s accessible and affordable for everyone. I can get that healthy eating message out to those who need to hear it the most.
Guided: You partner with several organizations across the U.S.—for instance, St. Louis Metro Market— that are getting produce in the hands of those facing food insecurity. Why are pop-up events and food presentations so important in taking residents’ experiences with mobile farmers’ markets to the next level?
A lot of times in food-insecure areas, whether it’s St. Louis, Detroit or Dallas, people are used to fried, cholesterol-heavy foods because that’s all they had access to. They grew up eating the same old things. Produce is now more accessible because of local farmers and community organizations in these cities that are working to create better health and wellness for all, but we have to show people how to turn something they’re not familiar with into something they want to eat.
Although my recipes definitely qualify as vegan, there’s this stereotype among people in the community that a vegan lifestyle isn’t for them. That’s why I always say plant-based—it’s more inclusive and user-friendly when it comes to having people try something like a meat-free Southwest wrap. Once they try it, they always tell me they didn’t expect it to be that good.
Guided: You truly bring an element of fun into your recipes. What role does presentation play in changing people’s outlook on healthy eating?
I think the fun and creativity that comes with some of the recipes I get to do is one of my favorite parts. My mom’s an artist by trade, and now I feel I get to show my own creativity with the things I make when I’m in the kitchen.
One thing I’m doing a lot more of is conducting workshops with children. At a “Fun With Fruit” workshop, one of the recipes we worked on was Apple Owls. We used apples, almonds, blueberries, granola and even pretzels for the branch for the owl. Doing things like that, introducing kids to fruits and vegetables in fun and creative ways, shows them how to look at produce differently.
Guided: Many people think a plant-based diet is too restrictive. How do you change this mindset and ease them into the lifestyle to improve their health through your presentations?
I really encourage people to go out there and try to replace some things slowly. I start with substituting things in your diet you normally would put meat on, like nachos. Chili is a really easy one, too.
You also have to show people how to find healthy alternatives to things like honey buns and hot fries and still feel satisfied—like using coconut oil instead of butter or a natural date instead of brown sugar or granulated cane sugar. One of the items I’ve come up with is the Perfect Date Bite, which is dried dates and apricots which are processed and then mixed with pepita seeds, Craisins and walnuts. It’s a great alternative to a Snickers bar or chocolate. It’s healthy, but it’s still sweet and it’s still tasty.
Once you start eating fresh fruits and vegetables, your body becomes more receptive to it. It starts to adjust, and you don’t crave those artificial flavors or need sugar on your strawberries anymore. It’s easy to sophisticate your palette—you just have to start.
Featured image courtesy of Way 2 FRESH Eats.