(© Nourishing NYC)

(from BBC Radio and CNN News transcripts)

Award-winning chef, nutritionist and CNN Hero Gina Keatley was puzzled when she first moved to East Harlem to see so many of her neighbors missing limbs.  She learned that complications from diabetes had forced them to have amputations.  The disease can restrict blood flow to extremities and cause nerve damage, which in turn can result in serious infection and damage in tissue and bone.

City health officials say East Harlem has the highest incidence of diabetes in Manhattan as well as the highest incidence of obesity:  one-third of East Harlem adults are obese or overweight.

In nearby more affluent communities, Keatley didn’t see nearly as many amputees.  “You go over this invisible line, and there are people with farmers’ markets, people with organic food . . . healthy sandwich shops,” she said.  Not so in East Harlem, where the community is saturated with fast food.  “These people are literally dying for nourishment.”

Turning down more lucrative jobs in the culinary industry, in 2008 Keatley started the nonprofit, Nourishing NYC.

Once a week, Keatley and her army of volunteers drive a vegetable-oil powered truck to hand out 500 to 1,000 pounds of fresh produce donated by local partners to people on high-traffic corners.  Since its inception the group has provided free fresh food and nutritional information to nearly 100,000 people in Harlem and the Bronx.

“A lot of people . . . with diabetes . . . don’t even understand the basics of their own disease.  Some think that if you wash rice, it’s no longer a carbohydrate.  We have to give them the correct information, because ignorance spreads.  One person says it, the next person says it and then everybody thinks, ‘Rice isn’t a carbohydrate.  We can eat as much as we want.’”

Nourishing NYC holds twice-weekly nutrition classes at community gardens, shelters and nonprofit groups that serve the city’s low-income population.  In the summer, its Junior Chef program partners young people with adult volunteers who teach them basic skills in cooking and making better food choices.

A year ago, Pedro Robles, 8 years old, took the Junior Chefs summer program.  Since then, Pedro shepherds his family to their local farmers’ market in East Harlem.  He’s transformed the way they eat.

“We learned more about he fruits and vegetables from the Junior Chefs class because Pedro taught us everything he learned,” said Pedro’s mother.  “We got to the farmers’ market, and he picks out all the fruits and vegetables he wants. . . . Eggplant is one thing I had never tried before, and I liked it.  New we eat it all the time”

A few weeks ago, Keatley launched her newest program, Nourishing USA to combat hunger and advocate nutrition in communities nationwide. People can apply on her organization’s website to receive a free “Hunger Advocacy Kit” that includes seeds for 500 meals, instructions for growing them and information for hosting food drives in their own communities.

“We want people to have a food drive, but we give them instructions on how to do it and what products would be healthy,” Keatley said.  “And most importantly, it teaches philanthropy to young children.  The idea of not just giving a dollar . . . but to do it with your own hands, to grow something, to connect with it, and then to distribute to people right in your neighborhood who really need it.”

If you’d like to help, click on

To stay abreast of Lake County Battles Obesity, visit Ron Graham’s blog for the Lake County General Health District at    Visit often.  The life and/or limb you save may be your own.


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