Salad marks first step toward healthier Bronx

People tasting the Bronx Salad at the Boogie on a Boulevard festival on the Grand Concourse, the Bronx, Aug. 28th. Photo by Milana Vinn.

People tasting the Bronx Salad at the Boogie on the Boulevard on the Grand Concourse, last summer. Photo by Milana Vinn.

Jill Ananyi, 65, moved along the buffet tables, filling her plate, during the lunch break at a recent conference on healthy food in the Bronx.

Ananyi, an interpreter of Spanish who lives in Queens but often works in the Bronx and complains about not being able to find fresh, healthy food, stopped when she got to a tray of small cups of greens, beans and veggies, garnished with peach slices. She picked up one of the small salads, and made room for it next to her pasta and meatballs.

The salad, which Ananyi sampled at the “What Is Health?” conference at Hostos Community College, is part of a campaign by several nonprofits to bring healthier food to Bronx restaurants and bodegas. The initial goal is to promote “the Bronx Salad” as a healthy, affordable alternative to fast food. The next move in the campaign is to offer the salad in 20 restaurants, school canteens and bodegas after the official launch on Oct. 21.

The three organizations behind the Healthy Restaurant Initiative are UBC United Business Cooperative, a group of immigrant-owned restaurants in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, the Bronx Health REACH Institute (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) and SoBro, a nonprofit organization that supports South Bronx businesses.

“People get in the Bronx restaurants rice with beans, chicken with peppers and onions, but it’s unhealthy,” says King Phojanakong, the chef at the Kuma Inn in Manhattan who created the recipe for the Bronx Salad. “So why don’t we put some healthy ingredients in the salad?”

The ingredients include include mixed greens, red peppers, black beans, olives, red onions, corn, tomatoes, parsley and plantain chips, he said, with a dressing made of vinegar, olive oil, orange juice, sugar and hot sauce. He said he didn’t know how many calories are in a serving. “I didn’t count the calories of the ingredients, but it doesn’t have a lot of calories,” he said. “Compared to fried chicken and rice, the salad is much healthier.”

Eli Maverick, a Fordham Heights nutritionist at the New Life Nutritional Center, said, “Olives, olive oil plus added sugar sound on the higher calorie count. But this is a good introduction to the salad if you are not a salad-eater.”

The restaurants signed up offer the Bronx Salad include Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen, Delicioso, Don Pancho’s Steakhouse, Mott Haven Bar & Grill and Viva Café in the South Bronx.

The Bronx Salad will be also sold in South Bronx bodegas by the end of October as a part of the Healthy Bodega Initiative. Distribution is to expand to 30 bodegas by the end of 2017.

The Healthy Bodega Initiative, organized by the Bodega Association and HITN, the Hispanic Information and Telecommunication Network, is training bodega owners in hopes of showing them how healthy food can mean healthy profits, too.

“I think it’s a good idea to offer the salad in schools and bodegas,” said Sergio Tejeda at his Tejeda Grocery at East 184th Street and Valentine.

“It teaches kids from early ages what is good to eat. I think kids just don’t like salad anymore. They come in the morning and get sandwiches with ham and cheese. They also love potato chips. I don’t know why, but it’s the most popular thing they get.”

Meanwhile, as lunch ended at the conference, Jill Ananyi, the Spanish interpreter who had taken a chance on the Bronx Salad, was satisfied.

“This salad was the best thing I tasted here,” said Ananyi. “It is different. It has fruits and sweet, but not too much.”