February 18, 2020 at 01:30PM by CWC
Taylor Johnson-Gordon is on a mission to help Millennial Black mothers feed their families plant-based food—and to shorten their to-do list in the process. Through Sistah of the Yam, she offers guidance and support with everything from meal planning to shopping lists to cooking skills. Here, as part of the Wellness in Color series on Well+Good, Council member and wellness expert Latham Thomas connects to find out more about Johnson-Gordon’s drive, self-care practices, and goals in helping fellow mothers create food that nourishes their spirit, their community, and their families.
Latham Thomas: Could you talk a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: I am a plant food educator and an herbalist. I founded Sistah of the Yam as a space to help Black women heal and grow resiliency through real and affordable food. Right now, I’m facilitating herbal workshops, cooking workshops, nutrition classes, and working one-on-one with Black women and supporting them in their wellness journey.
Latham Thomas: Where did your interest in this work begin?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: A lot of it came out of my own story and having disordered patterns with food—how I related to it and how it relates to my body. I also have a background in theology. It wasn’t until I was in seminary that I began to ask these critical questions: We are created in the image of God, so how does that impact how I relate to my own body? Why don’t I eat in a way where that truth is an embodied truth, not just something that is in my head? Through those questions and through the work of a lot of womanist theologians, I started to have a different relationship with food and with my body. It was an outpouring of that work.
Latham Thomas: When I think back to growing up, my father and I used to go to church, and the relationship to food there was so interesting. There were gatherings around a fish fry, for instance, while we would be praying for people who were sick with heart disease or diabetes. When you’re thinking about this work and its relation to theology, how can we think about embodying a narrative that’s transformed around our eating in these types of settings?
“One of the virtues that grounds me is that Black women are image-bearers of God. That is crucial and vital.” —Taylor Johnson-Gordon
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: That’s a really salient question. Black men who attend church regularly are two or three times more likely to live with heart-related issues than Black men who don’t go to church. This prevalence of un-wellness in the midst of these safe spaces is fascinating. I’m a Christian and I look to Jesus and his ministry of food and feeding people. His last words of instructions were around communion, around remembering Him by bread and wine. I’m enamored with that, because Jesus could have asked us to remember him in a bunch of different ways. But His instructions were to spread the gospel and to remember him with a meal, which means you have to eat with other people.
God is not just concerned with our hearts or souls, but with our physical bodies. I have virtues for Sistah of the Yam that ground me and my work, and one of the first is that Black women are image-bearers of God. That is crucial and vital, especially in a world where Black women experience so much oppression, marginalization, racism, sexism, stress, and anxiety. There are so many things socially that are up against us, but we are expressing the character of God. So what does that mean about how we treat our own bodies? It’s about something bigger.
Latham Thomas: If we were to follow you for the day, what would that entail in terms of your work?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: A lot of my work is behind the scenes—reading and learning. I’m working toward my Masters of Science in nutrition and herbal medicine through Maryland University’s school of integrative health. I am also constantly in study around the African American tradition around healing—our folk medicine, our herbs, and materia medica. I’m integrating those things in one-on-one client work or in workshops.
Then there’s the nitty-gritty stuff: purchasing supplies, putting up flyers for workshops, and connecting with other Black practitioners in my area. I think a lot about how to make this type of work practical. I find that sometimes even I struggle around the world “wellness” and what that means. There’s a lot of impractical information out there, and people think things always have to be very expensive. So I spend a great effort figuring out how to distill information in a way that speaks to the everyday Black woman.
Latham Thomas: What are some ways that you do that?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: All of my offerings are sliding-scale and child-friendly. It’s been really important for me to have all of our workshops and classes be accessible to kids and some babies. A lot of times, women are surprised. They’re like, “Oh, I could breastfeed in the middle of a workshop about herbs?!” I’m glad to make the experience child-friendly.
Latham Thomas: Let’s talk a little bit about self-care. Is it a regular practice for you?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: Self-care used to be more extravagant or luxurious-sounding, but since becoming a mother, lots of times it’s very basic. One thing that’s essential is my food and eating. I don’t compromise on nutrition, because I’d burn out pretty quickly. Nourishing myself is a priority. Herbal infusions are also a big part of my self-care; I’m constantly drinking stinging nettle and red raspberry leaf.
Second, I’m a people-pleaser in recovery. My husband has supported me in terms of asking for help, even if that means paying for some cleaning help twice a month. I had a big hang-up about getting to that point, but it has been a huge lifesaver for me. To be honest, I don’t think people talk about that enough. Being very clear on what my work is has afforded me the space to say no to things that are nice and great, but that don’t fully align.
“I find that sometimes even I struggle around the world ‘wellness’ and what that means.” —Taylor Johnson-Gordon
Latham Thomas: Has any advice shared by an elder made an impact on you?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: What comes to mind is advice on boundaries—having them and being okay with saying no.
Latham Thomas: Are there any ancestral practices you pull from that inform your work?
Taylor Johnson-Gordon: I didn’t know this until I started getting into this lifestyle, but on my mother’s side, my great-great-grandfather was an herbalist and entrepreneur. I feel like this is a continuation of that work of healing with the earth. It’s exciting to be in a time where more and more Black people, especially Millennials, are reconnecting to that legacy. Maybe we weren’t instructed on it when we were younger, but we’re finding our way back to it. I think that’s deeply ancestral as well.
What—or whom—should Latham write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to email@example.com.