Food & Nutrition

Grocery Diaries: How an R.D. Makes Plant-Based Versions of Traditional Jamaican Meals

Welcome to Grocery Diaries, a new series that illustrates just how varied and personalized “healthy eating” really is. So many factors impact the choices we make at the grocery store, including access and affordability, health conditions, our individual cultural backgrounds, even what simply makes us (and our taste buds) happy. So we asked people across the country to share their grocery lists with us, and then called up a few of them to ask for more details. Why do they buy what they buy? How much do they spend? Who are they shopping for? What health conditions or nutritional concerns are they thinking about when they choose, for instance, almond milk over cow’s milk, or particular flavors or spices or treats? In this Grocery Diaries installment, we hear from a Boston registered dietitian who makes plant-based versions of her favorite Jamaican foods.

Name: Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes
Age: 38
Occupation: Registered dietitian
Location: Boston
Race/Gender: Black woman
Health conditions/dietary restrictions to consider: Avoids dairy, meat, and gluten. Additionally, Sue-Ellen is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church and refrains from eating pork, crustaceans, and gelatin as many followers do.
Grocery shopping frequency: Shops for four people three times a month

Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes was tired of searching for fresh callaloo in grocery stores, so grew her own. “There’s a big difference between fresh and canned. The canned is okay—and I’ll eat it—but I just really love the fresh,” she tells SELF. Callaloo is a green leafy vegetable popular in Jamaica, where Sue-Ellen is from, which is similar to kale and collard greens. Sue-Ellen occasionally buys canned callaloo, but nothing beats eating freshly-picked greens from her garden, she says.

Sue-Ellen moved to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was in elementary school. Her family lived in New Jersey before settling down in Florida, where they found many of the same fresh foods they ate back home, like callaloo and ackee, a West African fruit commonly eaten in the Caribbean. Now, Sue-Ellen drives about an hour from her home to Downtown Boston in order to find ingredients for her favorite Jamaican dishes. (Many items are not available in her neighborhood markets.)

Sue-Ellen follows a plant-based diet because she experienced stomach pains and uncomfortable bloating whenever she ate meat, as well as dairy and gluten—so she now avoids those types of foods. Occasionally, Sue-Ellen cooks chicken and fish for her husband, Michael, and her two kids, Elizabeth and Malachi, but the whole family enjoys her meat-free meals, too. “I cook all my traditional meals the exact same way, but I take the meat out if I’m making them for myself,” she explains. “Eating traditional foods brings up memories from home,” she says. Grocery shopping for those foods isn’t always easy, but Sue-Ellen manages to honor her traditions. Here are 10 items she picks up in a typical grocery trip.

Like we mentioned, Sue-Ellen grew up eating fresh callaloo, which is hard to find in the Boston area. She buys canned callaloo when she needs to, but the taste just isn’t the same, she says. “I like my callaloo with a little more crunch and a little less salt,” she explains. Now Sue-Ellen grows callaloo in the summer and freezes it to last through winter. She cooks it with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, to serve alongside many of her meals.

2. Cristobal Salted Cod Chunks: $ 7.99

“Sunday dinner is really big where I was born in Jamaica,” Sue-Ellen explains. She starts the day by making ackee and salt fish for breakfast. “Ackee and salt fish is our national dish in Jamaica,” she explains. (Sue-Ellen eats ackee and jackfruit to stick with her meat-free diet. “Jackfruit looks similar to salt fish when it’s broken up in pieces,” she says.) Her daughter, Elizabeth, is particularly fond of the meal and begs, “Mommy, give me dumplings and salt fish. I want to be Jamaican.” Sue-Ellen says she just laughs at her daughter’s request and responds, “You are. You’re Jamerican.”

Sue-Ellen misses picking fresh ackee from the trees in Jamaica and also in Florida where her father-in-law grows his own fruit. “You can tell the difference between canned and fresh ackee for sure, but that doesn’t hinder me from eating it,” she says. In addition to preparing ackee with salt fish and jackfruit, Sue-Ellen sometimes serves it with tofu.

4. Yellow Yams: $ 2.29

“In Jamaica, we roast yellow yams over an open flame,” Sue-Ellen says. That’s not something she can do in her house now, so she boils or bakes them instead. Sue-Ellen especially likes how the sweet flavor complements some spicier flavors. “It goes well with curry chickpeas. It’s like a comfort meal,” she says.

5. Green Bananas: $ 1.49

When eating green bananas, “it feels like I’m home again,” Sue-Ellen says. Her absolute favorite thing about green bananas is the nostalgia that comes with eating them. “My mom used to mash the green bananas and put butter on them. I remember eating that, and it tasted so good,” she says. And they go well with nearly any meal because they taste similar to potatoes, according to Sue-Ellen.

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