Conversation with Elsie Kriz, founder of Afrovitalityeats

On food, storytelling and community 

Food seems to be involved in everything these days yet how do we perceive its influence? Its connection to our mind and spirit. Its ability to heal, to strengthen bonds and gather communities. On an individual and collective level,food is a powerful force on its own. 

We live in a fast-paced society where mindful eating, swallowing with intentionality can become a challenge. Our relationship with food is an everyday experience yet we rarely ponder and evaluate how healthy this specific relationship is in our lives. So here is our invitation, let’s pause for a second and wonder. How do we feel about food? What is our current relationship with food? What are our eating habits? How can we better care for this relationship? How could we be more mindful about it? It isn’t about being perfect all the time, rather making long-lasting adjustments to be more present as we shop for, cook, serve, and eat our food.

Elsie Kriz is a Cameroonian blogger, founder of Afrovitalityeats and pharmacist based in the United States specifically in Columbia with her husband and two daughters. In this portrait, she shares with us her passion for cooking healthy West-African inspired recipes and creating memorable and enjoyable experiences through food.

Afrovitalityeats is a platform that focuses on West African cuisine, it is about food but also storytelling and community. It is anchored in her personal culture and history, Elsie said: “As a child I remember the family sitting around the famous “three stone fireplace”, telling stories, sharing laughs. These are the memories I cherish, that’s how I grew up, and this is what I hope to share with my family. This, my friends, is what I also hope you’d let me share with you.”

Discover her platform and enjoy some easy-to-prepare, healthy Cameroonian and West African recipes.Many dishes on Afrovitalityeats are vegetarian friendly, pescatarian and explore creative ways of  cooking traditional dishes. 

Visit her website and her Instagram account and get to know Elsie by watching a video of her  Njama Njama recipe.

Could  you tell me more about Afrovitalityeats? 

I started Afrovitalityeats in 2014 after relocating from Nebraska where I had just graduated from pharmacy school to Wisconsin as I had more time on my hands and was willing to start something that brings me real joy. It is funny how those laid back times in your life can be great stepping stones when you explore things you truly love. Cooking brings me plenty of joy, especially food from Cameroon. 

Afrovitalityeats focuses on using ingredients around me to recreate those flavors I savored as a child and on encouraging others to cook more traditional African dishes despite the difficulties in sourcing traditional ingredients.

In some areas in the US, Canada or Europe, the accessibility to these ingredients is not really an issue. However, nowadays people relocate more than ever and some ingredients are sometimes not accessible to us, yet I am convinced that you can still enjoy those traditional flavors you grew up with creativity and open-mindedness. 

We get many questions on ingredient substitutes and alternate methods of preparation from subscribers, moreover some subscribers want to know how to use some African ingredients in a creative and healthy manner, others how to to eat more veggie-friendly or fish-friendly West African inspired meals. Afrovitalityeats explores all of these questions! There is something for everyone no matter where you are from.

How did you successfully develop activities and start generating income surrounding your blog teaching cooking classes, private dinners and catering? 

From the start, my vision involved more than putting recipes online, I love telling my story online yet telling them in person, having the opportunity to interact directly with other people, sharing  cooking moments is extremely rewarding. After all, cooking is first and foremost an activity which involves all senses.

I keep my events small as I love being  part of the party! I want to share in the conversations around that dinner table. Getting to know my guests and their stories with food, building a sense of comfort and closeness, and having the opportunity to share my story and culture.

Food is not my profession so when I started my blog, at first, monetizing did not cross my mind. I would browse the web and see other bloggers share their monthly income just from blogging and be amazed. Once I started gaining more traffic on the blog and subscribers on Instagram, the brand evolved. 

When we relocated to Tennessee, I told myself I will reach out to people whose work I admire and grow Afrovitalityeats. You will be surprised at how many doors will open when you are clear and intentional regarding your wishes. Many doors have opened for me simply by reaching out!

A conversation with a vendor at the market ended up with an article on Afrovitalityeats in a local food magazine. A meeting to reserve an event space that did not actually pan out ended with me teaching a cooking class. A simple DM on Instagram ended with me partnering with Triluna wellness and the humble table as a guest chef at a supper club, allowing me to share my culture through food. I will keep reaching out every day for those opportunities. Like they say, the worst that could happen is getting a no yet the best may come from a yes! Regardless of the outcome it is essential to keep on trying.

Do you have tips for those who have difficulties finding the right balance for themselves when it comes to living a healthier life? 

Can you imagine how far a schedule and a simple alarm will take you? Failing to plan is definitely planning to fail! I have had setbacks in choosing what is best for me; especially when it comes to what I eat, how I eat and living an active lifestyle. What gets me right back on track when this happens is getting down to the basics, pen and paper, write it down. Planning and preparing quick and easy meals for the week, writing down my workout plan for the week, setting aside time for family. 

It also helps tremendously if you have someone who holds you accountable such as an accountability partner with my husband. We make it happen by encouraging and supporting each other. Find a support system and push each other to better your habits, to bring more mindfulness, creativity, community and joy in regards to your relationship with food.

What is next for Afrovitalityeats?

Covid-19 may have put a hold on my plans yet eventually we will have our relaunching event in 2021!  This event will involve good food, music and great conversations, it will be a preview of where we want to take Afrovitalityeats. We would like to host four events yearly centered on community building, culture, and our love for all things African. There is so much to learn and so much to share regarding African cuisine. Cooking classes will definitely still be a big part of what we do!

Pictures © Elsie Kriz