A Banner Publication
March 5, 2009 – Vol. 3 • No. 7
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A salad a day

Wiley Mullins is on a mission to improve the health of black people — one salad at a time.

It hasn’t been easy.

After earning a business degree from the University of Alabama and an MBA from Duke University, he gave up his job in marketing with Procter & Gamble to start his own business, Uncle Wiley’s Inc., that brings out the flavor of soul food without using ham, bacon, lard or butter.

But he found out the hard way that many doctors do not emphasize preventive care and weren’t as supportive as he initially had hoped. Still, he persisted and developed a line of 13 products that, according to Mullins, enables one to eat their favorite soul food without the added unhealthy salts, fats and sugars.

To Mullins, 50, it’s personal. At one point in his own life, Mullins said he carried more weight than he liked. But he exercised and changed his eating habits and was able to lower his body mass index to a more acceptable level.

Diabetes runs in his family, he explained, and he has seen too many friends and relatives suffer the consequences of hypertension and obesity.

Mullins grew up in Alabama and knows all about soul food. But he also realized that soul food involves taking healthy foods — collard greens, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas — and making them unhealthy with added fats and salts. Instead of warning people against soul food, he embraced it, making it palatable and healthy at the same time.

His seasoning for sweet potatoes or yams includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, fresh brown sugar and just a hint of pineapple essence. The seasoning contains no cholesterol or fat and 30 milligrams of sodium. Typically, flavorings for the same dish have 8 grams of total fat, 21 milligrams of cholesterol and 170 milligrams of sodium.

Mullins is big on fruits and vegetables and encourages people to try different types. “Most of us tend to eat the same three or four vegetables over and over,” he said.

Yet nutritionists recommend choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables in a wide array of colors — the deep greens of broccoli, collard greens and spinach; the oranges of carrots, acorn and butternut squash; the reds of strawberries and watermelon.

Mullins has introduced America’s Wellness Team, which is endorsed by the National Medical Association, the largest professional group of African American physicians. The team offers nutrition and wellness advice for consumers through a free monthly electronic newsletter. He also works with diabetes educators in an effort to stem the high incidence of the disease among blacks.

Mullins is big on salads. “There’s more to salads than iceberg lettuce, tomato and Miracle Whip,” he said.

He plans to take full advantage of National Salad Month in May. Wiley is trying to get people to look at salads in a different light.

It’s not that little side dish you eat before the entrée, Mullins proudly proclaimed. They can be the main course. And he has written a book — “Salad Makes the Meal: 150 Simple and Inspired Salad Recipes Everyone Will Love” — to prove it.

“A salad can serve as lunch, dinner, or even dessert,” said Mullins. “You can get a lot of your daily required nutrients from one salad.”

Mullins has other plans for this year. He is working with the Congressional Black Caucus to continue on his road to wellness. It will start in his home state of Alabama. “We’re doing a ‘wellness march’ to get the point across,” he said.

Despite Mullins’ efforts, many still believe that food should be about taste — and lots of it.

But according to Marc Anthony Bynum, there are healthful ways to achieve that taste. Bynum, 30, the executive chef at Tellers Restaurant in Long Island, N.Y., is skilled in all kinds of cooking. “I cook everything,” he said as he ticked off his specialties. “I cook Caribbean, Kosher, soul food. I have to be well-versed.”

He got started not only because he enjoys cooking, but oddly enough because he likes to please people. “Food makes people happy and gives them pleasure,” he said. “I like to watch their expression as they eat something they like.”

Bynum did not learn his skills in school — at least not technically. He learned from trial and error and from watching others, starting with his mother. He also leans on his background — his family is African, Caribbean and Latin.

He recognizes that it is hard to make changes in one’s diet. “Take small steps,” he advised. “Make minor changes that won’t be so noticeable.”

He recommends sautéing instead of deep frying. He swears by his fried chicken, but it’s pan-seared instead of deep-fried. He uses a coating of panko (Japanese bread crumbs), flour and egg, pan-sears it quickly, and then lets it finish cooking in the oven. “It retains its moisture that way and is still crispy,” he said.

Bynum emphasized that there’s “more than steak and chicken. Try fish — salmon and swordfish, for example. And if you do start eating more fish, grill or bake it instead of frying it.”

He rails against people who overcook collard greens. “All the nutrients come out with extended cooking,” he said. “Probably the water is more healthful than the greens themselves by that point.”

Instead, he recommends cooking greens quickly in olive oil with finely chopped onions and turkey bacon or turkey breast as seasoning.

But he does caution again shocking the system totally. “Move slowly until your taste buds have adapted to the changes,” he said.

Wiley Mullins — dubbed the “Salad Man” — compiles one of his famous salads called Under the Big Top.
Connecticut Post photo by Jesse Neider.

Marc Anthony Bynum
Executive Chef
Tellers Restaurant, Long Island, New York
Jim Lennon/Jim Lennon Photographer, Inc.

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