The NRI was delighted to host Alice Ammerman, DrPH, a renowned nutrition professor at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health and Director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, as a guest speaker for our Appetite for Life series. Ammerman is the founder of Equiti Foods, a venture dedicated to making healthy, delicious, and affordable food accessible to all while supporting local farmers. In her presentation, Ammerman elaborated on the mission of Good Bowls, which addresses various issues such as food access, nutrition, chronic disease prevention, economic opportunities for farmers, and food waste reduction. For a more detailed explanation on Good Bowls and its significance, continue reading below.

By Brock Pierce, Innovate Carolina

The scene in Alice Ammerman’s (DrPH) kitchen is part business venture, part public health experiment, part friendly culinary competition. That’s because Ammerman’s home also serves as a test kitchen for Equiti Foods, the startup company she founded. It’s where she and colleagues tinker with recipes for the company’s product called Good Bowls. The bowls are healthy frozen meals locally sourced and made in North Carolina. “People on our team come up with different ideas, and they come over to my house and we test different things—and I joke that I have the distinction of having created our most popular and our least popular recipe,” laughed Ammerman, the Mildred Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. “The most popular is the Chicken Burrito Bowl, and a lot of it came from doing taste testing and experimenting on my children over time. The least popular—although it’s hanging in there—is what we call the Wintry Mix.

The Wintry Mix bowl epitomizes Equiti Food’s multi-faceted company mission: Provide everyone access to healthy, good-tasting and affordable food—while helping small local farmers sustain a living. “We’re thinking about farm sales in the winter when produce availability is a lot less,” said Ammerman. “There are some hardy crops you can use—cabbage, sweet potatoes, kale, onions—and I wanted to come up with a recipe that put them all together.”

The bowls come in a dozen flavors, ranging from Carolina BBQ Chicken and Sausage Pepper Grits to Big Al’s Big BBQ Bowl and Farmhouse Mac ‘N Cheese. The issues Equiti Foods addresses are as diverse as the ingredients in its bowls. “We’re trying to solve several problems at one time, such as nutrition security—which includes access to food and the fact that it’s healthy,” said Ammerman. “Preventing chronic disease, offering economic development opportunities for small farmers, and reducing food waste are things we work on, so our focus is multi-pronged.”

A longtime nutrition professor, Ammerman has seen the converging nature of food, health and economic challenges surface in her academic research. Those findings led her to launch Equiti Foods as a startup company in 2018. “I’ve focused on chronic disease and health disparities in low-income populations. And over and over again the problem comes up that people don’t have good access to healthy food that also tastes good and is culturally familiar,” she said. “So, our team has been working on what we call the Med-South Diet, which is the Mediterranean diet adapted for Southeastern taste preferences and food availability.”

Good Bowls’ Med-South frozen meals use generous amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while infusing healthy fats and oils. “We do taste testing and develop recipes that aren’t perceived as weird,” Ammerman said. “Our favorite compliment is when people say it doesn’t even taste healthy.” Ammerman faces the challenge of offering affordable, locally sourced and tasty food. Achieving this goal involves strategic partnerships, such as the one with Weaver Street Market, which prepares the bowls at its Food House Market in Hillsborough. Equiti Foods taps into Weaver Street’s network of local farmers and producers in North Carolina. This enables Equiti Foods to procure most Good Bowls ingredients within the state, promoting local employment while maintaining high standards of quality and flavor.

[Continue Reading on Innovate Carolina]