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 | By Michelle DiFranco

‘Get the Lead Out’ Food to Fight Lead Exposure

For a community that has already faced many challenges, Flint’s residents are now in dire need of life’s most basic necessity – clean water. When news of the water crisis broke, individuals, organizations and churches from all over took action to help. Truckloads and pallets of bottled water are being brought in and distributed to those most affected.

But right in the heart of downtown Flint, a different kind of response has taken place. An experienced chef is giving cooking demonstrations from a commercial kitchen tucked inside the Flint Farmers’ Market. And recently, his Chateaubriand and poached pears have been put on the back burner so he can focus on something even more important.

Chef Sean Gartland, culinary director at both the Flint Farmers’ Market and Flint Food Works, has teamed up with his fellow market manager and other organizations to introduce cuisine to the public that combats lead in the bloodstream. “As culinary director, I have the opportunity to directly work with the public through cooking demonstrations. It’s the perfect setting to initiate crucial conversations about how people cook and eat, and how they can make changes in their diet to mitigate the effects of exposure to lead in the water,” says Sean.

For Sean, getting involved was the right thing to do. “We are a hub of activity … a town square of sorts, for the entire city of Flint. It was only natural that we should step up and help in the crisis. We already had an ongoing relationship in programming healthy eating initiatives with the YMCA and Hurley Wellness Services. They should be credited, along with the folks at the MSU Extension offices, in putting together our Focus on Nutrition & Lead Program,” he says.

But reaching out to others in his hometown has a deeper meaning. Actively involved in their Catholic schools and home parish, Sean and his family have planted strong Catholic roots in the city of Flint. And his faith has played a big role in helping those in his community. “My faith is directly tied to this city and is a deep part of my connection with the city. I moved away after high school, and it was my involvement with Flint Farmers' Market that firmly entrenched me in the community once again. Drawing on my faith plays a large part in driving me to be involved in community- focused initiatives. As a chef, it's only natural that healthy food access and nutrition are areas I'm most concerned with. Loaves and fishes, right?” says Sean.

And for fighting lead, nutrition is key. Especially for children, who have been affected most. Sean says, “The real key factors in finding recipes for dishes that can help to fight the effects of lead exposure are ones that are high in calcium, iron and Vitamin C. The next, and perhaps most important, is finding a combination of those ingredients that will be a hit with kids. I find that almost any variation of Mexican food is a hit with my kids,” he says.

Sean is passionate about helping his city to become a diverse and prosperous place to live. That, and applying his God-given talents and Catholic faith to help out in a crisis, should be an inspiration to us all.

Black Bean salad with Mango, Cilantro, and Lime

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup canola oil

1/2 small ripe mango, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch pieces

1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced small

1 (14.5-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 small jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced (optional)

1 small red onion, diced small

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a small mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, lime juice, honey and cumin. Slowly whisk in the oil until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix the mango, pepper, black beans, jalapeno and onion together in a large bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the ingredients and toss to combine. Season the salad with salt and pepper. Garnish with the cilantro.