When I told my boyfriend in a text message that I was at a health fest, he jokingly replied, “Haha, health fest! I just picture a bunch of really in-shape people telling out-of-shape people to get into shape.”
But the West Health Fest – which was hosted by the Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center on Sept. 9 – was anything but that. Instead, it sent a message that healthy living is attainable and doesn’t require countless hours at the gym or a wallet-thinning, stomach growl-inducing diet.
More than 2,000 attendees spent time outside The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus to enjoy a morning yoga session, cooking demonstrations and food from John Heidelberg of Jonbalaya Food Truck, goodies from La Semilla Community Farm and Anthony Youth Farm, health screenings and a drum line performance by Franklin High School – just to name a few activities. The event was free, and that included the meals and produce boxes from the local farms!
One of the best things about the health fest was the doctor’s corner, where several Texas Tech physicians talked about diverse subjects relevant to the region. The topics ranged from sports medicine to prenatal health to preventing and managing diabetes.
As someone who doesn’t plan to have kids any time soon, I still found Doctor Naima Khamsi’s lecture, “What to expect when you’re expecting,” worth listening to. Going over the types of food mothers-to-be need to watch out for (fish, deli meats and soft cheese, for example) is important not only for pregnant women, but friends and family as well. If you’re making dinner for your friend, you want to make sure that the fish is well cooked and to be cautious when it comes to what type of cheese you offer. Soft, unpasteurized cheese can contain listeria and put unborn babies at risk. I don’t think this is necessarily common knowledge, and it’s always good to put this kind of information out there as much as possible.
It was really cool to learn that Khamsi is from El Paso and a UTEP grad – a sign of hope for those who’ve lamented about the city’s brain drain. She and the other physicians had a very approachable charm, making it easy to ask them questions.
Competitive attendees enjoyed the fitness challenge, which consisted of tire flips, sled pulls and burpees, but the event didn’t make me feel guilty for my unhealthy habits (a consistent workout routine has always been a challenge for me). By offering a mixture of healthy and indulgent food – like the cookies from the East Side eatery El Paso Cookie Inc. – the festival didn’t feel judgmental or preachy in the least bit.
I also enjoyed getting to know the vendors. What impresses me is the diverse entrepreneurship of this city. Who would have known that in the past few years, we’d have Madre Nostra Kombucha, which offers fermented tea (yay, probiotics!) and Mesquite Willie's Desert Products, which makes flour from mesquite pods and seeds. The flour has a slightly sweet taste and is lauded for being a low-glycemic superfood. The fact that El Paso has people who make these products and that they sell relatively well says to me that the demand for nutritious eats has increased over the years.
This was the first of hopefully many West Health Fests, and I’m genuinely grateful for the humble team of organizers who put it together. By creating a free event, they made healthy living more accessible for families who can’t afford much outside of necessities.