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Arts

Kendra Graves
Arts
Ted Allen, host of Food Network’s “Chopped,” (L) and Pam Grier (R) have been spokespeople for Dining Out for Life for the last three years. (Photo: Dining Out for Life)

 
(Photo courtesy of Dining Out for Life)

“Have you heard of that term ‘break bread?’ ” Pam Grier asks. “It’s a very spiritual term.”

“A restaurant – that’s a temple,” she says. “People from all walks of life and backgrounds can dine in one restaurant.”

The actress sounds downright religious as she discusses the symbolism and significance of food, dining and diet in our lives. And for good reason: she believes a good meal can fuel mind, body and soul. In her own life, she says, she counts both eating in and dining out among some of her favorite activities.

She believes that food helps us connect with one another, so when a colleague on the set of the movie “Larry Crowne” asked Grier to join them for a meal during a Dining Out for Life event a few years ago, she jumped at the opportunity to participate.

Soon after, Dining Out for Life organizers reached out to Grier about becoming a spokesperson, and this year marks the third year she’s put her star power behind the event.

Proceeds from Dining Out for Life are donated to a cause Grier believes deserves far more attention: AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment.

She became a Dining Out for Life spokesperson to push people to remember that AIDS continues to be a crisis that society must address.

“Seventy-five hundred people each day globally contract HIV or AIDS,” she rattles off.

In America, AIDS is the third leading cause of death for African American women between the ages of 35 and 44. With more women and people of color contracting HIV each year, it’s become increasingly important to obtain more funding to support the organizations that make living with HIV not just a possibility, but a reality.

Dining Out for Life, which took place last week, raises funds to fight AIDS by asking local restaurants to donate between 25 and 30 percent of that day’s revenues to their local AIDS service organization.

This year, the group raised an estimated $15,000 for AIDS Action Committee, New England’s first and largest AIDS service organization. AIDS Action serves one in six of every Massachusetts residents diagnosed with HIV.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to have the resources to provide not only for myself, but for my family,” Grier says. “But there are other people who can’t. That’s why you have Dining Out for Life. It provides HIV and AIDS patients with nutrition and support from the community so they can focus on their medication and exercise and living well.”

Just as legions of moviegoers have watched Grier fight for what’s right in many of her film roles, the femme fatale has been battling injustice and inequity in America for years. From marching and protesting during the Civil Rights era to speaking out about establishing equal rights for people of color, immigrants, working mothers and the LGBTQ community, Grier says civic engagement, activism and volunteerism were bred into her blood.

“I’m one of those people that believe in participating at some point to be able to make a difference. And I’ve been doing that since I was a little girl,” she says. “My family has always raised us to be giving and sharing.”

As an adult, that desire to make a difference has shown itself in her work with a number of charities and organizations, including animal rescue missions. She lives with several dogs and four horses on a ranch in the outskirts of Denver — a homeless shelter for both people and animals, which offers programs for children and youth.

She’s also actively involved in the Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center in Dallas, a space where urban dwellers can plant and harvest produce and learn how to enhance their diets and nutrition.

As she talks about a Texas AandM University agriculture professor who teaches residents how to grow their own organic food, and the many four-star chefs that offer cooking instruction and healthy recipes to the center’s visitors, it’s clear that Grier is lending more than just her name to the garden.

She says she is making a long-term investment to provide greater access to organic, local produce for low income, inner city communities. She hopes the gardening center will show residents that “all people should be able to afford organic food.”

Grier also wants to eradicate the myth that organic food is a luxury that many simply cannot afford. She points to the high rate of diabetes, obesity, cancer and other chronic and life-threatening diseases in the African American community as a sign that fresh produce is a necessity that many can’t afford to live without.

While fighting cervical cancer, Grier discovered that being more attentive and natural about her diet and nutrition helped her achieve a level of “optimum health” that has allowed her to continue to give back to the world in a multitude of ways.

“Thank God for Twitter, because we enlighten and uplift each other,” she exclaims. “We transform one another (by sharing) information on wellness and food.”

She says that what started as a simple inquiry into the midnight snack habits of her Twitter followers, whom she calls her “tweeties” and “huggables,” has turned into a regular tweet session where her fans from across the globe send her their favorite recipes.

She’s dubbed it the “Campfire Late Night Kitchen Capers.”

“What do I do late on Saturday night when everyone’s just coming home and about to have a hangover?” she smiles. “I make a little bonfire between my house and my barn and I sit there with my iPad and I tweet out all over the world.”

“I invite all my tweetie pies to send in recipes or an idea, something to have when you’re coming home and you’re just not ready for bed and you’re a little hungry.”

As she tries new recipes ­— a submission by one tweetie of a recipe for red velvet pancakes was all the rave — she also perfects the ones in her repertoire: she attributes her world-famous gumbo to having “a good roux” and says her tweeties “went crazy” when she posted her recipe for savory, dolmade-style stuffed collard greens. She’s considered publishing a cookbook, which she says would celebrate all the ways food brings people together.

“Everyday is a celebration when you’re able to sit, at the end of the day, at your harvest for the world,” Grier says, chuckling at her inadvertent reference to the classic Isley Brothers song.

“That’s how you celebrate your day – by providing nutrition for your temple, your body, your family, your children, so they can grow and fight,” she insists. “Because in this world of pollution that we’re constantly fighting off, you gotta have something internally to fight the external. And that’s  food and nutrition.”