We all have to eat. That basic fact, combined with the very focused work of physicians from the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Overtown residents, and community activists, could help lead to the next new diet phenomenon.

David Brown, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine and community health, is helping to develop and promote what he has tagged the “Overtown Diet.” Brown believes it could improve the quality and length of life for Overtown residents. And, if the buzz of the last few months continues, it could actually help to revive one of the most neglected communities in South Florida.

“We felt the term Overtown Diet is kind of a sound bite,” says Brown. “But this is much more than that. It’s really about making smart choices.”

The basic idea is simple. Take traditional recipes that have been prepared by African-American and Caribbean families for years. Alter the ingredients to reduce salt, unhealthy fats, and calories, and you can still serve a tasty, affordable dish.

Brown does much of his work at the Jefferson Reaves Sr. Health Center in Overtown. The center is also the site for the department’s family medicine residency program. Here, family doctors see 100 or more patients each day, most of them indigent. Many suffer from chronic conditions at least indirectly related to their diets.

The center stands in the heart of Overtown. A 75-block, traditionally African-American neighborhood, it was once a vibrant community of 40,000 residents. In the 1960s, however, construction of I-95 and I-395 forever shattered the community into three areas. Today, barely 8,000 residents live there.

“We hope by involving the community we can help rebuild pride in the region,” says Brown.

Anything positive is welcome, says Irby McKnight, a 40-year resident and community activist.

“As African-Americans, we must change the way we eat,” he says.

For his part, McKnight has been involved in gathering traditional recipes around the community. Nutritionist Jayme Kukowski, M.S., will help alter the recipes, striving to maintain taste while using healthier, yet affordable, ingredients.

The community will eventually publish an Overtown Diet cookbook, featuring about 100 dishes—with traditional recipes on the left side and healthier alternatives on the right. The difference, Brown hopes, will be obvious.

“Anything that involves sticking something in the deep fryer most likely will be on the left side,” he says.

Brown is seeking to raise $70,000 in private funding to pay for community participation in the preparation of the book. He hopes to have it published within two years.

Few, if any, believe the Overtown Diet could ever overcome the South Beach Diet in popularity. But, as a catchphrase, it is already accomplishing what nothing else has done in the past 40 years. “It’s giving people hope,” says McKnight.