The inspiration for this blog has not only come from the personal journey that I have experienced over the last year and a half. It is also not just based on the fact that I love to cook and am conscious of my health. It’s more than that. My motivation for healthy eating and studying nutrition also comes from my realisation of what a mess the world is in. The World Health Crisis is real, and the extent to which illness, intolerance and chronic disease have been created because of the way we nourish ourselves is absolutely shocking.
Of course, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that diet is crucially connected to health, or that levels of obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes are rising at an alarming rate. However, it took me moving to the small and incredibly fertile island of St. Lucia, to realise that these problems are not just relevant to the first world nations like the USA, and are not just born of the same cause. Most of us in the Western World think that obesity and diabetes is coming from too much fast food, fried food, packaged food, soda and sweets. Of course, these foods are always going to be responsible for causing these problems, but there are so many more factors influencing people’s diets and subsequent health in different countries, that we often don’t think about. My interest is in the smaller, lesser developed countries that are lacking the education, and cannot access or afford the health food and supplements now on the market.
To take just one example, the prevalence of diabetes in St. Lucia is alarmingly high, with over 9% percent of the adult population suffering from the disease at present. The number of diabetics is rising year on year and the country is very conscious of this fact. However, very little is being done to prevent it. It is clear that the route of the problem is in the education of the local people, and the fact that they may not know where they are going wrong with their diets and how to nourish themselves properly to prevent the development of the disease and, in fact, any other health problems.
What I find so ironic is that this country is brimming with wonderful, nutritious, fresh, pesticide-free produce and yet a huge proportion of people seem to be malnourished or overweight. It is largely culture and tradition that play a fundamental role in the Lucian diet (and this is probably true of the Caribbean more generally). Caribbean cuisine largely derives from the types of food that Slave owners fed their captive workers during the slave trade. They would feed these poor people as cheaply as possible so they were fed leftovers from the plantations. This would usually consist of ‘ground provisions’, which are starchy vegetables grown in the ground such as yam, cassava, dasheen, sweet potato, as well as more starchy foods like plantain and breadfruit. The slaves would also only get off-cuts of meat such as pigs feet, pork jowls, intestines, oxtail, pigs ears and so developed recipes with these ingredients.
When you think of it like this, it is less surprising that today in St. Lucia, a typical meal will be a plate of rice and stodgy ground provisions, with a stewed bit of lamb neck or chicken backs (for example). The concept of using rich green vegetables in dishes seems to have passed them by, even though greens such as spinach and kale are grown locally, and their cooking techniques either involve boiling or stewing something to pulp, or frying it. Their only traditional salad is ‘green fig salad’ which consists of the high-fructose, high-calorie green bananas mixed up with herbs and on a Sunday it is traditional to have a huge great helping of mac’n’cheese maybe accompanied by some fried chicken. What’s more, the sauces that they stew the meat in are laden with heapfuls of sugar and salt.
Of course, the Western food corporations like KFC also have their part to play as do processed and packaged food that are imported and consumed in abundance. The sugar intake is extreme. But essentially, it is because of their lack of awareness on how important the food they eat is to their health that many Lucians are either overweight or significantly underweight.
It pained me to see what these people are doing to their health when they have such fantastic, affordable, produce available to them, and that’s a large reason why I wanted to find an alternative way of eating while living in St Lucia based on what I could source there.
My interest and concern for the state of health across the planet and its fundamental connection to diet has continued as I have travelled through South East Asia. Many people believe that the Asian diet is a very healthy one. And to some respects it is; eating a simple grain like rice everyday, with meat, vegetables, and fruit, not too much dairy or gluten, and lots of herbs and spices.
However, it was shocking to me to realise the inordinate amounts of sugar and MSGs that are still going into a lot of the foods in this country, because, again, the education is lacking. Many of the children in these countries have got rotting milk teeth, because they spend much of their time snacking on sweets (just like in St. Lucia) and their parents do not seem to think their kids need to brush their baby teeth as they will fall out anyway. Also, the amount of condensed milk that is used in Vietnam and Cambodia, in all the coffee, fruit smoothies, etc. is crazy! I could go on and on, but my point remains the same – something needs to be done to educate these people towards a better diet and better health.
So on the surface, my blog is a platform for sharing my diet, recipes, nutrition knowledge and travel experiences with you, but underlying it all is my dream towards helping with this bigger issue. I don’t know how I’m going to achieve it yet, but where there’s a will there’s a way. Hopefully some of you will have recognised this issue too, and perhaps we can work together on a project. Even if I provoke just a few people to think about the bigger picture and make healthy changes, I will have achieved a lot more than I will if I keep all these musings to myself.