I came across this post about a woman from Nigeria coming to the United States for school and trying to learn how to eat well. I found it fascinating because it really shows how different our food system is compared to the rest of the world. While the whole post is really good, there were a few points that stuck out that I wanted to address here on my blog.
The first was how she learned to view food in Nigeria. In her house, they called junk food simply junk because that is exactly what it was. This is a simple idea but I feel like it is really substantial. Food is meant to nourish our bodies and give us fuel. It provides necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that allow us to function properly. Therefore anything that doesn’t meet those standards shouldn’t even be called food. Just what are we teaching young kids when we call candy, chips, soda, or any packaged product food when we qualify it as junk? We are telling them that it is in some way allowing our bodies to work the way they should and that isn’t what happens with Pop-Tarts and Oreos. It should be no surprise that we are confused about what food is healthy when we teach them that packaged and processed food can be part of a “balanced” diet.
The other reason that so many of us have a hard time eating well is that we are constantly sold on food advertising. We love our buzzwords like ‘all natural’ ‘organic’ ‘gluten-free’ and ‘locally sourced’. These words mean virtually nothing when it comes to whether we should eat something or not. Yes, organic and gluten-free are regulated terms but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Organic candy is still candy. In the article, the author writes about being confused by all these words stating, “Wasn’t food by definition healthy? If the food wasn’t healthy, then why call it food?” Great question! It’s so simple, yet we have complicated it so much by relying on convenience foods. We need a package to tell us what is healthy to eat instead of just eating food that needs no advertising. You don’t have to wonder if a bunch of broccoli or a bushel of apples is good for you. Real food will always trump processed food.
When she came to the United States, the author was in good health. She never worried about her weight and had no other complaints. After awhile, she started to experience so many of the complications that come with a Western diet, even though she was trying to eat as close to what she grew up with as she could. After going to her doctor and doing some searching they realized all the pesticides and chemicals used to treat the food we normally eat, was causing her ailments. Her doctor stated that it was really common for immigrants to experience these problems when they come here. This made me realize two things. One, we really need to work on growing food that doesn’t need to be treated so much just to reach our tables. I won’t claim to have the answer to that problem, but I do think it starts with us as the consumer. Our money talks and by placing our money in food systems that are sustainably and thoughtfully grown, we can start to change the tides. I know that this won’t happen overnight and that it is tough to buy all organic all the time (I don’t have the money to do that either), but we have to start somewhere. The second thing it made me realize is that we shouldn’t all eat the exact same diet. I am a firm believer in what works for me might not work for you when it comes to eating. The microbes that digest our food are all different. Hence, an immigrant from Nigeria is going to have a hard time digesting the food we eat here just like I would probably have a difficult time digesting the food they regularly eat in Nigeria. It’s ok to not have a cookie cutter diet and eat what “everyone else is eating”. You need to find what works for you and stick with that no matter what your neighbor is eating. Respect your body and it will serve you well.
There are a lot of great talking/thinking points in this article, like the fact that in most other countries packaged food is way more expensive than regular food and only the really wealthy can afford to purchase it. Yet it is the exact opposite here. Packaged food is cheap and easily accessible while it costs a fortune to buy organic food. While it is still possible to eat well on a budget, it is a little more difficult. I also really like the authors simple rules to eating well here in the states. Buy food that you know where it came from, avoid packaged food as much as possible, and cook your own food. We don’t have to make being healthy a complicated process, simple steps such as these can make a huge difference in your health.
Try changing some things in your diet and see how much better you can feel. Check out some of my other posts on eating well or making small changes, and start making a difference today. You can do it!