"You are what you eat", indeed: Nutrition Matters

"You are what you eat", indeed: Nutrition Matters I seem to have been making this statement so many times lately that I now wonder why it has taken so long for many consumers to realize this. The fact of the matter is that many of us just eat badly. We only think of good nutrition once we find ourselves with some food related ailment such as overweight, or diabetes, and so on. Something I have observed, though, is that the better off we become economically, the more we eat, and the more meats find their way in our diets. If you live in Africa, clearly more meat in the diet is good for you as we tend to derive most of our proteins from plant sources. There are exceptions, though. The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania eat mostly meat and milk. It is only now in Kenya that as they become sedentary, they are adopting a more diverse diet that includes vegetables and some cereal products. But the Maasai will tell you they do not consume meat and milk only; wild fruits form a major part of their diet. Yet, we now limit people’s access to the forest, a central source of nutrients for them. For most other African cultures, meat was eaten on special occasions: during weddings, funerals and when we celebrated the birth of a child and in modern times when we baptize a baby. In my own culture, we grew up loving guests as that was the one time were sure to eat meat, chicken specifically. It does not matter how poor a family might be, they always (even today) make sure they can afford to serve chicken when visitors are around. On such occasions, children look forward to enjoying byproducts such as chicken heads and legs, and the leftovers. Then there are those who live by large water pans: rivers, lakes or oceans. For these, their food includes protein rich foods that are sourced from the waters. Look, but even those of us that were neither pastoralists nor lakeside dwellers, there were insects, rich in protein, fat and micronutrients that formed a major part of our diets. Unfortunately, most of that is now lost. Our diets now do not look anything like what I was used to, growing up. I even remember eating cooked blood from a chicken. My mother did all she could to feed us a variety of foods. When mushrooms were in season, we picked and brought them home and my mother would dry them and store them so they could serve us for a long time. When wild fruits were in season, we picked and ate them right there. Somehow we grew up well because our diets were balanced, not by design. I actually remember only one case of kwashiorkor in my village as I grew up. Later I learnt it was due to his mother not feeding him well; yet the rest of his siblings had no problem whatsoever. Look at the Western diet now, with little of fruits and vegetables and more refined sugar, salt and fat than some of our cultures are used to. With obesity, hypertension and related cardiac problems and cancers of different types getting out of hand, many consumers are rethinking their diets. And indeed, we all should. It is no longer a question of whether we have enough food to eat, but more importantly, what quality food is it. There is a revolution in food quality awareness going on and consumers are now demanding what they believe to be the best. After all, how we look and feel is very much determined by what we eat. We are in this together, need to think together and share information and help each other.

Ruth Oniang’o
Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND