By Gina Cousineau
I am writing from Cape Town, South Africa. I have been very blessed to have the opportunity to travel around the world, and this trip I get to share with my youngest daughter.
I had zero assumptions about the adventure, which has totally exceeded all expectations. I have learned much about the people and culture of South Africa, and have seen firsthand how the obesity pandemic has found its way across the world.
We spent our first day in Johannesburg experiencing the apartheid museum and the tragedy in Soweto. We ate lunch on Vilakazi Street, which is said to be the only street in the world where two Nobel laureates have lived.
On this trip, I have planned to enjoy traditional foods from the region we are in, but am shocked in these townships to see Wimpy Burger and KFC, both large chains, sitting in the midst of the dirt roads, with goats and cows wandering the streets, lined with long stretches of makeshift stands where the local people were selling their goods to survive.
As I took the time to walk into the local grocery stores, I have to admit how surprised I was with the lack of “fresh food” available (fruit, veggies, meats and dairy), yet there was a tremendous amount of ultra-processed foods lining the shelves.
Foods that lack little nutrition but are highly palatable, with large amounts of salt, sugar and fat.
I had an eye-opening conversation with a 35-year-old native Zulu father of one, as we drove from Durban to Hluhluwe, where we would spend five fantastic days on a game reserve. By the way, both Wimpy and KFC were in this tiny town of less than 4,000 people.
As usual, my nutrition background eventually unveils itself, and he explained to me how difficult it was to find time to cook after a long day of working, and how easy and cheap it was to just stop at KFC.
He then asked me what I thought of the flavored water he was drinking, as he said he was “addicted” to it. When he handed me the bottle, this water was just soda without the bubbles. These sugar-sweetened beverages are responsible for adding countless empty calories to our energy intake and increasing our risk of the lifestyle diseases I speak about regularly.
I encouraged Percy to cut down on these drinks, moving toward unsweetened water-based beverages in the future.
As I perused the convenience store halfway into our drive, in typical American fashion of offering nothing “fresh” other than burgers and hotdogs, Percy walked out with “plain ol’ water” and told me he was going to give it a try.
On the second half of our drive, Percy shared the fascinating story of how his Zulu tribe has thanksgiving “ukubonga” ceremonies that take place when something good has come about. Being grateful for work, he sacrificed a goat and presented traditional Zulu foods to thank his ancestors for this great blessing.
He spoke about the traditional foods that come from Mother Earth that are laid out in their ceremonial huts, that one could see on most properties on the drive, and how important the tradition was.
Along with the sacrificed animal, he offers beautiful dishes made from the foods grown in their region. It sounded wonderful.
When Percy asked me how he could start eating healthier, I suggested that he should simply start incorporating more of his ancestral foods into his daily food choices, and reminded him that he would never have presented them KFC.
Gina Cousineau is a local nutrition expert who specializes in weight loss and helping her clients improve their health. As a trained chef with her BS in Dietetics and MS in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, her goal is to help her clients enjoy every morsel they consume, learning how to move with ease in the kitchen while using their “food as medicine.” Subscribe to her weekly newsletter for complimentary cooking classes, recipes, webinars and more at mamagslifestyle.com, or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and 949.842.9975.