Eating food that is good for our bodies is something that we all know we should do-at least for the most part. Since eating is something that we do on a regular basis, some of us don’t give it much thought. Unless, of course you’re one of the fortunate ones whose parents were passengers on the “health train” when you were born. I am not one of those people. I grew up in Louisiana in the late eighties/early nineties, and I was raised by a product of the nineteen forties. If you’re familiar with “the South” then I don’t need to go any deeper. If not, lets just say much of the food that our neck of the woods is known for is far from healthy.
Chitterlings, “salt pork” and fried pork chops and chicken were regulars on my dinner table and I must say my mama was hands down “the best cook” ever. I’m serious, she’s been gone for more than a decade and I haven’t eaten that good since. Not only was she a great cook, but she loved it and poured all of her soul into our family dinners. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always extra special. The whole family would gather to get a taste of “Corrie’s good cookin'”. We feasted on soul food-dishes that were passed down through the family, as well as the traditional southern dishes. Food has a way of bringing family and friends together. I would imagine that this “way of life” was passed down through generations. Especially, considering food, although not the best quality, is one of the only things some people had in earlier times in the south.
As I reflect on these days, I have such fond memories. Not so much about the food (that was normal for me), but having all of my family around the table and seeing the joy in my mama’s face as everyone dove into their plates. She would oftentimes say “I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but “toot toot”.” Meaning she knew she’d “put her foot in” every dish. She was doing what came easy for her-she was simply sharing her gift.
I miss my mama,I miss her everyday.I often think about how things would be if she were here-if she’d gotten the chance to meet her first grandson or lived to see “60”. Above all, I wonder what if she’d just known about holistic nutrition. What if those traditional soul food meals were made with health in the forefront of her mind-what if she’d known that the ingredients found in certain foods can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer-or better yet, what foods and herbs help to fight these diseases.
Historically, African American families’ relationships with food is rooted in “getting enough”. It’s an area in which the harsh reality of our past shows itself. Plantation life in the south left very little room for health or being mindful of what you put into your body. For the most part, slaves relied on scraps from the main house to cure their hunger. They were given the least desirable parts of animals to make meals for their families. These are the recipes that were passed down through generations and found their way onto my dinner table as a child. My mama was cooking the way she’d been taught. More than a century after slavery, my family was gathered around a table feasting on recipes that came out of slaves “making something out of nothing” and “doing the best with what they had”.
There is no denying that some tasty recipes were created. There’s nothing like greens with a little “fat back” for flavor. But, when you know better you do better. African Americans’ risk of heart failure is twenty times higher than that of whites and our statistics for diabetes are also cringe worthy. When I reflect on my family and the number of premature deaths we’ve lived through, I can’t help but wonder what if. What if they’d just been educated on nutrition? We all know, that back in the day most black folks weren’t “big on going to the doctor,” (although, I would encourage regular check ups), but I think it’s important that we get educated on health and start making healthier choices.
I decided to share this because I think it’s a shame that so many lives are cut short or quality of life is diminished as a result of diseases that either could have been prevented or cured by a change in diet.
It’s not an easy transition, and everyone’s “healthy” is different. Let’s face it, not everyone is able or willing to stick to a “raw” vegetable diet-and not everyone is willing to stop eating meat,sugar and carbs. When I embarked on my journey to “health” I worked to develop an eating style that is reasonable for me. Be careful not to set unrealistic expectations for yourself. I’ve learned that you can eat some of the foods you love, you just need to change the way and how frequent you eat them.
You won’t get far without your body-you need it to function for as long as you are living. It would help a great deal if it functioned properly and to maximum capacity. After having his leg amputated as a result of poor circulation and diabetes, my father told me that he was ready to “go home”. He later explained that the effect that his ailments were having on his quality of life, left him with little desire to continue living. He was in search of a peace that his body wouldn’t allow him to have on this Earth.
As I reflect on both of my parents, I am saddened because they both succumbed to diseases/disorders that could have been controlled and/or prevented through diet. Although, my mother made a number of attempts to get healthy, she couldn’t stick with it. As a Louisiana native, she was used to soul food with plenty of flavor and the whole “no salt, no sugar, basically no nothin” diets just didn’t work for her. She would say “food is supposed to be good.” Unfortunately, good oftentimes translates into unhealthy, especially for us black folks from the South.
I’m working on a collection of recipes that I’ll share along with tips for making your meal just a little healthier without compromising too much of the flavor. Keep in mind that I’m a Cali living southern girl so my healthy doesn’t hold back on the flavor and it definitely has character. It’s not exactly super clean-it’s not vegan, but it has greatly improved my overall health. It’s what I like to call “Dirty Health”.