Food has always been an essential part of many cultures and this is evident when we showcase our traditions. There is no way that you would talk about the Efik people of South eastern Nigeria and not mention Edikang ikong or talk about Amala and Gbegiri with Ewedu popularly called Abula without mentioning the Yoruba people of South Western Nigeria. We can all go on and on about our rich food culture in Nigeria.
Passing on a healthy food culture across generations is very important and can be instrumental in breaking the intergenerational cycles of malnutrition. In the past years, you would hear stories of how children should not eat eggs because they would steal, or how pregnant women should not each soups that ‘draw’ because their children would be sluggish or become dullards. You also read about expressing out the first milk that comes out of the breast when a woman gives birth before feeding with the milk that comes after because the first one is dirty. In the process of spreading these poor cultural beliefs children are deprived of their first immunizations; colostrum the first liquid that is discarded, mothers are deprived of easily accessible and affordable vegetables and foods in Nigeria like the okra, Jute mallow (Ewedu), Mango bush seeds (Ogbono) that can provide them with many good nutrients. Egg is a complete protein food and a great addition to meals.
Have you ever wondered why we sometimes go to our default food time tables we used as children? If Saturdays is a day for yam and eggs in your parent’s house, there is a probability that you might do the same in your own house especially when you cannot think of what to cook or eat. Interestingly, you will find out that your mother’s mother or husband’s grandparent liked to have yam and eggs for breakfast on Saturdays. Your children watch you also and before you know it, you have passed down a food culture.
In our current generation, we promote the western food culture and even some of the Asian food cultures. We serve fried rice, Chinese rice and noodles, doughnuts, sandwiches, burgers, fries, cupcakes, fizzy drinks at our children’s parties, professional meetings, weddings and we have some of these foods at home also. While it is great to diversify and eat foods from different cultures, in the process we sometimes pick the bad and leave the good of these cultures behind.
Good nutrition is an essential part of achieving optimum physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. For this reason, we need our children to grow up as healthy eaters, to learn to incorporate good food habits into their everyday lives and to make good food choices wherever they find themselves. To get this done, we ourselves must develop good food habits. We can only show them from the things we do. As it is often said, you cannot give what you do not have.
Whether we celebrate or mourn, play or work, we can incorporate healthy eating behaviors into our lifestyles until it becomes our culture. Church gatherings, mosque functions, big or small soirees, school canteens, office meetings and our homes are opportunities available to us where we can put down healthy footprints in the sands of culture. You can start by replacing energy dense foods with nutrient dense foods and then promote consumption of variety of healthy meals. As time goes on, I will put up posts of great healthy meal options for different occasions to serve as examples.
When we do this, we are creating a healthy food legacy which can be passed on from generation to generation. We can then influence what types of foods that are served to us at fast food joints, local and upscale restaurants, road side street snacks and foods, school canteens and invariably what farmers produce, what agricultural facilities the government makes available and so on. In the process we might be able to break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition (under nutrition and over nutrition) one family at a time.