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What good is food? What food is good?

Food Fights, part 12
(previous ‘Food Fights ‘ posts are in the Archive section)

Editor’s note: Karen Secord went to Guatemala for the month of February and helped build cook stoves for the Guatemala Stove Project based in Perth, Ontario.  She also visited community outreach & service programs while there, bringing supplies donated by the Carp Ridge Learning Centre and other organisations.

Karen kept a blog where you can read her diary and see other great photos.

Some of her trip photos are included: 1, Karen & friend Marg on their last night in San Pedro. 2, Raw macadamiam nuts. 3, Market in Guatemala. 4, Mother feeding her boy, who has cerebral palsy. 5, Little boy at local market. 6, “Feeding day” in La Pinada school. 7, Fruit market stall. 8, A Guatemalan face.
by Karen Secord

The Facts are Nothing but Facts, or, Be Careful Who You Emulate

It’s funny how food is everything.

As I’m writing this I realize how incredibly ridiculous it sounds. Of course food is everything.  Without it we wouldn’t survive. It is the fuel that gives us the energy to walk through life with a zip in our step. . . or not.

So I sit and ponder.

Yes, it goes without saying that food is everything. But what I really want to say is that food is EVERYWHERE.

But maybe saying “food” is really a misnomer. Because real food is not everywhere. Real food offers nourishment. It grows toward the sun out of fertile earth or hangs majestically from tree branches. Real food is the combination of natural ingredients thoughtfully used to create an infinite number of body-building taste sensations.

Real food nourishes our body, mind and soul.

That statement alternates between sounding corny and old fashion, hippy’ish and new age. Regardless, I have never been more convinced of its accuracy than I am today. I have lived it, felt it, fought it, breathed it in and vomited it.

Five years ago I weighed 304 pounds. One year ago I weighed 272 pounds. Today I weigh 154 pounds. I think I know a little something about the power of food — real or not.

Reality Check Fact #1:
My consumption of real food diminished as my weight increased.

I grew up in the heyday of processed “foods”. It was a time when television exploded and visual advertising joined corporate greed to invent a thirst for the obscenely unhealthy, a thirst so all-encompassing that it could not be quenched. We followed along, believing if it was said on television, then it was surely true.

Reality Check Fact #2:
The mere thought of a treat evokes visions of mouth-watering, nutrient-deficient sugary/salty/greasy tidbits.

I grew up associating the word “treat” with something sweet or extra or not an everyday thing. It was special; special in a good way. The only constant was that “treat” was always food — my Aunt Bi’s gooey Nanaimo squares, 10-cent chocolate bars from the “plaza”, lollipops from good behaviour in class, and burgers from the A&W drive-in.

Reality Check #3:
Education gave me another chance at life.

My education. The education of others. An educated society. Make no mistake I owe my healthy well-being, as it exists today, to all of the above.

So, I was dismayed, disheartened, saddened to tears — and beyond — to see history repeating itself in Guatemala.

At a medical clinic in San Juan we were told that diabetes is approaching epidemic proportions.

A Central American country with a population of approximately 15-million, Guatemala is a study in contrasts. Here the vast majority of its people  — creative, talented, amazingly friendly and beautiful— live in abject poverty. Like the land they inhabit, they are forgotten, neglected, abused, and lost. They are also grossly undereducated.

In the simplest of terms Guatemala, as a developing country, is emulating the worst of us. The collective Western us. The us that means me and you.

Guatemala is us in our pre-recycling, pro-plastic, industrialization phase. . . only worse. Because our version of “modern” has reached them, haunts them, has tricked them into believing the propaganda of irresponsible corporations like MacDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

Thus, pornographic amounts of unnecessary packaging are dumped everywhere. Life-sucking pollution extinguishes beauty. Over-fed yet malnourished, commercialized children mindlessly devour the over-processed unfood contents of school-side tiendas. And gratuitous violence goes unchecked.

In rural Guatemala women grow vegetables. Luscious fruit, the likes of which we have never seen in Canada. . . thick juicy mangos, sweet tangy pineapple and big bodacious oranges. They take them to the market to sell. But they become a commodity for daily income, not a food consumed by their children.

For many families soda pop replaces clean water, because pop is more readily available. And because it is what they believe defines success. Television has a tight grip on them, as it did on me in my youth.

Thick black exhaust spews from the back of almost every “chicken bus” (dangerous mass human transport that gringo’s avoid if they know what’s good for them).

Illiteracy is rampant. Schools require fees and uniforms and books and parents able to pay. No one seems to care if children don’t attend. Class sizes average 70 students per teacher. Creative thinking is not encouraged, repetition is.

March 31 marks the one year anniversary of my forced-food-consumption-turn-around. My wish for 2011 is that health education becomes a priority in countries like Guatemala, so that they don’t repeat the mistakes I have made, we have made.