I have alot of thoughts.
Nutrition is such a tricky topic because so much of it is cultural. I remember one day talking to one of my friends who is studying to be a nutritionist and she said (not in these exact words) “the job of a nutritionist can be very touchy because people have had the same diet for generations, and for a nutritionist to come in and say ‘you can’t eat this, you have to eat that, etc,’ is almost like striping a piece of someone’s culture away.” As I said to her then, this is a very valid point. On the other hand, I also see how we can sometimes hide behind “Culture” as a way of continuing bad habits.
…for a nutritionist to come in and say you can’t eat this, you have to eat that, etc, is almost like striping a piece of someone’s culture away.
Let’s unpack this because again, it’s complicated. So in Latino, or Latinx culture, the tradition is to cook with an abundance of seasoning, salt, oil, etc. Latinos love strong, rich flavors and hearty meals. And I suspect, many cultures cook in this way, especially cultures well known for their cuisine. So that’s all good and well, but the thing is, as we, “we” being people of all cultures, learn, grow and evolve, I think our food should also learn, grow and evolve. But then there are people who are stuck in a bubble and who aren’t learning, growing and evolving, and that’s the complicated part.
Peeling the Layers
Let’s use my family, as I love to do. They’ve been eating the same meals and cooking in the same way for generations. When I try to explain to them that excess salt leads to high blood pressure or that large quantities of fats and oils can lead to high cholesterol, their response to me is that I like my food “bland.” Herein lies the complicated part; they are so use to their ways of cooking, that any deviation is almost like white washing. According to my mother, I like my food bland because I’ve become used to the way “los gringos” cook. Simply me eating different foods and cooking in a different style is what they call “gringadas” — meaning white or broadly, an “American,” non-ethnic person. In other words, they’ve accused me of deviating from the culture. And of course this is just my family, and I can’t speak for the entire Latin community, although I suspect this is the case in many families, both latino and other cultures.
“Healthy” is Elitist
Cultural bubbles are not the only thing getting in the way of making healthier choices; the unfortunate reality is that information, resources, and time are scarce in many communities like the one I grew up in. Information is free, right? You can go to your local library and learn all about nutrition and whatever your little heart desires for no money at all. The problem is that many first generation immigrant families, such as mine, may not know about this system, and many low-income families, generally speaking, may have the information but not the resources or extra time to implement them.
The numbers don’t Lie
The result of all these barriers is no secret. Latinos and other minorities have some of the highest levels of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, you name it. According to the American Diabetes Association, 12.5% of Hispanics have diabetes, only second to American Indians/Alaskan Natives.
- 7.5% of non-Hispanic whites
- 9.2% of Asian Americans
- 12.5% of Hispanics
- 11.7% of non-Hispanic blacks
- 14.7% of American Indians/Alaskan Natives
In the years 2017-2018, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “Non-Hispanic blacks (49.6%) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by Hispanics (44.8%), non-Hispanic whites (42.2%) and non-Hispanic Asians (17.4%).”
Essentially ½ of the black population was considered to be “obese,” and almost ½ of hispanics and caucasians were also considered “obese” in the U.S. Of course there is a difference in how the CDC might define obesity and how we might think of our own bodies, nonetheless, the numbers do tell a story.
Things like diabetes can lead to other complications like kidney failure or heart disease. Everything is related; our overall health definitely affects our immunity and our abilities to handle viruses, injuries, the onset of other illnesses. Why do you think we keep hearing in the news that Latinos and minorities are the most affected by coronavirus?
The Bottom Line
So it’s not just… let people eat whatever they want. The point is that if we know better we should do better. And I’m not saying everyone should throw their great, great grandmother’s cookbook out the window; I’m saying we should all be making small adjustments to our diets as we learn about what’s healthy and what’s not. Maybe you substitute canola oil for rapeseed oil, I don’t know. Cultures are not stagnant, as people learn and grow and evolve, cultures also learn and grow and evolve. We need to embrace these changes by taking better care of ourselves and our families.
I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor of any kind. I just care and I think we could all benefit from caring more about ourselves, our loved one, and the planet. <3