I am not a nutrition major, but I am a foodist. A student studying the importance of food beyond our physical dependancy. In the last few years in college, I learned that food is the quintessential example of achieving a happier, healthier life.
In my host family’s home in Belo Horizonte, I noticed several foodways that I wanted to change, but I had to stop and think why do I wanted change these foodways. Demanding change without reason will prevent you from being able to educate and kill the motivation of others. I wanted to leave a picture with my host family that summarized some of the food rules that we tried to implement over my four months time living with them. I wanted to make something similar to the new MyPlate icon, but something more personalized just for them. So I thought, heck with the plate! I want a MESA, a Mesa de Bom Comer (a Table of Good Eats).
Basic Food Rules anyone can apply without studying nutritional sciences:
Eat More Veg
My family loves carbohydrates. Sometimes we have rice, spaghetti, and potatoes on the same plate. This combined with the ever present beans and an occasional carne (meat) made for a hefty meal. I felt the need to diversify and color our Mesa with some vegetables. Trying to stop someone from eating something is too difficult, so I spent my time trying to have them include new foods. Thankfully if a salad and a cooked (not fried) vegetable was present my family would eat it. Except for my little brother, he has no desire to eat veg unless it is batata frita (fried potatoes).
The hard part is motivating them to prepare salad and a cooked veg for every meal. They always prepare rice and beans, and if there is meat in the house they will prepare that too. Yet, vegetables are more challenging because they take more time and knowledge to prepare. So for my family’s table adding veg is important because hopefully it will help satisfy their hunger and reduce the large amount of carbs they gorge.
Don’t Eat in Front the Television
Before arriving here, everyone ate in front of the television. This caused a little bit of trauma for me, since I too had much trouble with this growing up. Since I was home schooled my breakfast and lunches were always in front of the tube. One of my personal rules that changed my life was to devote time to your food. Eating in front of the TV (or the computer, in my brother’s case), one mindlessly eats more. This rule I write especially for my host mother. I understand the television is one of the only things that helps her get through her life struggles, but I wish I can motivate her to stop eating in front of the television and instead at the table with us. I just haven’t been able to show her the link between obesity and eating mindlessly.
Eat as a Family
I think the hardest challenge in my home here in Brazil is everyone (including myself) is so self-centered. This causes a lack of respect for one another. I believe having a chance to share a table together just might build a better loving bond between my family. The hard part is trying to get everyone together since they all have their own schedules. If they can’t eat together I have tried to motivate them to consider the other and save a plate for one another. I know that when my host brother comes home from work at one in the morning he truly appreciates a saved plate of food that would have otherwise been ate.
In the several cultures that I have visited, all seem to give thanks for food differently, but here my host father is the one that mumbles a pray before eating lunch. I appreciated that and always tried to encourage to do so. By the end of my time, he was adding in a few more lines such thanking his wife for preparing the food. Praying shows not just your thanks for the food but your respect for it as well. It is sad that in our modern society we feel ashamed, silly, or even stupid to give thanks with a prayer. Normally the poor are more thankful than the rich. I am sure if I ate one meal a day, I would be more thankful as well.
I tried to represent these basic ideas without the confusing nutritional jargon. To be honest, I believe for the most of us can teach and learn good nutrition without the complex understand of natural sciences. Sometimes we in higher education take advantage of our intelligence, forgetting that not everything has what we call “common sense”. It took me years, a lot of money and education to kick my butt into shape, so how could I expect to change my family’s foodways overnight. Maybe this picture that I left attached on their frige will bring them many great tables of good eats.
Note: I forgot only one really important element in the final picture that my friend Fabrícia drew for me. We forgot to write the pray that my father always mumbled around the table. Here is the prayer if you are interested:
Senhor abençoe este alimento que vamos levar para a nossa glória e a salvação. Daí ao rico, ao pobre e ao necessitado uma mesa sempre farta que nunca nos falte. O Pão de cada dia nem material nem espiritual que assim seja. Amém! Written by Daniel Pires