Eating Right Your Way, with Cross Cultural Foods

A wooden bowl filled with mangoesEat Right, Your Way, Every Day. This National Nutrition Month slogan speaks to me because I am not living in the country where I grew up. The cross cultural foods I like and crave are quite different from what most people around me are eating.

One Food Does Not Fit All

I grew up in Nigeria, but lived in a community of Americans, Canadians, British, Germans, and many other nationalities.  The food in West Africa is as different as you can get from food in the northern hemispheres. Nigerian food is heavy with oil, sometimes slippery, featuring dried fish, goat meat and many exotic starches like yams and cassava. There are those strange tropical fruits called pitanga cherry and guava, and the over-the-top seasoning of searing hot peppers.  All of this sounds delightful to me since I have been eating it since childhood, but the adults longed for the familiar foods from their homelands, and went to great lengths to recreate them with the ingredients that were on hand.

We sometimes visited a German family who lived in the “bush,” or far from civilization. This darling woman would bring out a dessert cart at the end of dinner, loaded with sugary baked confections that were few and far between in our world. How did she manage this living in a place with no grocery store, and probably cooking with a wood stove? She was going to entertain her way regardless of the obstacles.

We made “cream” from milk and gelatin, “cranberry sauce” from the flowers of the yakwa plant, and “pickles” with pawpaw. Mangoes were a stand-in for both apples and peaches in mock apple pie, ripe mango “peach” pie, and mock apple sauce. A cookbook written up by the community is full of mock and imitation recipes. We hang on to the that food we love and are used to eating.

Find a Healthy Diet that is Right For You

On the flip side of this story, I am now living in a cold northern climate and I miss terribly all the West African foods that I ate as a child. Sure it is easier to find those ingredients now than it was 20 years ago, but something is always lost in the translation when I prepare a dish. I can almost always get mangoes at the grocery store, and I find it ironic that living in the land of apples, I go to the trouble to make mango sauce, which was originally made as a substitute for apple sauce.  Apples are a dime a dozen here, and I don’t find them all that appealing.

So you see, it is important to eat your way, in fact most people insist on it, even when they have to go to a lot of extra trouble. In order to follow a healthy diet every day, you must have food choices that you like to eat. Whether you are vegan, paleotarian, gluten intolerant or diabetic, there is a unique diet that is right for you. Whether you come from Nigeria, Singapore, Alaska or India, there is a healthy diet that is right for you. Take the time to find healthy foods that are also the foods you love.

Learn more about National Nutrition Month.

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