When someone says “healthy eating” what do you think of? Most Americans think of salads, quinoa, maybe even smoothies with kale. Many of us won’t think of green shakshuka or gomen. Or what about jollof? These dishes, among many, are also healthy, nutritious, and delicious meals that are not often recognized in the healthy eating community in the United States because they are from other countries.
In the United States, we have a problem with our understanding of healthy eating: it is too narrow. We only view mainstream, “trendy,” White American or Eurocentric foods as healthy. We have not taken the time to explore or learn about healthy foods from other countries and cultures. We then use our narrow understanding of healthy foods to advise our nation’s diverse population on how to eat. This can not only discourage immigrants and those of a different culture or country from eating foods important to them, but make them feel isolated for enjoying their traditional dishes. By making healthy eating Eurocentric, we make healthy living inaccessible and expensive to many. It also causes many of us to miss out on amazing foods from other places we could enjoy in our own lives if we only learned or heard about them.
Next time you want to make a healthy dish or try a new recipe, look up traditional dishes from other countries. Explore the healthy dishes and combinations from other cultures. Expand your understanding of healthiness and healthy food by learning from people different from yourself. You will be introduced to new spices, cooking styles and tools, as well as new perspectives. You will take away more than a delicious meal from this experience, you will feel and be more connected with other people.
Our conversation and community around healthy eating must be more inclusive. We can and must make the dishes we view as healthy reflect the diversity we see in our world.
To explore this idea further, please check out the article “Our Idea of Healthy Living Excludes Other Cultures, and That’s a Problem.”
To try African, Carribean, and Southern flavors, check out Bryant Terry’s book Afro-Vegan which shares the best of healthy and delicious foods across different cultures and remixes other foods into healthier dishes to encourage one’s best eating lifestyle.
The dishes mentioned in this article:
Shakshuka: Shakshuka is eggs poached in tomato sauce. It is a staple breakfast dish from Israel and Northern Africa. It includes spinach, tomatillos, herbs, chile paste, and more. It is often paired with whole-grain toast.
Gomen: Gomen is sauteed collard greens that are vegan from Ethiopia. It is often served with bread common to Ethiopia that is crepe-like.
Jollof: Jollof is a rice-based dish cooked in one pot with tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, chili peppers, tomato paste, onions, nutmeg, cumin, ginger, and other spices. In different regions, different vegetables, meat, and/or fish are added. Jollof is often served with a side of salad, vegetables, or fried plantains.
Dish descriptions adapted from Eating Well