Tell us about yourself – your background, where you’re from and how you came to be who you are today in relation to promoting food and healthy diets.
I am a Harare raised Zimbabwean girl with a passion for healthy eating and traditional foods. I trained to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in the US and hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and a Master’s in African Area Studies (Public Health emphasis) from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
Throughout my training I was dismayed by the lack of African representation in the discussion of healthy diets and lifestyles. Much like many of their generation, my gogo and sekuru (grandmother and grandfather) took pride in a diet fueled by natural and organic ingredients that literally grew in their backyard. They both lived into their 90’s and did not suffer the chronic diseases we rampantly see today. Despite their abundant health, none of the classes I took discussed their diet in great detail. Rather, we memorized the perils of the Mediterranean diet or what the Okinawan’s ate and dabbled in the French paradox, but the discussion of MY heritage foods was blatantly absent. In fact, it is only in the very recent past that African foods have received international health acclaim as more medical journals tout their benefits.
I started The African Pot Nutrition website when after losing my mother to complications of high blood pressure, I was shocked to see the lack of prevention and treatment options available in Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent. I knew that we had a problem on the horizon and I needed to be part of the solution. Using my educational background and experience acquired from numerous years providing medical nutrition therapy in Western health care facilities I started blogging and providing nutrition information for Africans. As the blog grew, people started asking for individualized treatment and weight loss plans, so I started a consultancy.
Today, in addition to consulting and blogging, I am a health contributor for The Africa Channel and publications such as Radiant Health Magazine and Food and Nutrition Magazine. In addition, I speak to audiences on the topic of African food and health.
What do you see as being the key nutrition issues in Zimbabwe compared to Western countries?
Much like most developing nations, Zimbabwe is in a period of a “nutrition transition” in which our nutrient dense traditional foods and active lifestyles are rapidly being traded for sedentary lifestyles fueled by Western-inspired diets of lower nutritional value. Over the years rates of overweight and obesity have increased and led to an inevitable rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers. These diseases are sometimes referred to as “diseases of lifestyle” because they are associated with the way that we live and if not managed they have the potential to cause severe disability and even death.
The sad irony is that the nutrition transition is a by-product of globalization, growth and development and yet it has the ability to completely reverse the very gains we are trying to achieve. A significant portion of the workforce that is building Zimbabwe today is suffering from chronic disease and often forced to take sick days. We are losing highly trained and talented individuals to complications of chronic diseases that our health systems are simply not equipped to manage.
Our nutrition issues are not the same as those of the West where prevention and treatment options are widely available. Where the west is dealing mainly with issues related to overnutrition, we are trying to find a balance between treating undernutriton, infectious disease and lack of vital resources that impact health such as potable water. Zimbabwe simply does not have the capacity to manage a spike in chronic disease and at present overweight/obesity are not a high priority.
How can these be addressed and what challenges are faced in trying to address them?
Prevention is better than cure! We need to address overweight/obesity and chronic disease as an impending public health catastrophe. However, cultural beliefs that equate “fatness” with health and wealth coupled with the paucity of public health campaigns that promote healthy diets and lifestyles hamper the possibility of combating the rising rates of chronic disease. What we need is a multi-pronged approach to prevention. This includes policy makers creating environments that are conducive to health and wellness. They may for instance mandate food labels for packaged foods, regulate the numbers of fast food institutions in a given square mile and require healthy options across franchises. Policy makers can also foster the growth of public health campaigns that screen for disease while promoting healthy foods and active lifestyles. We need more food scientists analyzing our traditional foods and nutritionists translating science into actionable items for the population. We need schools, religious and grassroots organizations taking an active interest in creating health. However, at the end of the day, the prevention, treatment and management of chronic disease lies with the individual. Policies and resources help, but the individual must be willing to change.
What is your aim with The African Pot Nutrition and who are your audience?
The mission of “The African Pot Nutrition” is to “Improve the health of people of African descent through effective, science based diet and lifestyle changes.” My goal is to break through that clutter of nutrition information to provide unbiased, culturally relevant nutrition information and guidance for people of African descent. Also, by telling my personal food narrative, I join the growing numbers of African bloggers changing international perceptions of the continent. It is great to show that there is more to Africa than poverty and war.
What kinds of feedback do you get from Zimbabweans about your messages?
Zimbabweans have been extremely supportive of my messages. Many engage me online and share my work. Some of my fondest comments on the blog come from people who are excited to finally see a discussion on why sadza is not really fattening or how macimbi’s nutrition profile by far outweighs chicken as a protein source. My messages resonate with them and I truly appreciate the love they give in response.
Where do you see yourself in the future (in terms of career, business etc)?
My goal is to empower Africans to live their healthiest lives. For this reason, the conversations on health and nutrition in Africa will continue. In addition to expanding “The African Pot Nutrition’s” platform to reach a wider audience, I look forward to joining forces with similar minded individuals, companies and organizations to discuss and develop sustainable solutions to preventing and managing lifestyle induced chronic diseases.
|Reach Cordialis at The African Pot Nutrition