Features, What The Health

Food For Thought…And Action!

img: Local produce on display at a World Food Day exhibition in 2013. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
Image of Elizabeth Serieux PhD, MPH
By Elizabeth Serieux PhD, MPH

IN our previous article, we presented an overview of the social determinants of health and went into deeper discussion about two such determinants: socio-economic status (the combined social and economic status of a person or a family as measured by education, income and occupation) and food.

This week, we’ll talk a little more about food and next week move on to another determinant – stress. Given all that we’ve been through in the last few weeks, I bet a lot of us are dealing with higher levels of stress than we normally do and so this is a good time to address it. But first, let’s finish off with food.

Last time, we touched on how important it is to not just eat, but to eat healthy food. In turn, in order to eat healthy food, we must be able to access it both physically and economically. However, one of the first and most overlooked points that we first need to address is what we mean by food.

Some of you are probably chuckling because this is one of those things that we assume we all know and take for granted. Therefore, the suggestion that we take a closer look at it seems quite laughable. Well, indulge me and come up with your very own definition of food. Yes, I’m serious: write it down if you can.

Now, let’s look at some other definitions out there. According to the Oxford Dictionary, food is “Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.” According to the Merriam–Webster Dictionary, it is “Material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” Finally, the Cambridge Dictionary defines food as “Something that people and animals eat or plants absorb, to keep them alive.”

Which of these definitions seems similar or close to yours? Do you view food as something you eat just to stay alive or do you recognize that it needs to play a part in ensuring that you stay alive in good health? Food needs to do more than just keep us alive, fill our stomachs and taste good – it needs to nourish, repair, help our bodies function as well as fill our stomachs and taste good!

Today, however, globally, we seem to place least emphasis on the nourish, repair and help our bodies function aspects and this has contributed to the current challenging collective (un)health(y) status. How truly sad it is that our basic fuel for life has been transformed into something that can easily bring us closer to death instead of enhancing our lives.

There is no question that food is the determinant of health with the most rapid and far- reaching effects. Our collective responsibility then as a society should be to ensure that (1) we can feed ourselves, i.e. we can grow/produce the bulk of our food without depending on other nations to supply us with what they interpret as food, (2) the food that we grow and produce ourselves is healthy, (3) the food is widely and readily available as well as inexpensive. This is the foundation of everything else – our policies (agriculture, import/export etc.) should reflect this and should make it easy for our personal habits (what we buy and what we consume) to support this.

The fact is that “we are what we eat” is true on so many different levels and it sets the tone for every other aspect of our lives. Virginia Woolf, summarizes it perfectly when she says “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” In sum, we cannot live well if we do not eat well and while every now and then our definition of “well” should be based solely on taste and enjoyment, let’s try for the most part to let it include nourish and repair. I promise to do so this coming week, how about you?

As always, thank you for reading. For comments and questions, you can reach me at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend