You are what you eat

The old saying “you are what you eat” is a phrase that is generally used to remind people to ”eat healthy”. In these days it conjures up different connotations, in a world which in which whole populations are in movement from one continent to another. There is a general blurring of lines between populations in countries which are now welcoming people from every continent.

Some years ago on my blog we discussed how changes in eating habits in ‘host countries’ might be changing people’s health. If we are literally “what we eat”, as the old cliche has it, how does going from a meat-and-potatoes-and vegetables diet to heavily-spiced Mexican dishes affect us? It does seem as if dietary habits have changed in the sense that Americans and other ‘WASP’ types have developed a real craving for Latino foods and other spicy cuisine, such as Indian (dot, not feather) and other spicy Asian foods: Sriracha sauce, curry, and Szechwan style Chinese food. And where did ”ghost peppers” (bhut jolokia) originate? In India, apparently.

I’ve heard that the taste for extremely spicy foods, which cause endorphins to be produced in response to the fiery-hot foods or condiments, is a cultivated one.

A few of us, very few it seems, are holdouts who still prefer more bland and mild foods. We in my family always had roast beef on Sundays and who does that now? Most Americans like adventure in their foods — I like to play it safe; that makes me an oddity I suppose.

The “experts” on diet, at least according to mass media sources, say spicy food is good for you; healthy and conducive to avoiding obesity. But according to the medical magazine The Lancet, we read that the obesity rate in Latin America is 57 percent. So that contradicts the popular wisdom.

“In 2014, more than 300 million adults in Latin America, were overweight. Of these more than 100 million were obese.

Guillermo Garcia, M.D., The Lancet

I don’t know if eating lots of heavily-spiced food is going to cure that, if it hasn’t happened by now.

American society has never been so health-and-diet obsessed as it is now, so it’s strange that people are eager to eat a lot of high-fat and high-carb food — but it seems Mexican food is one of the most popular cuisines with other more exotic foods vying as the new American preference. So now multiculturalism is expressed in the food we eat. I won’t be the least surprised if the media/government starts calling it ‘racism’ if people prefer plain old American cooking, the kind our grandmothers made.

In one of the recent articles at the Council of European Canadians, someone points out that whereas roast beef and potatoes was once the national Sunday dish of Britain — but it’s been replaced by Tikka Masala.

I have often heard that a few centuries ago, the French called Englishmen ‘rosbifs‘ because of their fondness for roast beef.

The linked article says, though, that roast beef is still as popular as ever as the main dish at Sunday dinner.

“The British love of beef, particularly for lunch on a Sunday, is a part of the national identity. Roast beef is eaten so often that even the French started calling Englishmen “rosbifs” in the 18th century. The Sunday roast is as much a tradition today as it was a few hundred years ago. It has even spread from the family dinner table to pubs and other days of the week.”

Elaine Lemm, The Spruce Eats, 6 Dec 2019

Well, that’s heartening to hear.
Can it be that the foods we habitually eat, and prefer, reflect a possible greater compatibility of certain foods with the constitution or metabolism of a particular people?

The hot, spicy foods are suited to hot, tropical climates because they induce perspiration, which is cooling. I am not a doctor or a dietician but I’ve heard this said many times, as I grew up partially in a hot climate, without benefit of air-conditioning. Highly spiced foods serve a purpose in that kind of climate, though now air-conditioning is universal for the most part.

But must a change in populations lead to a change in our eating habits, just because shrewd marketers choose to promote these exotic foods? I am glad there are some people who stick to tradition and don’t follow along blindly with what is popular or a novelty. But it seems as if many of our long-time favorite dishes are disappearing from supermarkets as room is made for the exotic foods which are taking up more shelf space.

The “Great Replacement” also seems to require that we adopt new eating habits; it’s our foods as well as ourselves who are slated for replacement.

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