Since the 1970s, there has been a growing interest in the healthy diet. We have been encouraged to eat e.g. more fruit and vegetables (five a day, or more). In England we have some diverse communities, and although there is a lot of information about what nutrients you get from the food that English people eat, there is not a lot of information about the nutrients you get from Caribbean food (I am a black woman of Jamaican decent which I’m very proud of!).
I remember when we first started talking about fibre in this country; we use to call it roughage. You could not get broccoli, kiwi fruit, lychee or star fruit, but the media was very clever; as they became available it encouraged you to eat these new unusual fruit and vegetables by telling you about the health benefits of these foods. You therefore ended up spending more money on fruit and vegetables by buying the fruit and vegetables you normally eat plus the new ones! The media also encouraged us to eat wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals, like Weetabix, Branflakes and All bran. High fibre foods are very important as they can reduce heart problems, improve the complexion, reduce constipation, produce healthy blood, boost the immune system give you more energy, improve the sex drive, and many other health benefits.
I was lucky enough to get free school milk every morning. A lot of milk is needed for the growing child. If you do not drink enough milk as a child you will get a bones disease in the legs called Rickets, where the legs bend. When Margaret Thatcher was the Secretary of State for Education she took the milk away (which is why she was called ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher’). Rickets is also caused by not getting enough sunlight.
When sailors from England went on long distant voyages they used to get scurvy, which causes sores around the mouth, caused by a lack of vitamin C. To prevent this they drank the juice from limes. This is why they were given the nick name Limeys!
Tropical fruit and vegetables grow in hot places like the Caribbean and Africa. It has to be transported to England for the migrant people that live here, and also because British people now eat them too. Due the fact these fruit and vegetables have to be transported to England from hot countries it does not retain the original quality. There is a variety of foods that grow in the Caribbean, some you may have heard of: green banana, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pineapples, ripe banana, melon, plantain, coconut, yam; and some you may not have: ackee, breadfruit, cassava, cho cho, okra, dasheen, genip. (Are you feeling hungry?!) I do not know what vitamins and minerals you get from these foods, as it’s not talked about in the media, and I would like to know more about them. There are a few newspapers and magazines which are targeted at the black community, such as The Voice newspaper and Black Hair and Beauty, but I have not seen them discuss this subject. I would like to see more information about Caribbean food in the black newspapers and magazines
I went to Jamaica for a three week holiday in 1998 by Air Jamaica. Every morning we had a big breakfast which I call a ‘Full Jamaican’. I was given things like a whole snapper fish, green bananas and callaloo at 7am, and then noticed that when I went out for the day, I did not feel hungry. I did not eat anything until 7pm in the evening. For this reason, I lost a lot of weight by eating this fresh natural food that comes from the island and I looked lovely and slim (yes, I am showing off!).
My mummy looked after us very well in England. We were not rich but we had a hot dinner every evening; breakfast was always cereal and toast; lunch was something like fish fingers, mash potatoes or spaghetti. Sometimes we had Caribbean food, for example ‘hard food’, which was yam, green banana, potatoes, fish or lamb. We always felt better after having this kind of food. During the school holidays, my mum used to give us oranges and cod liver oil. I can still taste the cod liver oil from that big spoon, when I think about it (Thanks, mummy!).
We are quite lucky in Britain to be able to get a variety of food from all the four corners of the world. It is good to know about the nutrients in all foods, to contribute to a balanced diet. I think the Jamaican people have the right idea, because I did not see a lot of overweight or obese people there. The food in Jamaica is fresh and high in nutrients, because it comes from the island, so you don’t have to snack on things like chocolate, sweets and crisps.