by Maya Mutesi | Jan 18, 2018

One of the things I love most, has proved to be the most difficult to write about. Only because there are so many ways to go about it, so many facets to bring to light and expand on. I could have gone HAM on some random dieting technique or how sadly it is almost inevitable to get obese in America where vegetables and fruits are far more expensive than fast food; the fact that famine is wiping away so many people in our country and many other African countries; or rant, as I also marvel at food practices such as vegetarianism, veganism, pescetarianism that have people spending fortunes on meat and dairy substitutes! I say marvel because the concept of cashew cheese is just intriguing to me.

Instead, I decided to tell you, my dear reader a special story about my passion for food. My ultimate love story. “Bonne appetite” or “Umushonji” is what a lot of people use to describe my eating habits in Rwanda. In America it translates to “foodie” but I still think that is an understatement. I get quite emotional when it comes to food, not that I see a burger and cry! (I also dislike fast food in any shape and form, so that would not happen.) But just the same way music makes me feel some type of way, food hits the spot too. I feel a lot of things through food. Therefore, I associate a lot of emotions and memories to it too. Food transports me to places I have been and reminds me of people with whom I’ve shared specific meals.

Eggs remind me of the first time I made an omelet with my older brother—who had proved to be the prodigy cook of the family. Oatmeal reminds me of my mother who taught me how to make oatmeal! It was a bonding moment believe me, it was also the first thing I ever learned to cook. Mayo reminds me of Rwanda! There is a whole stigma on that stupid condiment: “Abana bo muri mayonnaise”. Beans and mayo is the ultimate go to for every other Rwandan; fries and mayo don’t seem to be a thing in America, hence we get called “Weird” for it. Bacon takes me back to a time I had to cook it in the oven for three hours straight, at my school’s cafeteria! Now that is not a pleasant memory and if some of you can’t relate, it’s one hell of a feeling I tell you.

Food then becomes an amalgam of many past experiences. There are several realizations I’ve made due to the nature of food, gestures I have seen carried out in honor of food, and problems caused by food too.

You know how looks are deceiving, how you think your friend is good for you and turns out to have had a different agenda? Well, some foods are like that too, you spend a lot of time perfecting recipes that incorporate that one particular ingredient, only to find out it is bad for you especially long term. In other words, don’t believe in every special ingredient your neighbor tells you about, or everything you read on food websites. There are many ways to educate yourself about what you eat. Even though we seem to believe some things are more nutritious than others, we need to remember that excess in anything is bad. I learned the hard way that too much food is bad, naively as a child I always thought I would get super super healthy the more I ate! Well I was living a lie, and I have freed myself from that lie!

Regardless, I feel relief and comfort through food. Relief, when I get home to find food awaiting me in the pots. Excitement, when I hear “Free Food” in any event. Joy, when I get invited to a wedding I know will have a buffet. Love for those precious friends who always bring food when they come through. Gratitude, for that one friend who is always cooking and inviting people over to eat.

I’ve noticed that most people including myself are always complaining about eating too much junk and skipping the gym or drinking too much. What you reveal, you heal. I am here revealing my weakness for food, acknowledging that I can easily get engrossed in it. I am also here to remind myself and you too that we can become healthier, it’s never too late. We ought to try and adopt a better lifestyle; not just with food. Learn to drink in moderation, avoid being a workaholic, adapt a better sleeping pattern, enjoy your treats but not too much. Stop avoiding the gym, eat your vegetables for your own sake, call your mom more often, say please and thank you to everyone at all times, be kind, be mindful of you and your surroundings and I promise eating better will just come naturally.

You know how they say “Your body is a temple”? If that is the case I want to treat it as such. If food is supposed to nourish my body, why would I eat anything that does the opposite or that hinders that process? I know very well it feels so right eating the wrong things! Trust me I know!

However, facts like these—“Approximately 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used in meat and poultry production; The vast majority is used on healthy animals to promote growth, or prevent disease in crowded or unsanitary conditions”—encourage me to try harder. It is true that we must be mindful of what we choose to eat. Granted, Africans are not at as great a risk of obesity but this is about a lifestyle that encourages minimalism and eating a whole meal instead of eating just for the sake of eating. Or worse depriving yourself of necessary foods in the name of “Losing weight”!

Every meal is a nutritious trip, an adventure into the culinary world. I strongly believe that it is an art to eat. To eat well, to know when to eat and when not to eat. To eat in moderation while still indulging in all the necessary and sometimes the unnecessary too. To eat properly requires playful discipline.

Some food facts from this article were sourced from the Consumers Union Website