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Saturday, June 10, 2017

This past week there was a minor kerfuffle surrounding an online video about Trini roti. The central contention of the video hinged, not on the culinary merits of the roti, but the copious calorie count of the dish. Also surfacing this week, a profile of a typical Jamaican dish at a popular restaurant in Toronto. Albert’s Real Jamaican Foods came under scrutiny for its jerk chicken with signature peas and rice. This serving, according to the article weighed in at just about two pounds and registered a calorie count of almost 2000 with 85 grams of fat and nearly 3000 milligrams of sodium; this portion is meant for one human.

A dietician consulted for the article expressed surprise at the results, remarking that even for the amount of food involved, the calorie and sodium count was peculiarly high. This, she suggested, raises questions about what else went into the preparation of that meal. That point is going to come up again in this column.

While gluttony and mammoth food servings aren’t exclusive to Caribbean culture, it’s becoming an entrenched lifestyle with grave repercussions for our health. With our health institutions barely capable of shouldering the weight of maladies in the population, an increase in chronic diseases brought on by feasting like lords isn’t ideal. Today it seems a decent meal must be of button-popping proportions. If you don’t crawl away from the table with a distended stomach you ain’t doing it right.

Years ago I was introduced to the Double-Up roti, which was essentially a roti assembled with two skins and as big as a bloody sandbag. It obviously catered for consumers believing the conventional roti to be far too thin-skinned. It could only be eaten in the company of someone versed in the Heimlich manoeuvre. All that flour with dry split peas was enough to choke a horse, among varieties of equines known to eat roti at any rate.

When Trinis eat out, it’s almost as though we feel cheated if the box of food is a bit on the lighter side. If the box feels heavy, then perhaps that’s a small victory in a world of scarce wins, except you really lose. Increasingly, we’re following the lead of countries like the US, losing control over portion control.

It isn’t simply a matter of how much we are eating, but what’s goes into those foods. Recently I picked up my nephew from school and as he climbed into the vehicle there was something attached to his face. It was a “sucker-bag”, apparently ubiquitous in school tuck shops. Now any product attracting the appellation Sucker Bag you wouldn’t imagine could get near anyone’s face. Yet, here he was, sucking numbly on this teat of sugar and nutritional nothingness. At the very least, the product made no attempt at suggesting any actual fruits were harmed in the manufacture of this insidious concoction.

The sucker bag isn’t new, in my childhood it was basically the poor man’s pennacool, frozen juice in a flimsy plastic bag. The one my nephew hauled into the vehicle looked more like a long-term commitment.

What’s interesting is that many pre-schools don’t permit children to bring unhealthy snacks to school nor are they made available to the children.

Parents are instead encouraged to pack their children’s lunch kits with fresh fruit and other healthy comestibles. When they enter primary school, that all seems to go out the window. Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh earlier this year indicated soft drinks would be banned from government and government assisted schools; a move some condemned as state overreach. The sucker bag, though, seems to have come in under the radar.

The problem confronting our society today ravages many countries; unbridled consumption. Cheaper, unhealthy processed foods have birthed a culture of eating as entertainment. Purchasing food by the pound is all the rage as we pack on the pounds. For those rejoicing over the recent shuttering of just a few foreign fast food franchises, such outlets are only part of the trend of overeating. We have our own local fast food industry ready to step up to the plate... and fill it with gut busting portions of blood pressure-spiking, artery-hardening culinary delights.

We need to be more conscious of what and how much we are putting into our bodies every day. Having doubles occasionally is fine, but if you are hunched over a drain eating four doubles every morning you are likely destined for that very drain. A Sunday meal of stewed chicken with rice, potato salad and macaroni pie is a superfluity of starches.

Somewhere along the way people seem to have forgotten that eating is meant to satisfy hunger, not to make you feel full. Overindulgence is a path to obesity, hypertension, diabetes and many other chronic disease menu items. While it seems the wisdom on what constitutes the best foods for healthy living changes by the minute, the easiest place to start is by simply eating less. Not every meal has to be an event, sometimes it’s just food.


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