The narrative surrounding healthy food is always changing, with the likes of fats and carbs taking turns to be vilified. But, one thing has always stayed the same – whole foods.
The reasons may be economic, convenience or preference, but we didn’t always eat the way we do. A culprit throughout the years has been sugar, which only became widespread in industrialised countries in the late 18th century – relatively recent when seen in the context of humankind’s thousand-year history.
To shine a light on how improving our health and wellness starts with nutritious diets, the advocacy group Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), hosted an interactive cooking session with celebrity chef, Zola Nene, as part of its recently launched, nationally spread #whatsinourfood campaign which urges South Africans to take a stand against unhealthy food.
While I ventured to the cooking class that would open my eyes to a whole new world of healthy food activism, I was suprised to note that many members of HEALA were not present. Where could some members of the hosting group be? Well, they were outside parliament, protesting the health promotion levy – colloquially known as the sugar tax – which hasn’t gone up since its inception in 2018.
HEALA and chef Zola touched on the same history earlier with Nzama Mbalati, Programme Manager at HEALA, arguing that ‘we need to return to real, well-grown, unprocessed food – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seafood, and pasture-raised animal products.’
A great sentiment, but do we actually have a choice to eat healthily?
“I read an interesting statistic,” Zola said, “That South Africa is one of the few countries where your wealth increases, your health decreases…. The aspirational thing, especially for lower-income families, your introduction to wealth meant that you could afford the fast food.”
This was one of the reasons that prompted her to release her new cookbook, Simply Seven Colours, which is in essence the colours that we love to eat but remain a testament to natural, whole food ingredients.
After Zola spilt the beans with us, we rolled up our sleeves, put on our aprons and delved into some of her recipes – cooked with fresh ingredients without any added sugars and minimal salt.
Our tastebuds have unfortunately been conditioned to high salt and sugar foods, but this means that we miss out on all the other flavours from fresh herbs and the vegetable themselves. “Pumpkin becomes so flavourful when you roast it in the oven, “says Zola, “there’s really no need to sprinkle some brown sugar over it.”
The cooking workshop was not only a reminder of the importance of Sunday lunch, or of the dinner table – but that this slice of the flavour journey was only the beginning.
Sincerely speaking, I did not miss the added salt in my fresh green beans or a processed peri-peri sauce over my chicken – the chilli yoghurt marinade made up for it. The rewards for cutting down on additives will not only benefit our health but our food journeys too; there’s a world of new flavours out there that make life so much sweeter, and the answer isn’t sugar.
Visit: www.whatsinourfood.org.za to get more information on how you can be a part of the cause, or add your voice by sending a WhatsApp to: 079 751 9751.
Facebook: Better Label_za
Written by: David Henning
Feature Image: Supplied