Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The food we eat

"Other factors attributed to the rise in cancer rates are changes in diet. The Mediterranean diet, traditionally rich in fibre, greens and fruits, has been slowly replaced by one high in calories and low in fibre, which may increase the occurrence of cancer. "Exposure to environmental pollutants is extremely high in Lebanon; they may be present in the air we breathe, the processed food we eat, or the toiletry products we use, such as the chemical Bisfenol, which can be found in certain plastic baby bottles," Adib says.

Other pollutants are used in agriculture. Rima, owner of a large orchard in the mountains, recently discovered that her gardener was using, without her knowledge, pesticides that had been phased out 10 years ago in the U.S. because of their link to cancer. "They are often used by farmers in spite of the existence of laws, that are rarely enforced," explains Adib."


Leila Abu-Saba said...

And how many women are still breastfeeding? What are the statistics broken down by income level? I would expect that the children of the rich, the middle class and the aspiring-to-middle class are being fed by bottle. But I don't know...

Re gardeners - I just discovered that my gardener in Oakland who merely keeps the landscape plants trimmed has also been spraying weedkiller all around to keep grass from growing between the pavingstones. I asked him to stop. ??? Of course the weedkiller would be "legal" but it's still not what I want on my garden and around my home.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Re: traditional diet - I am sure I have told this story because I tell it all the time for different reasons. Here it illuminates the shift from a traditional diet.

In the winter of 1970-71, when I was eight, I lived with my uncle and went to school in Ain-el-Helweh. Next to our house up in Mieh-Mieh was a large lot with some olive trees and lots of weeds in it, belonging to some villager or other. One day two elderly Palestinian women came to our gate and asked my aunt if they could harvest greens from the lot. My aunt said - it's not ours, but go ahead, nobody will mind.

I was the American cousin and could not understand what was happening. To me it looked like they were pulling dandelion weeds and putting them in bags. "These greens are for poor people to eat. We don't eat them anymore," my aunt explained. "So we don't care if the Palestinians want to take them."

Later I learned that some of the "weeds" were what became known as "arugula" in the States - now a symbol of elitism, as in "Barack Obama eats arugula, he's out of touch with the common man."

Another, related story: several my cousins arrived in America together in their late teens and early twenties to go to college in our town. THey lived near my parents and me while I was in high school and of course I went to their home all the time. They loved to make mjaddarah.

"When we want to eat mjaddarah in MIeh-Mieh, we have to close all the shutters, windows and curtains so the smell won't get out, because the neighbors will tease us. They will say - what, are you poor that you're eating mjaddarah?" Of course these cousins were not at all poor - their father had a good job and the family owned a great deal of land. But they didn't want to be "shamed" in the neighborhood for eating mjaddarah. This was thirty years ago.

So people in our South Lebanese village quit eating wild greens forty years ago and mjaddarah at least thirty years ago because it's "poor people's food." NOw in America those exact same dishes are touted by the elitist food snobs as healthful and of course good for the planet. Therefore we elitist, rich, educated "latte drinkers" will pay lots of money to eat wild greens and mjaddarah. MEanwhile I am sure nobody from Ain-el-Helweh or Mieh-Mieh camp is allowed up to Christian Mieh-Mieh to harvest greens anymore, and few Lebanese in Mieh-Mieh are eating them either. Nutrition suffers.