Food for Thought

Taking Chef AJ to Kenya

You know, it is a huge gift to be invited to do what you love with a positive person urging you on and asking questions. That was my experience of being with Chef AJ. She was light-hearted and sassy- her trademarks!

 

Chef AJ had no idea what I was going to talk about. Whereas my friend Mark Cerkvenik demoed some wonderful WFPB recipes when he was on AJ’s show, I chose to present a PowerPoint with snapshots, videos, and commentary on a trip I took to Kenya pre-COVID19. It was a pleasure to share it with Chef AJ and her audience. You can see the episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLgMpSJ-_yw

 

That vacation in Kenya was the trip of a lifetime. I grew up watching Jane Goodall, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, National Geographic, Born Free, and Daktari. Like a dream, it had been on my DO-It list since I was a little kid. But, in reality, while I was thrilled to be on Maasai Mara, as a veteran public health nurse and WFPB devotee, I was equally fascinated by the people’s health and their foodways. 

 

Let me explain. The people of Kenya eat primarily plant-based whole foods. They use generous amounts of low-quality vegetable oils, and fully 50% of their dietary intake is “cereals.” The cereals are mainly in the form of ground cornmeal mush called ugali. So diet-wise, most Kenyan people eat a primarily vegan diet. Not because they don’t like to eat meat, but because meat is costly. Therefore, it is usually eaten infrequently, in small amounts, and on special occasions.

 

Predictably, the giant food companies are setting up supply lines in Kenya. That means Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, and others are beginning to influence the people’s eating habits. Add to that a constant commercial harangue to drink powdered milk, and it is no wonder that illnesses, like cancer, and diabetes, that are associated with that kind of food are climbing, too.

 

Back to the powdered milk for a second…about 80% of Kenyan natives are allergic to it. That alone seems reason enough not to drink it. However, let’s add that one of Kenya’s biggest challenges is its polluted water supply. Dangerously high levels of untreated sewage, bacteria, and other contaminants cause high rates of waterborne illnesses like cholera and dysentery. Moreover, foul water and associated illnesses are among the leading causes of death in Kenyan children. So the idea of reconstituting a poison (powdered milk) with more poison (filthy water) boggles my nurse brain!

 

Ok…I know this is heavy stuff for a normally light-hearted podcast with a celebrity chef. Sorry, not sorry.

As citizens of the world, we must open our eyes to the situations our brothers and sisters endure. If we don’t open our eyes, the governments and companies that would happily mow us down for power and profit win. And we can’t just play blind and allow that.

 

It would be the ultimate arrogance to say I have a solution to Kenya’s issues. However, I will offer this: if you would like to support the people of Kenya, find a well-vetted NGO that digs wells or sanitary sewers, and donate to it. That would be a fantastic gift to the people and the country.

 

I really have to thank Chef AJ for being so gracious. It was a tremendous opportunity to provide a nurse-tourist’s peek into Kenya to an international audience. Another dream come true. We will be returning the favor by hosting Chef AJ, Dr. Michael Klaper, and Glen Merzer on Jan 25th! Stay tuned for all the details!

Contributing Writer: Meryl Fury

Meryl Fury is President and CEO of PBNM.org.  She is a Registered Nurse with a Masters Degree in Nursing.  Professionally, she has specialized in public health and underserved populations. Personally, she is mad about healthy eating. She enjoys everything about whole-life health, especially working with older people who can greatly benefit from the healing power of whole food plant-based eating. Meryl is the founder, and CEO of Balance Forward Health and Wellness, LLC, which focuses on playfully supporting people who want to attain vibrant health over the entire lifespan. You can read more about her on her website at www.balanceforwardhealthandwellness.com.