Before I joined the Peace Corps, I imagined myself picking fruits and vegetables from a garden in my backyard, or a neighbor’s backyard. I imagined how healthy I would become riding my bicycle around my village and eating raw foods all day. When the plane flew over Cape Verde and I saw rolling hills of brown dust, I knew I was in for a very different reality.
My iron levels are low as a result of a lack of green, leafy vegetables. When I find onions or green peppers in a friend’s rice dish, I get excited because it’s nutrients. I don’t exercise anymore because after being robbed, I’m afraid to run alone.
As a result of my lack of exercise and lack of nutrients, I decided I needed to change something. I wasn’t happy feeling tired, sluggish and unhealthy. Therefore, for the month of March I have decided to omit processed foods from my diet. What does this mean? Not eating packaged foods with more than five ingredients. Eating local cheeses and milk, instead of processed dairy products, for example.
There a few challenges up ahead — one of the most tricky aspects of this decision is when I txiga (visit) with neighbors and friends. When you are invited into a home, you must eat. It’s an insult not to eat the food prepared for you. Unfortunately, that means no cachupa for a month. Another challenge will be finding foods to cook with and finding ingredients that are not processed, including items such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, brown rice, and wheat flour. And last but not least, will be the challenge of doing this on a Peace Corps stipend. We are volunteers, thus the pay is merely money to survive on. However, if I can do it on a small budget, others can too.
All in all, I hope my March goal will be an example to others. In Cape Verde, diabetes is a huge problem. You might not know it as an outsider looking in because people are not obese or overweight. Because they are physically active all day long, they can eat foods high in fat and never put on weight. A normal Cape Verdean diet consists of lots of white rice, potatoes, and oil. Because these foods are cheap and accessible, it is what everyone eats. The question is not nutrition, rather the question is price and quantity.
Yesterday, I began preparing for this goal by shopping in the local market. Another objective of my goal is to buy almost everything from the local market, benefiting local people. Wish me luck! I will keep you posted with successful recipes and my progress! For now, I leave you with my lunch…Bon appetit!