Monthly Archives: January 2009

Maize in Mombassa.

Maize flour in a Mombassa grocery store.

Maize flour in a Mombassa grocery store.

Having spent the last few days in the coastal town of Mombassa in Kenya, I have borne witness (once again) to the reality of third-world poverty. In speaking with teachers here, whose students receive nourishment twice a day in the form of a wheat based porridge, it is clear the poverty here is far different from that in the United States.

Jane Omondi teaches fifth grade at the Kelegeni Primary School, a place where over 1,000 students are taught by just under a dozen teachers. Most of the students are orphans, and what little food they receive comes from an outside assistance program.

“Kenya is not a poor country, it is a mismanaged country,” Omondi said.

This is evident by the fact that government leaders rake in an annual salary of 800k shillings, while children starve in overcrowded school rooms.

To make matters worse, a teacher’s strike looms. Primary school teachers here are underpaid, and unwilling to take the government’s raise offer of 250 shillings. To give you an idea of how pathetic the gesture is, Maize-flour (a staple here in Kenya) is 120 shillings a pound (about$1.50).

The idea that these folks could do anything to overcome the situation is more than far-fetched. The city is crowded, school fees for secondary education are high, and jobs are few. This situation leads to higher levels of crime, and is an obstacle to overall safety and security.

For those with money, Mombassa offers resorts and golf courses, movie theaters and large grocery stores. For those without, there is burning trash, and bare feet.

While our economy is hurting, being here puts things in perspective.

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Christopher Heads to East Africa.

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Last April I was lucky enough to be selected by Rotary International to head out on a Group Study Exchange to Kenya and Uganda. Over the past year our team of five teachers and one Rotary team leader have been meeting and preparing, and tomorrow we’ll be heading out. Our month-long journey will include a number of stops at schools and rotary service projects (wells, clinics, etc.) and hopefully things will go smoothly.

I will do my best to post food-related thoughts from the other side of the world during the next month, but we’re not sure what our situation will be like. It is unlikely that we’ll have access to internet in the slums of Nairobi or in the villages outside of the cities, but I will do what I can.

Kerri may post now and then, so keep checking back for her updates and insights.

If you want to keep up with our team click the link “Christopher in Africa” on the right hand side of this page.

To Africa!

– Christopher

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Progressions Through Unlearning.

Sitting at the dinner table as a child, my father used to force me to eat brussel sprouts. Each litttle green ball seemed to weigh 50 lbs., causing my hand to shake as I lifted it from my plate. It could have just been the fear of my parent’s wrath. Either way, I would eventually drop the round ball into my mouth and chew as if it was made of glue. Most of the time, I would save my milk so that I could flood my mouth to wash them down. Even today, brussel sprouts seem enormous, and I have yet to eat one as an adult.

I would have rather eaten Kraft Mac’n’Cheese and a 7-Up, or ordered some pizza from Pizza Hut. When I hit 13, that became more common. With my mother working a lot, convenience foods became the norm. I do remember the nights when she’d make pork-chops and apple sauce, or meatloaf, but more often were the evenings of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup, or Oscar Meyer hot dogs with the little cheese bits inside. I don’t remember whole grains or fresh fruits and vegetables playing even a supporting role.

Even now, I occassionaly fall victim to foods that I know are terrible for me. On a road trip last week I actually had a Mountain Dew; it was the first in over a decade. The result of having been raised on these food-like options is that I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life. I have never been outrageously obese, but I have been consistently 10-25 lbs. overweight.

According to my doctor, I should weigh around 190 lbs. for my size and lifestyle. Currently I weigh 199 lbs.

At this point in my life, I take full responsibility for my food choices, but I also recognize that my formative years were shaped by the strategies of food marketing experts, and my parent’s need for cheap and easy meal time solutions. For the first time, I am doing my best to unlearn what I know about food, and am working to unpack 20 years of food baggage.

I am not alone.

I read an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal about some grocers in the Northeast who are trying to help customers do the same by labeling food items based on their healthfulness. My intial inclination is to assume that this is a positive thing. They seem to be following the government’s daily food recommendations, low in meat, dairy, sweets and fats, high in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. But the skeptic in me wonders if this process could lead to the perversion of a well-intentioned idea.

I have included a video today from back in 2004. Many of you may have seen it, but Peter Jennings does a good job exploring food issues related to health in our country, and if you have the time I encourage you to watch the subsequent parts on YouTube; only then will you be able to make intelligent comments on his ivestigation.

Here’s to healthy eating.

– Christopher

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