Let’s Talk Food!

I remember reading a quote that sounds something like, “Some people have to walk miles to find food while others have to walk miles to burn off the food they ate.” Subhanallah…balance is something that is sought to be achieved, but achieving it is not easy.

In this world, we have an imbalance of the rich and the poor, the starving and the overfed, the thin and the obese. While people in one country can fill a Rose Bowl Stadium with wastage of food, in parts of that same country, people are rummaging through trash cans for their lunch and dinner. No wonder we are in such a mess in terms of our health, mental state, finances, spirituality, and Allah knows what else. We have committed israaf (excess, either overdoing something or underdoing something to the extreme). Please don’t tell me about Muslim extremists and terrorism. Open your eyes and look at all these other extremism and terrorism going on in other areas of our lives that also jeopardize our lives! All forms of extremism are israaf and disliked by Allah, even in acts of worship. Balance and moderation is what we’re supposed to struggle to maintain. Yet, very few people manage to be consistent with maintaining balance in their lives.

I was reading Dr. McDougall’s The Starch Solution on the drive to California recently. A friend had told me to increase protein in our diet, and increase whole grain and fruits and vegetables, the usual diet advice you would hear. Though the upping the protein bit unnerved me a little because of how I’m used to eating growing up. In Malaysia, our ratio of rice to protein is 3:1. In our traditional diet, we eat a lot of fish and chicken, but quiet sparingly, in that ratio. In some cases, if I think back to really traditional Malay diet, one would eat dried fish with rice, and raw salad. It’s only with urbanization that food has become more ‘rich’. Furthermore, with the adoption of the western diet, Malaysians are now eating a different ratio of protein to rice.

My father never took us to fast food chains growing up. He loves to eat out, but I don’t remember going to any fast food chain, to the point that I actually had to beg him to take us to KFC, which he did. That was a very rare occurrence. Otherwise, whenever we eat out, he would take us to Indonesian food stalls, proper Malay restaurants, and when we visit Indonesia, my taste buds are in party mode! The bakso on the streets, the lontong for breakfast sold by the man pushing his cart of breakfast item in the neighborhood, and my favorite, Nasi Padang. That is my ultimate favorite. My ultimate favorite. Did I say, my ultimate favorite!

On Sundays, which are market days, he would buy crates of fruits from the wet market. I remember devouring oranges, and mangoes, and Rambutan, and mangosteen with sweet juice dripping down my forearms. I also remember being taught to clean and gut squids and prawns when I was 17, because my father (he was the one who taught me!) didn’t want me to be get married and not know how to do these things.

Anyway, I was reading Starch Solution and Dr. McDougall basically recommends a diet based primarily on starch and completely eliminating meat, dairy and fats, even those such as olive oil, nuts (especially peanuts) and avocado. He also mentions the diet of the Asians and Africans and of course the South Americans which he considers healthy as opposed to the Western diet which is heavy in fat and meat. It’s also interesting that he mentions how those who migrated to the US from countries such as Japan would actually gain weight and look like their western counterparts, even though their traditional diet is healthy. He blames it on them adopting the western diet.

I read this book while hubs was driving the long stretch of I 10 from home to California. I had brought along this book and another book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, which I had read halfway and also find interesting. I figured that the drive from our house to California, at least through the desert has nothing much to see, so I chose to read at this time. I finished the book before we reached the custom check at California. This book definitely gave me food for thought, no pun intended.

It’s interesting that he recommends the Asian diet. I remember our confusion with soy, which is touted as the new health food, but then also touted as being carcinogenic. Dr. Mcdougall, in this book, states that we should avoid the fake soy, and stick with the traditional soy usually manufactured in Asian countries. What I took from that was; the typical ‘high-yield’ processing is what is dangerous. Soy alone is not dangerous, overeating it is (like any other food or non food for that matter- remember, balance and moderation?) but when food producers try to increase its production so they can cater to more people, the processing process will be compromised thus creating this ‘fake soy’ that can be more harmful than good. When hubs and I were talking about this years ago, he said,

“The Chinese have been eating and drinking it for years! This is all just the milk company’s hidden agenda.”

I was still wavering then. In the end, I decided, whatever food it is, touted as good or not, take it in moderation. End of story. Well, that will exclude impermissible food for us of course.

There was something that bothered me about The Starch Solution though. He recommends vegan-ism. This bothers me. Why? Because, Allah has domesticated some animals for us, for us to eat, for us to get milk from, for us to ride (ok, this is obviously not related to this topic of food). In one description of Jannah, there is even mention of fowl meat. Surely, we are meant to eat these meat? And I thought back to the diet of the Prophet saw and the sahabah. They mostly ate dates on a daily basis, and bread was a luxury food, and they ate meat, but most probably, not on a daily basis. So, in essence, they ate meat, but not as staple food. We, in our ease and luxury and comfort, eat meat as our daily staple, and we even go beyond that! So, no surprise that we are in this quagmire of diet-related health issues today!

I don’t think completely eliminating meat is the solution (yes I say this with no background whatsoever in nutrition, so, take it with a grain of salt, please – which by the way, Dr. McDougall also mentions that salt ans sugar are the least of our worries). Completely eliminating it would be israaf (excessiveness/extremism) would it not? Especially since Allah has made it for us to eat alongside many other uses? Allah is our Creator, and He knows what is best for us, so why would we deny this blessing? Just don’t go overboard in consuming it, like we unfortunately do now. Allah tells us not to commit israaf (extremism/excessiveness) and this should encompass all areas of our lives, from food to politics.

I have noticed that throughout the years, my kids have gradually increased their meat intake (by meat I mean chicken, lamb and beef). This started when hubs started his real job about 4 years ago. Before that, our rule during mealtimes was to keep the Malay ratio of rice to meat consistent. We would balk in horror if any of us end up eating a lot of chicken. Now, the kids are easing up on increasing more meat on their plates. This has worried me and is continuing to worry me. We have (well, I have) started to tell them to decrease the meat portion of their meals.

My own conclusion to this dilemma of what diet school of thoughts to follow (yeah, can you believe it! We have mazhaahibs in this too!) is moderation and balance. I think I will stick to my wonderful Malay traditional diet (yay!) and at the same time, learn from other people’s diet and explore them too. I am obviously biased towards the Malay/Indo cuisine, but I also see the good from other diets, though my taste buds might not necessarily agree in some cases.

This FAT epidemic does bother me. Subhanallah, it has really become a disease, mostly here in the US (I won’t say the west, because in European countries, I don’t think this is much of a problem as it is here in the US). I don’t want my kids to be one of those people whose parents migrate from one of those ‘small-framed, petite, slender’ countries of the world, yet they look like they had too much to eat. I’ve also seen a lot of Malaysian undergrad students gain weight after living for 4 years in the US. As for me, I gain weight when I visit Malaysia! In fact, I haven’t lost all those excess weight I had gained in 2010 in Malaysia. What do you say to that? I would say that it’s a problem of relative ease.

In Malaysia, I would eat and eat because the food is so good because I’m not the one who cooks them! And even though they may be healthy, I eat in excess. When I am here in the US, I have to make my own food and I’m not that good a cook. I gain weight too, but at least, I am not in oblivion as I am in Malaysia with regards to eating.

So really, moderation is really the key. All these different schools of thoughts on diet ; Atkins, Starch Solution, and what nots, it can be confusing and distressing. The way I see it for myself and my family, stick to the Malaysian diet, which is an amalgamation of the Indian, Chinese, Arab, and Malay diets, and take what is good from other cultures’ diet, to some point even vegetarianism.

However, there is one thing though about meat that I agree with in terms of staying away from it. The meat we have now is not the same as the meat the sahabah had, to put it bluntly. Our cattle are fed abnormal diets. This article should shed some light.

On the whole, I just feel uncomfortable completely staying away from food that Allah has created for us to eat. On the other hand, I do admit that there are certain variables that are no longer the same, and might be something we do want to consider. In this world of ours, many times, whatever you use/eat/consume can harm your health to a certain point. I was reading about Smart meters and the effect of WIFI areas to our health. Subhanallah, with the advent of modern technology, our lives are becoming easier, yet we are subject to more danger too.

This is life in this world. It’s not perfect. We will all die one way or another. Even eating, something that we have to do to survive, has become dangerous business. What are we to do? What I do, when I have tried my best to change my lifestyle by minimizing use of the microwave, using glass instead of plastic containers, etc, is to say Bismillah and proceed. Truly, Allah is the one who provides, and our rizq has already been pre-determined for us while we were in our mothers’ wombs. Even in being cognizant and taking responsibility for our health, we have to strike a balance. No use being overly distressed and paranoid about all the harmful things in our food. And no use being too laid back and eating anything that comes our way. Strike a balance. The beautiful thing about being Muslim is that we have the articles of faith and tawakul.

We believe in predetermination, we believe in the afterlife, we believe that Allah is the one in control, yet we are also taught to put forth the effort as much as we can, basically, take responsibility for our well being as the body and our health is a trust upon us. Begin everything with Bismillah and may everything that we do (that is good obviously) be filled with blessings from Allah 3azza wajall. Ameen!




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