It’s King Cake season! Whoa! 🥂🎉
Les bon temps rouler! There are many things I have come to appreciate about living in South Louisiana. One of them is the fact that the food culture is unrivaled and believe me when I tell you, I have traveled a LOT!
But I have also come to realize that what is its pride, is also its nemesis.
Why do I say this? For years, Louisiana has consistently placed at the bottom of all states in terms of health and health-related disparities. Yep! 49th most of the time. We compete with our neighbor MS for that position.
While there are several other factors that come into play when these rankings are tallied, (obesity rate, infant mortality rates, vaccination rates, life expectancy, and so on), I am purposefully making a generalization at this point for the benefit of my discussion.
Having lived here now for almost 18 years 😭(Oh WOW! I didn’t think I’d ever say that!), I have tried to rationalize the challenges and tried to understand the cultural impact that food has on its citizens.
Here’s what I have found: Food is what brings people together. 🍞🍕🍔 More importantly, Food is what brings families together. Families may not have a whole lot, but when there is a reason for a celebration, you can always bet that whatever little is provided, it will be absolutely lip-smacking delicious.
Lord knows, I have had the benefit of sampling some of the best gravies, gumbos and stews in Louisiana and when laid on top of rice, OMG! Whoa!…it sets the rice on FIRE!
I have also spent these past 18 years trying to understand the food cycle in Louisiana. As soon as Christmas is over, literally the day after Christmas, here comes the King Cake season. Never mind the recent Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday season binge.
As if that’s not enough, add to that the high sodium crawfish season and we have a recipe for disaster.
Not to mention that Fall is synonymous with Football season 🏈 in south LA so you know what that means; Tailgating at its best. Lots of fried foods, plenty of alcohol and you can quickly see how this does not bode well for healthy living.
In the past, I always struggled with understanding why the patients in my traditional practice had a really difficult time modifying their diet even when they knew it was detrimental to their health.
You see, it took me a while but I finally got it. The light bulb came on one day!
I somehow finally understood that for them, leaving the food they grew up eating or not partaking in, was sort of like turning their backs away from their families. This was a departure from everything they knew as LOVE. This experience was akin to a feeling of betrayal as if to say, “what makes me better than everyone else, especially my family that I love so much?”
“My family 👨👩👧👦 has survived on this food for centuries so what makes me any different?”
What I also hear is “My grandmother ate this same food (boudin and cracklins for breakfast) and lived to be 92 years old.” What they may fail to realize is that grandmother in her younger days also probably had more of an active lifestyle than what met the eye, rather than the sedentary lifestyles our generation have adopted.
Research done by the CDC shows that we consume more sugar and more processed food than any other generation before us, which leads us to the rise in cardiovascular mortality.
Over that same period of time, our generation sits for longer periods of time, exercises less and add to that our diets high in sugar, sodium and processed fats, and we’re headed for a collision course.
So how does one reconcile this fact and try to make a change? Well friends, I don’t have the answer. I wish I did.
The statistics speaks for itself. All I can say is, we have a long way to go in Louisiana.
As someone who did not grow up in Louisiana but grew up eating white rice daily as well, sometimes several times a day, I very rarely eat white rice now and frankly, I don’t miss it very much.
I have become accustomed to replacing it with bulgur, couscous, quinoa, milled rice, brown rice, etc. I know, I know, everybody’s going to jump on me about the cost, etc. and the fact that not everyone can afford that.
I understand that but what I am trying to say is that even if I gave some of these people the bulgur, they will be less likely to cook it because “the dish would not taste the same way as they grew up eating it”. And therein lies the problem. FOOD IS COMFORT!
I believe that for a real breakthrough to happen, I had to fundamentally change my relationship with food. I had to think of FOOD AS MEDICINE!…and as a primary source of nourishment for my body. 🥑🍎🌰
I had to re-introuduce myself to Food, like this. “Hi Food, my name is Leone. It’s a pleasure meeting you and forgive me if I have to re-direct our relationship”.
I promise I don’t have this all figured out myself but I work on it everyday.
I’ve had to reprogram my brain to make purposeful, intentional food selections and chip away at it every single day.
I did not make this up! Hippocrates (known as the Father of Medicine) said this way back in 400 BC, “Let Food Be Thy Medicine”.
Would you make a better food choice today if you knew you could eat your way out of certain ailments or circumvent a heart attack?
Understand that I am not coming from a place of judgement. Rather, I am just looking for solutions to share with the wonderful citizens of our state.
I am not saying don’t eat the things you enjoy eating ever again. What I am saying is, “How can we get our state’s population to collectively make small, incremental, positive changes so we can rise up from the ashes and improve the state’s health?”
If you have come across any solutions, please feel free to share those with me.
In some future post, I will lay out a few food groups that I like many other scientists and researchers believe have properties that we should absolutely take advantage of.
Go out and slay! 💪
Stay well! 😚
Leone F. Elliott, Jr. MD, MBA