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  • Emily Corley

Poverty and Obesity??

There's a lot of talk from 'experts' linking poverty and obesity. People say they don't have enough money to eat or feed their family a healthy diet. They resort to eating lots of inexpensive carbs to avoid hunger, and so gain weight.

Let me share a story. Years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to southeastern Mexico, a wild territory just north of the Yucatan peninsula. The final 30 miles of my trip took well over two hours as our jeep jerked its way over tree roots, up stream beds, and along rutted paths that were loosely considered roads. In that short distance, we left behind the infrastructure of rural, working class Mexican society and traveled to a timeless region of native villages where groups of barefoot, friendly children walked or rode donkeys and horses along our route. Farmers tended fields. The only stores we saw were home-made shelters with people selling various bulk dry beans, grains, and a few vegetables out of baskets and bowls. Many of the villages were accessible only by walking paths. Chickens and goats ran free.

During my time there, the food I ate - without exception - was delicious. For three meals a day our food consisted of rice and beans, sauteed veggies, and tortillas. For breakfast, a fried egg was added on top. For lunch, there were more veggies. For dinner, meat was sparingly included. Each version tasted different due to changing spices, proportions, and vegetables available. Corn was ground locally and the tortillas were made fresh for each meal. Dessert was always cut up local fruit, which we ate daily. I'm sure I got to eat both egg and meat because I was a foreigner.

As you may know, a balanced and healthy diet consists of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats, rich with veggies and fruit. Rice and beans, very inexpensive carbs, when eaten together, become protein. Coconut - native to that region - and olive oil are healthy fats. These people ate local veggies and fruit, in abundance, with almost every meal. The villagers were eating a healthy and robust diet for a few dollars a day, at most. I saw no signs of obesity there.

Poverty and obesity are not inherently linked. However, we do need to learn how to eat well with our limited budget. We must exercise the discipline to eliminate expensive, processed foods - that's most things that come in a box or bag. Much of it has little nutritional value and contains lots of sugar and salt, the reasons we gain weight. Organic brown rice is inexpensive. We can learn to soak and cook our own dried beans, a simple and quick thing to do with a modest investment in a pressure cooker. We don't need to eat a lot of (or any) meat to get enough protein. Our longest stop is in the veggie and fruit section of the grocery store or farmer's market, buying the least expensive selections: what's in season. We can avoid the trap of believing we need a diverse diet, maintained by our relationship with cookbooks and restaurants. Our diet can be simple, delicious, nutritious - and inexpensive.

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