After having had a fantastic first year, studying Global Nutrition and Health in Copenhagen, I had planned an adventurous summer holiday – 2 months travelling through Ecuador and Peru. When I booked my tickets, I never thought what I had learned during the first year at university would have such a great impact on my travel experience. Not only did I pay attention to different things, I also always tried to find out the root causes of problems that the people are facing in these beautiful countries.
One of the first things that caught my attention was the variety of fruits and vegetables available, mostly locally grown and fresh. You could find them in huge supermarkets – which reminded me more of the US than anything – or on small little stalls just beside the road. A lot of the fruits I had never seen before. Tasting them was more than a great pleasure. Surprisingly though, when ordering a typical regional dish, it was hard to find vegetables on your plate. I always wondered what people were doing with them – were they eating them?
On top of the vegetables they have a variety of ancient grains, for example Quinoa or Amaranth, which used to be the staple foods of the ancient population. Nowadays they are still eaten by a large amount of the population but their popularity has been replaced by french fries or other fried foods.
I was very lucky and got to stay with an Ecuadorian family for three weeks. This gave me the opportunity to gain an insight into Ecuadorian life and food culture. I got to try a variety of dishes and foods. The dishes ranged from ceviche – raw fish or sea food with lemon juice to cuy (=guinea pig). Also an avocado mashed into a soft guacamole was a daily must have.
Apart from the food, another thing that caught my attention was the prevalence of overweight in both the Ecuadorian and Peruvian people. I was shocked and sadly surprised that it is the unprivileged that are most affected by it. At first I only observed their surroundings and food habits. A lot of fried dishes were on the menu and often water was replaced by coca-cola or inca-cola (a typical soft drink of the region). Bigger supermarkets, selling fresh ingredients for a fair price were often hard to reach for the ordinary population, as they were rare in rural areas. Cars were needed to get to them. The small kiosks or supermarkets offering food in rural areas and small villages often only sold different kinds of ‘papa fritas’ (crisps/chips), banana chips or other snacks and fast foods. I didn’t know how to address the issue to locals but after a few weeks my curiosity won over my fear of being rejected for asking inappropriate questions. So I asked the family I stayed with and the mom explained to me that the traditional diet consists of a lot of fried dishes already, but in the past people diversified their foods more. Today a great majority of the population is rather sticking only to fried foods as they taste nicer and are widely available. Often it is cheapest to buy fried dishes, especially in cities where small ‘restaurants’ can be found everywhere. The general population today lives a more sedentary lifestyle than a few years back, especially in urban areas. TVs can be found in almost all houses. Finally I think another factor contributing to the problems is the fact that the population doesn’t have knowledge about food and a healthy body weight.
I believe GNH made me see those things. Without having studied here for the past year I wouldn’t have been curious to find the reasons behind problems. Thank you GNH – you have enriched my way of thinking!