Slave Food, Colonial Food

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Gospel of Matthew

One way of looking at the period of slavery and colonialism is that the Europeans leveraged a technological advantage to lord it over the rest of the world. Refined and processed foods were one of the many gifts of technology, but we are now finding ourselves having to go back to a whole foods, plant-based diet. The interesting things is that most weapons can be turned against those who use them. “Superior” technology was applied to food, and with mechanisation came inventions like white flour and white rice, refined sugar, and eventually refined what not… everything was “refined” and “processed,” by and for the owners of the plantations or the colonies. Thus we created the epidemic of chronic, degenerative disease that is currently culminating with 37 of the top 40 causes of death caused by diet.

Vijaya on Brown Rice vs White

The recent study in the Lancet, the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) paints a grim picture of this problem world-wide as the rest of the world has copied the bad habits from Europe and America. We see American style health crises break our around the world on the back of the adoption of more American style food. The bottom line is, diet and doctors are now the leading causes of premature death, certainly if you include the opioid epidemic under iatrogenic diseases, as it should be.

Slavery and colonialism have ended but the apparent success of food processing technology, certainly in financial terms, has led to its exportation across the world, and American-style chronic illnesses like heart-disease and type 2 diabetes are growing hand in hand with it… bringing new diseases to areas where these were unknown before. We have sacrificed nutrition to convenience and the food industry has become the tobacco of the 21st century.

In the Americas, the black population made a virtue out of necessity, in the form of soul food. Creativity made the best of the scraps that were left to the slaves on the plantation and it became a matter of pride, but by hanging on to old habits, a devastating health problem arose, with staggering health disparity in the African American population compared to the already bad general population. In the East Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, etc.) population we learn that they are genetically pre-disposed to heart disease, because of smaller arteries, and the average age of heart attack patients in Bangladesh is 43 years.

…Moh. Islam, a Bangladeshi nurse from Elmhurst Hospital who had a bad heart problem (95% blockage of one coronary artery), at age 36 and had a stent put in, but after trying several cardiologists he ended up working with Dr. Robert Ostfeld at the Montefiore Cardiac Wellness Program. His words were from the heart, and he explained how the genetic makeup of Southeast Asians pre-disposes them to heart disease, because their arteries are typically narrower than Westerners, so they block up easier. Another Bangladeshi person in the room chimed in that he had a heart attack at age 36. Mr. Islam ended with a powerful appeal to his Bangladeshi brothers to take care of business, starting with a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet.

Examples of the problem are bizarre when you think about them. White rice was a colonial invention, but it has a high glycemic index (72 vs 50), and is a complicating factor in diabetes, but also it removes fiber, so switching to brown rice instead of white reduces the risk of colon cancer by 17% immediately, as well reducing inflammation and there is always the old problem of beriberi which was caused by removing vitamin B1 with the polishing process. But 70 years after colonialism most Asians still eat white rice and it is responsible for a raging health crisis. Meanwhile, I was raised to never accept white rice. All my life I would leave a restaurant if they did not offer brown rice.

Here is a video from Dr. Esselstyn, to remind us of the economic devastation from all of this and he also makes reference to the many areas of the world, such as Okinawa, where diabetes and heart disease were unknown, but people quickly acquire these diseases if they switch to Western diets.

Dr. Esselstyn sums it up. The healthiest diet in the world

Meanwhile this year in testimony for the 5-yearly update for the government’s nutrition guidelines, there was powerful testimony delivered by o.a. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, urging the panel to drop dairy from the recommendations. Dr. Milton Mills correctly argues that including dairy in the guidelines is outright racist, because:

  • 70-75% of African Americans are lactose intolerant
  • 95-98% of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant
  • 74-78% of native Americans are lactose intolerant
  • 53-58% of Hispanic Americans are lactose intolerant
  • “only” 33-35% of Caucasians are lactose intolerant, probably because dairy has been more prominent for longer in European culture.

The bottom line is that for all the technology we have at our disposal, we are very good at doing stupid stuff, and it is amazing how the American blacks made a culture out of slave food and how Asians resist going back to much healthier brown rice.

But the time has come to break with bad old habits and break the back of the epidemic of food-related illness that has us spending 20% of GDP on “health care,” and having health outcomes that place us 37-50th in world rankings. We can no longer go on to sacrifice nutrition to convenience. The question now will be who in the food industry will learn to provide real health food. Most serious attempts in this area seem to be in the mom and pop stage for now, but to solve our health crisis, the future will have to be a move towards a whole foods, plant-based diet and away from all refined and processed foods and added sugar, oils and salt.