Let me start with a disclaimer, I am an omnivore. I eat all food types. So, why am I waxing lyrical about vegetables? You may well wonder and be asking yourself!
Food, glorious food
Thing is, I love food; I mean I LOVE ALL types of food. I love to cook food and I love to eat food. And, that's thanks to Mum's influence. By the age of 10, I was in the kitchen, learning to cook from scratch. Dinner was flexible, anywhere from around the world. Lunch time, though, was always traditional Zambian fare (where I'm from, by the way). So, you can understand how my upbringing has always inspired me to make and eat traditional foods and foods from other lands.
Eat your greens:going back to the roots and shoots
Did you hate vegetables when you were young? Thinking about it, I can't remember really hating or loving vegetables. But I can tell you that those words "eat your greens" are definitely music to my ears now. Like any typical Zambian table, you find vegetables, usually of the green leaf variety, feature prominently on my plate of nshima and relish.Nshima (pronounced shee'ma - the 'n' is silent), is our staple food. It's made from maize meal and is the starch of the meal. It is to the Zambian diet what potato is to to the UK diet. It is always served with relish, which are accompaniments of meat, fish, vegetables.Unlike other African cultures which might mix meat and veg in one dish, we identify each dish separately. Think Chinese dim sum (many dishes with a different plate for a different dish)!
Vegetables: my go-to for poor appetite
I am sure this is how my love affair with fresh produce began - though I didn't know it as a youngster. For example, growing up, okra was a comfort food. One of the childhood memories I have is having sweet potato for afternoon tea and being given okra with nshima, when feeling poorly. In later years, I found out that, not only is okra a great comfort food. It also helps to settle the stomach because of the way it is prepared. Fast forward to today. What do you think one of my go-to-foods is when feeling poorly? Yes, as you've probably guessed -good old okra. It still does the trick! Not to mention it's nutritious and gives me the boost I need to carry on.
I have lived with kidney disease for 19 years Whilst, I was fortunate enough to get a kidney transplant 14 years ago, lately "she" ("Naomi") has been struggling to do her work of cleaning the blood and getting rid of toxins. So I am back on dialysis. The only thing I crave and seem able to tolerate, when my appetite is poor is vegetables that are or are like those from back home.
Living in London is great for this. There are ethnic food shops or supermarkets selling certain fruit and veg that hit the brief spot on. Other times, I make do with alternatives and/or substitutes such as callaloo which is like one of our Zambian wild vegetables, garden egg (baby aubergine) shop bought spinach which I cook with nuts. Cooking with nuts is a common and nutritious way to prepare vegetables in Zambia. Hence “Zambia in a nutshell”. But, I admit, there are times, when I miss and could just do with certain food from back home.
Crops:a key wealth creator
Zambia has a rich agricultural heritage. There is such a variety of produce. According to one study, there are more than 175 traditional crops including green leafy vegetables, legumes, cereals, tubers, roots and fruit! Most people know different ways of preparing them including boiling, frying and adding nuts.
For Zambians, the plant-based diet or eating "clean” is nothing new. It's the norm. The agriculture sector employs over 50% of the workforce, creating livelihoods and jobs for . The majority are smallholders and women marketeers. The problem is that most are unable to scale in an environment where the common mantra is "there's no money in Zambia"
It got me thinking. If there is no money in the country, then it follows it must be outside the country. The question then becomes, how to get the money from outside into Zambia?
I had been hearing a lot about clean eating as one of the fastest growing diet and lifestyle choices of the 21st Century. Digging deeper,I find a common thread is on eating fresh and natural. This explains why there's so much around "plant-based" Did you know that there is no strict definition of what it means and that there are several approaches? Here's my take on it - that 's another way of eating healthily. And of course, a huge part of that is eating more fruit and veg.
Well, I realised, that this is something I do instinctively and actually for granted. "What if", I thought to myself, "I could take my experience and love of food, cooking and eating to make vegetables exciting and help others at the same time?" Inspired by my love of Zambian fruit and veggies, I imagined finding some way of sharing this plant cornucopia and connecting people produce grown in Zambia and the UK.
That's how I had my Eureka moment!
Zambia in a nutshell
What I’d love to do is set up a company with an online platform which offers a 3-way support to, (a) Zambian and British crop growers to scale and (b) you if you would like to eat "cleaner" i.e. more fruit and veg
1) An introduction to and sale of vegetables and fruit indigenous to Zambia
2) A marketplace for “substitutes”/equivalents available in the UK
3) plant-based recipes including cooking in a Zambian way, “Zambian-ise” dishes, as it were
Remember that plant-based foods include vegetables, fruits, pulses, tubers, roots and butters/oils/milks made from them. That said, don't imagine you have to exist on just fruit and veg!That would be rich, coming fran omnivore like me! No, you don't have to be or become vegetarian or flexitarian to eat clean. By the way, I hasten to add, I am not a medically qualified professional. So if you plan on making any health or diet-related changes, please get the right medical advice first.
Eating clean (i.e. plant-based foods) might either be only one or the main part of eating well for you. Whether you are looking to eat "cleaner" or not, if you see the value in benefiting Zambian and UK crop growers, I would be honoured if you support me.