Have you heard of Okinawa Japan? It’s a small island on the southern tip of Japan. What makes them special is that they have people living happy, healthy, and mobile in their later years. Over 100 years old to be exact. They are one of the “Blue Zones”, a term coined by Dan Buettner, describing geographic areas where people have significantly lower rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else. Many things go in to helping these regions stay healthy but food is one of them.
What makes Okinawa Japan particularly interesting is that while they have the highest rates of healthy older people, they also have the most obese. Looking deeper we’ve realized that the vast majority of obese are 50 or younger. These 50 or younger were born after the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of WWII, & grew up during the United States lead reconstruction of Japan. During that time a lot of culture & tradition was lost, making them vulnerable to outside influence. In the United States fast, non-perishable, processed food was all the rage. The first McDonalds opened in the late 40s, and it didn’t take long for the Western Diet to make its way over to Japan helping create new traditions for those 50 or younger.
Most people get hung up on the villainous Western Diet itself, but I feel it’s more about the Western Diet’s convenience supplanting long standing traditions & cultures surrounding food preparation. Think of an endangered species being dwindled down by a fast growing weed.
Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma & book turned Netflix documentary series Cooked) says;
“pay more attention to how a culture eats as well as to what it eats. Pay attention, too, to the combinations of foods in traditional cultures.”
For example some say tomatoes are good, some say bad. If they are in the Mediterranean diet how could they be bad? Well, the Mediterranean cultures always de-skin and de-seed their tomatoes (the skin & seeds contain toxic lectins), and most if not all meals made with tomatoes include olive oil which helps us absorb phytochemicals 2-15 times higher than without.
As you can see, healthy food traditions have been handed down over the years for a reason. Under extreme circumstances those traditions can be lost & replaced with new ones, and our current food creates less friction making it easy to adopt. One thing we know for sure is that humans have been around for a long time and only the ones with good food traditions have been fed well enough to survive. The “Western” food culture is the new kid on the block & no research has been able to prove that it is even remotely healthy. If anything, it’s proven to kill us faster. Going forward try looking at different cultures cuisines and most importantly how they prepare it. I have a feeling that those of us able to continue those long standing traditions will be able to outlast this Mass Cuisine Extinction.