Eat Ting Made Me Break Up With Quinoa

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

After a two-year relationship, I’ve broken up with quinoa. Stick with me…there’s a South African connection. It’ll just take a little while to get there.

It started with the price hikes: every time I picked up a box of quinoa at Pick n Pay it cost more, a lot more. While I tried to take into account that it was a protein source just like meat and it was imported, it still seemed a bit insane to be spending so much on a tiny low-budget-looking box of grain.

Then, there was the talk that the worldwide demand for quinoa might be responsible for pricing this superfood out of its own home market (although according to an article in The Economist, this is both complicated and has not happened…yet). I didn’t want to be a party to that.

Then, when I was in California in June, I read an interview in the LA Times with Luz Calvo, professor and co-author of a Mexican cookbook called Decolonize Your Diet. The gist of it was that Mexican food is inherently healthy…and that the health and well-being of Mexican Americans would be better served by a return to some of the traditional healthier foods that have essentially disappeared from their diets as part of the colonization and Americanisation of Mexican cuisine, having been replaced with dairy (cheese specifically) and meat.

Said Calvo in the LA Times: “Most Mexican cookbooks…have been written by white chefs…To have a discussion around Mexican food from a Chicana perspective is interesting and exciting to people. And reclaiming the healthy part of our cuisine.”

Hmm……which made me start connecting the dots; and thinking more about South Africa. What about its traditional foods? I’m not talking braaied meats and boerewors here, but the traditional plants that people used to eat before processed maize meal and white bread were staples. Surely there must be a superfood or two amongst them? I’d been learning about some of the wild plants that are foraged (and their proponents, like Loubie Rusch of Making Kos, who is looking at cultivating them as a more sustainable way of incorporating them into our diet). But what about grains?

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Photo by Craig Fraser from Eat Ting, courtesy Quivertree Publications

This is where Eat Ting comes in, the extraordinary diet and cookbook co-written by dietitian Mpho Tshukudu and food anthropologist/culinary writer Anna Trapido. The title is a play on words: ’ting’ is sorghum porridge made with a fermented starter. While the book’s subtitle is ‘Lose Weight, Gain Health, Find Yourself’, this is far more than a diet book that speaks specifically to black South Africans. It is without doubt the most fascinating and important food read I’ve come across in a while.

On the cultural side, the book sensitively (and with humour) discusses the challenges of being black in South Africa and sticking to a healthy diet. This is not just because of the advent of fast food. The authors say:

There are specific weight and healthy stressors associated with being a black South African. Not many British dieters have to deal with the impact of regular eating obligations at the Triple M – maso (funerals), matlapa (unveiling of tombstones) and magadi (lobola) gatherings. Not many successful slimmers in Japan have found themselves disapproved of by disappointed in-laws observing that ‘Nku go rekwa mosela’, the translation of which is, ‘You buy a sheep based on the size of its bum’.

We are the inheritors of a painful recent past in which black South African diets have been affected by urbanisation, acculturation and apartheid. The move from rural to urban life resulted in formerly diverse ancestral foods (in which various cereal crops were garnished with numerous varieties of wild greens, cultivated beans, nuts, meat and/or milk) being replaced by monotonous, poorly balanced, maize-heavy urban eating patterns. Many traditional crops and cooking methods have been relegated to special occasions rather than everyday eating. Some people even disparage and despise such foods as not suitable now that ‘re tlhabologile’ (we are sophisticated).

Even those who have created an economically successful post-apartheid existence bear scars and harbour food aversions formed in economically, socially and politically difficult times.

Wow. Eat Ting goes on to reacquaint readers with traditional foods such as millet, sorghum and a host of greens and pulses: their health benefits and tastes, where to buy them, how to cook them, and importantly, in what proportions to eat them (more leafy greens and low GI/low GL vegetables, less starch and protein).

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Modernised Tshidzimba, photo by Craig Fraser from Eat Ting, courtesy Quivertree Publications

Listen to the grandmothers, is what the book advises. They knew free-range, fermentation, protein and carbohydrate combining and low-GI starches and they knew what was best for you. Which is not to mean you can’t eat a burger, at least in my books…it’s just about balance. And watching your portion sizes, something we all battle with.

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Millet, Cabbage and Pumpkin Seed Salad, photo by Craig Fraser from Eat Ting, courtesy Quivertree Publications

The recipes – both traditional and modern — sound and look fresh and wonderful, and are beautifully photographed…something you don’t see much of with so-called African poverty foods.

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Sweet Potato with Peanut Butter, photo by Craig Fraser from Eat Ting, courtesy Quivertree Publications

Please do not think you need to be black to read this book. It’s a book for everyone who eats in South Africa (and farther afield). An eye-opening read for anyone who wants to eat well and eat local. Because neither eating well nor eating local should have anything to do with race.

If you’re not already convinced, here are a couple of gold nuggets from the book that may make you rethink:

  • Sorghum is gluten-free, low GI and low GL. It has more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates.
  • Millet (which is actually the name for a group of ancient grains) is gluten-free, high-fibre and highly versatile.
  • Both are grown here in South Africa, as opposed to Peru or Bolivia – this is not from the book, it’s from me.

So sorry quinoa…it’s finally over. I’m replacing you with sorghum, millet and a few other new foods I’ll be experimenting with.

Thank you to Quivertree Publications for allowing me to share these photographs from Eat Ting.

Written by Ilana Sharlin Stone

I'm a food writer, blogger and former chef who found her umami in Cape Town, South Africa.

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