Friday Food Thoughts

At this point you’re probably noticing a trend with me for right now…that’s right, I’m going to talk about my challenge/assignment. So a bit of background information about me and why this is important to me and why I feel like I must share it with you. I grew up in Australia, I emigrated here with my mother who raised me as a single parent. Like most small kids, I never really noticed exactly how much my mom went through to put food on the table, clothes on my back and keep me happy. Now that I’m an adult, I’m starting to have an idea, I don’t think I’d ever be able to fully comprehend how hard it was for her simply because I know that it will never be that hard for me. I was able to receive all my formal education in Australia and so even if I were to migrate, finding a job would be easier, technological advancements make shopping, living, everything easier. I remember the old days of dial up internet, the next generation probably won’t know what a modem is or the distinct dial-up tone it made. Life for everyone at this point in time is better than a hundred years ago with the advancement of medicine and technology.

The point of the assignment is to teach empathy, empathy for those who are unable to afford the basic necessities, empathy that most just don’t really understand. I say most, but I include myself in that statement “we can’t truly understand anything that we ourselves haven’t experienced” however that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. I used to think that people who struggled with their diet just weren’t motivated, but now I see that while it’s true for some, it isn’t the case for all, the fact of the matter is eating healthy is expensive and time consuming depending on where you live and sometimes just to be able to afford the basics to live, you have to compromise with your diet. As a university student who isn’t working and isn’t living at home, I’m kind of an expert now on how to save money, well as much of an expert as every other university student in the same position.

I save money by buying in bulk, love buying in bulk, just love the word bulk in general, I usually buy enough groceries to last 8 days. Now before you get the wrong idea about me and think “Hey, you shouldn’t have a problem with the challenge if you know how to save”, you should hear the rest of the facts. I have a loving family that helps me, which basically means that I can always ensure that I eat well and healthy regardless of the cost. I don’t have to survive on instant ramen and I am able to easily travel to and from my university. My current idea of budgeting is essentially buying everything on sale and giving up biscuits and popcorn….. Even with those drastic measures (you don’t know how addicted to biscuits and popcorn I was) my budget is still drastically over $70AUD per week or $10AUD per day.

As my name suggests, I’m from Sierra Leone, most of my family is still over there and the quality of their lives is vastly different from mine in Australia and I don’t mean different as in like the UNICEF commercials (not all African’s live like they’ve come out of those commercials), but the cost of living and wage is vastly lower than here in Australia, so the idea that I can make a wonderful diet plan that is doable on less than $10AUD is kind of a dream. Even outside of Africa, I have friends both here and overseas who could greatly benefit from such nutrition advice. Actually everyone and anyone who wants to save and be healthy would benefit.

Now the first step is identifying what I currently spend my money on in order of biggest expense: Food, Transport, study supplements (drinks that keep you up all night). Focussing only on food, I’m able to indulge in my own home cooking when I have time and takeout (meals that cost $10 AUD roughly). Realistically up until this point in time, If a meal cost me $10-20 per person, I’d think of it as cheap and affordable; now I think of those meals as a needless expense. We have a vegetable garden at home which is where I can get delicious fresh vegetables and herbs, so that actually lets me save at the supermarket because of what was previously spent on landscaping and frequent gardening. It should also be said that nutritional supplements are one of the things that I take frequently because lets face it, our nutrition wanes when we’re busy and we need all the help we can get.

Without the cheat (yes, gardens count as cheats if not everyone has one), I currently spend on average roughly $100 AUD a week on food and drinks (includes supplements because you technically have to eat them), that number is for when I’m in study mode and have to budget. The rest of the time I spend around $150 AUD – $200 AUD a week when I’m working and have the time and money to go out and sample new restaurants, café’s and buy better quality food from the supermarket. As you can already begin to see I’ll have to make drastic changes. When I first told my family about it, they laughed because I’m kind of spoiled. Not in the way where I get to go to Paris just to shop every season (I wish), but in the way where I can afford to buy at least one dessert after every meal. We probably don’t think about it, but a lot of people can’t actually afford to take advantage of the “Tea + Cake” special at the coffee shop.

The more that I’ve been thinking about it, the more I’ve felt a deep appreciation for my mom and all the other people out there who make it work. I may not have always been able to have a slice of cake and I know now that there were times in the early stages where she worried about keeping me healthy and safe. But she never let me see how hard she worked, she’d treat me when she could. I know that one of the most important things for any parent is being able to give your kids the kind of life you never had and often that’s hard when you have to worry about money and somehow know how to save at the supermarket, make balanced meals and come under budget, just so you can possibly give them a treat afterschool. The things you need to do to keep up appearances, so no-one knows how much you’re really struggling.

I have a deep appreciation for you who try hard to be healthy and take care of yourselves and your families because it isn’t easy. Even If other people don’t say it, because they don’t know how hard you work just to get by, I’ll say it. You are incredible, you always find a way to do so much with so little, and If I can learn to be more like you, even just a little, I know that I’ll be a better person for it. So don’t lose heart when it’s tough and don’t give up because you feel underappreciated and inadequate because you are truly amazing.

(some of the things that I like to eat in a normal week, some of which I make myself)


Perception: What do you See?

Ever since I was a child, I have always wondered what it was that other people could see. Obviously the basic elements of our environment is the same, walls, chair, table, ceiling, sky, ground, water, the list goes on. However it always felt as though there was something more, something not quite tangible and yet unique to all of us. The more I thought about it, the more it perplexed me, the more I wanted to understand. What do you see when you look at another person?

Growing up in a country where everyone I encountered more or else looked the same, or I should say, most people looked unlike me, gave me a unique perspective. I had to learn very early about the concept of colour, a concept that is quite frankly difficult to explain to a child especially when colour and inequality have a history of going hand in hand. Fortunately for me, I had a loving family who made me proud of my history and heritage. Still it didn’t stop me from wondering what it was that other people saw, the names they’d call me and the harsh words they’d say while upsetting did bother me at the time, but not anymore. I’d look at my reflection and all I’d see was …me.

An awkward young girl who became a bitter teen. I felt underserving of the treatment I received, I became angry and bitter. I became extremely introverted and stopped smiling, in a way, I feel I kind of became deserving of that treatment; I hated what I was becoming. Looking back on it now, I sometimes feel mortified to think that things were ever that bad, but at the same time, I feel grateful for the experience. “it is the challenges in life that we face that shape us into the people that we later become” without those experiences, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.

In a sense I was blind, I was blind to the facts of the world. I was ignorant of the history of the country that I lived in and of the pasts of so many different people. It was at that moment I decided I’d try to devote myself to the acquisition of knowledge, I believed that if I could understand what other people felt, I would be able to have a clearer idea of what they saw when they’d look at other people. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I can understand the anger, the hatred and the violence. I can understand it and want no part of it.

“Violence begets more violence, vengeance begets more vengeance” when we don’t try to understand, acknowledge and accept each other’s differences, all we’ll be left with is misunderstanding. No-one really tried to accept me before, get to know me or even really tried to have a meaningful conversation with me; at the time I didn’t really try either, I had wrongly assumed that people just didn’t care. The problem is there are plenty of people out there at this very moment who are experiencing this and we do nothing. Even the slightest bit of interest in another persons life such as asking about their day or wishing them well can have a major impact on their outlook.

I had to change my perspective, if I kept acting like a victim, that’s all I’d ever be. One of my favourite things to do when meeting people is asking where they are from, not out of boredom, but out of genuine interest. The things that make us different to me are just some of the things that make us special. Our biggest problem as a society is perception, it’s not something that we can change over night or flip a switch on. It takes hard work, it’s a struggle, it starts inside. If you can look in the mirror and feel superiority over another race, then maybe you aren’t as socially accepting as you think you are.

Many of us will struggle our entire lives looking for acceptance from other people, be it family, friends, colleagues, lovers, etc. The only person we need to accept us is ourselves, we don’t need to be worldly, kind, wealthy or even socially accepting as long as we can see ourselves for the person we are and accept ourselves fully. If you were to be judged today, would you cry and beg for mercy, if you would then you need to make a change. I accept people and judge them based on the person they are and not the person they were. I work hard everyday to be proud of the person that I am, I want to live a life without regrets.

“Perception” What do you see when you look at another person? Do you see and equal? A friend? An Enemy? What do you see when you look at yourself? Are you proud? Filled with regrets? Are you willing to try to change your perception? Are you willing to try to understand another culture?

We won’t always like the people we meet, but it’s better to decide those things after we meet them and not before, otherwise all we do is bring more hatred into the world.

Budget, Balancing and Cake

As a semi continuation from my last post, I was given an interesting challenge for this semester. I say challenge, but what I really mean is assignment, well anyway I was given the task of coming up with a method for an individual to achieve a healthy balanced diet on a maximum of $10AUD per day. The goal from the lecturer’s perspective was to teach us all about empathy, since it’s easy for us to tell people what to do, but often things are more easily said than done. Not everyone is financially secure, or in an environment where they have easy access to nutritious foods and for those that are, not every healthy fad is all that nutritious or beneficial for the individual to achieve their dietary requirements.

Part of the assignment requires me to actually document what I eat for at least a 24hr period. I’m the kind of person who loves the act of eating food, not so much thinking about food. Now that I have to keep track of what I eat, I can’t help but to think about all the unhealthy things I’ve eaten in my life, not to mention all the things that I’ve rationalized into thinking was healthy…. Like eating carrot cake instead of eating an actual carrot (not something that I’ve done, but you get the point). As someone who’s made the conscious decision over the last couple of years to try and be healthier for my own personal benefit, I’m kind of excited to see just where I actually measure up and if all the fads I’ve tried until this point are actually good for me.

The important thing that I have to keep in mind is the budget, $10AUD. $10AUD!!!! Honestly when I first heard the budget I was kind of excited until I realized that I was looking at $10AUD and not $100AUD (In my dreams). Afterwards I began to panic, I started to think about how much a packet of bread, carton of eggs, litre of milk cost. I started to wonder if you could buy bread by the slice and pay per egg from the carton. The more I thought about it, the more it sunk in that that’s exactly how a large proportion of the global population lives currently. While I myself generally didn’t think about my budget until recently when I started living alone while I studied, I’ve come to see the immense importance of saving, especially since I’m a student.

My new daily budget for this assignment is less than I would spend on 2 large lactose free chai latte’s, for anyone who is addicted to coffee, tea, milkshakes, smoothies……..drinks of every variety, that’s the same as asking do I really need this? Do I need this more than food? Is it worth starving for? In my personal case, the answer is…well NO! but everyone is different, we all have different goals and different lengths we’d go through to have our favourite morning beverages. In my case, I just love the idea of eating more than the idea of starving and being alert enough to notice. Not only do we have to come up with meal plans within budget, but we also have to test them out and document it. By doing this we can empathise with those who have to do this everyday just to survive and become aware of other people’s situations.

It’s a sad fact, but unless you actually know someone who lives like this, you probably won’t ever consider how you spend your finances. You probably won’t think about what’s spent on groceries; how much you buy, how much you actually eat and how much you throw out. Unless you have seen people living like this first hand on less than $10AUD per day, you’d never wonder if maybe you should change your own spending habits and become less wasteful. In my case, I’ve already had to change my spending habits to be able to take care of myself, and get my money’s worth of my university degree. So far I’ve been cooking meals in bulk, bulk is my new favourite “thing”. The moment I start to feel bored, I remember the money I’ve saved and reward myself with an indulgence at least once a week to stay motivated.

Not everything is about food obviously, but saving money is a massive incentive for most people and companies; it’s important to find the best way to save without sacrificing quality. I plan each week in advance, I buy just enough fresh produce to last 8 days; nothing that requires long amounts of prep time. So far I feel that I should be able to achieve the goal, however I don’t want to just achieve the bare minimum, I want to be able to create something that benefits the largest amount of people. If I’ve learned anything from my experiences thus far, it’s that most things are cheaper in bulk, so while I may find it hard to plan for the day, maybe creating a plan that lasts a week or even a month would offer the best result. Maximum nutrition for minimum budget and maybe then more people can have their cake and eat it too, not just those who are financially secure.

Aversion For Honesty

This week during a tutorial for one of my classes, I was told something quite interesting by my lecturer, he said no-one ever really eats a whole packet of biscuits. The moment he said that, I like many others naturally blushed because I have on a few separate occasions sat down and eaten a whole packet of biscuits. He went on to explain that the biggest mistakes that we as future health professionals can make is assumptions, we should never assume anything, because the moment we do, people become embarrassed and give the socially acceptable answer. In this particular case that answer would be no, I’ve never eaten more than 1 or maybe 2 biscuits in a single sitting.

I realized something that up until this point, I’d never really thought about; we have an inherent aversion towards honesty when it comes to certain people, especially health professionals and experts. While I’m not the kind of person who’d normally brag about her food misadventures, I would generally be honest with those I’m quite close with. To them I’d proudly exclaim that I’d eaten a quantity of food that was more than what’s socially acceptable. I’d have no issues doing this with close friends and family, because I know that we all have our weaknesses and at some point or other they have done the same.

Health professionals on the other hand aren’t viewed with the same lens as we view our family and friends. To many of us, they are the ones who in a sense judge us based on our habits and tell us that everything we thought we knew about our bodies is wrong. While they are educated in all things health and the human body, that doesn’t mean that we as people like the conclusions we assume they draw when we proceed to answer their questions. It makes us feel small, as though we are the only people in the world who’ve eaten a whole box or cherries, packet of biscuits or more than 1 banana in a single sitting. Things that most of us do on a regular basis anyway.

The problem is that we are scared of giving the wrong answer and medical professionals don’t often ask the right kinds of questions. Never assume any particular quantity for anything, because people have their indulgences and are scared to tell the truth when asked close-ended questions. As someone that hopes to one day become a health professional, it made me wonder if people would be willing to tell me the truth about their eating habits. Then I decided, that it isn’t necessary for them to be honest with me, it’s more important for them to be honest with themselves. I need to be honest with myself in that sometimes my own personal eating habits make me feel ashamed.

I am the kind of person who’ll eat healthy most days and ensure those meals are nutritionally balanced. At the same time, I’m also the same kind of person who can eat an entire packet of biscuits in a single sitting and makes her popcorn by the cup full (Yes, I do have self-control, but it’s an indulgence). I don’t do it often, especially not now, but that isn’t to say I’ve never done it. The fact is that because I know that such behaviour is socially unacceptable, there are certain people I can’t be honest about it with, for fear of being judged. We are all the same, we all have indulgences.

Being honest with ourselves means we aren’t ashamed to admit that sometimes we indulge, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for many it’s how we get through the day, week or month. What makes honesty so difficult is that we have defined what should be considered as socially acceptable or a value that wouldn’t make others judge us. Personally, I feel that the concept of socially acceptable shouldn’t be associated with food, as we’re all vastly different cultures, races and people and so there is no standard designation for what meals should be eaten when and what is contained in each meal. Even the healthiest and most successful people have their weaknesses when it comes to food.

We need to stop being so concerned about what everyone else is doing and instead focus on what we’re doing. Instead of thinking, I’m the only person who’s ever eaten an entire tub of ice-cream (I personally haven’t done this), we should think ….yep, I did it. Maybe next time I won’t have as much. As someone who’s currently a recovering biscuit and popcorn addict, I’m the last person to judge another based on snack habits. However, I am aware that for those trying to change their habits it’s hard, especially in a society where we are too scared to admit to health professionals that they’ve made the wrong assumption.

Never assume anything, it makes an ass out of you and me! it’s true, for all of us it’s one of the biggest mistakes we’ll ever make. Just because some people love to indulge, doesn’t make them unhealthy and just because some people meticulously count calories and keep track of everything they ingest doesn’t mean they are the picture of health. We are all different and we need to embrace that, we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and fix our aversion for honesty. Be honest with ourselves about quantity and remember there is nothing wrong with indulging every once in a while because in our own way, we’ve earned the right to eat an entire packet of biscuits.

Monday Motivation #2 – Lessons Learned

Ok, so I stated last Monday that I was going to set several goals for myself for the week. I think for all of us this is important, staying on track is one of the hardest things we have to do in our lives, especially if we find ourselves in a role or position that requires a lot of repetitive or similar tasks. At the moment I’m studying at university doing a degree in biomedical science, which when most people hear that their eyes start to glaze over as I further describe what subjects I’m taking and what I do. Long story short, I spend a lot of time studying and not having a lot of fun. As you can probably suspect, it was hard to stay motivated and interested in my course; don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m learning and doing, it’s just sometimes we get burned out and we need a break.

It wasn’t long before I was finally able to figure out what my problem was, I was focusing on the big picture. I was so focussed on the shear number of classes, assignments and tasks that I needed to do that I was becoming overwhelmed. I was ashamed to ask for help, I thought “I’m an adult” I should be able to handle the stress of it all without any help. I’ve since learned that no person can handle that much stress on their own and even Atlas deserves a break sometimes. Well this week I decided to take on the next few months on a week by week basis, instead of a semester by oh my gosh my brain is going to explode and I need a brown paper bag immediately…….you get the idea.

What did I learn? I learned a lot actually, I managed to learn a fair bit in each my courses and I don’t feel like I’ll fall behind any time soon. I also learned that a number of my lecturers can’t do tasks outside of their specialty very well such as spelling, maths or the general use of technology which kind of makes me feel better because there are times when I also struggle with the basics; it’s a nice reminder that no-ones perfect. I also had a few small conversations with classmates which was great. As a shy person, I often find it hard to warm up to people and talk to new people, but I took the plunge this past week.

Overall, I feel lighter, mentally and physically healthier. I was kind of disappointed in myself for not exercising nearly as much as I had planned to, I also understand that sometimes after 8hrs + of in-class time without a break, physical activity is the last thing your body wants. Oh, I slept for longer than 4hrs each night, in-fact I kind of passed out upon reaching my bedroom after my 8hr + day. I’ve noticed that in previous years, this was the point that I’d start to panic, but because I made the conscious decision to focus one day at a time, I can actually feel optimistic.

Right now I’m writing, I’m doing what I love. I’m sharing my experiences with you as you are sharing your experiences with me, I feel like I’ve grown a lot this past week; most of all, I feel happy and positive. I’m going to continue setting more goals for myself, simple little things that I’ll try to accomplish. Things that we often take for granted and I’ll also write about things I feel really passionate about and take things one step at a time. As always, feel free to leave comments if you feel inclined.

Your Value

You don’t see your value, the impact you’ve had on me and the way you’ve changed my life. You don’t know how much you mean to me because sometimes I’m scared that by expressing myself through my words and my actions, you’ll reject me. I’m so scared of disappointing you, I never take that leap. Your value cannot be measured by the sum of your life skills or experiences, or in the many talents that you overlook.

I think for each of us, the hardest thing for us to see is our own value. None of us is perfect, all of us are flawed in some way, shape or form. We all want to change, whether for better or for worse because of our dissatisfaction with what we have. We all have fear and doubts, we all at some point or another have wanted to escape and not worry any more. Whether or not we are where we want to be, it’s the challenges we’ve had to face that have brought us this far.

I mentioned earlier that I was scared of disappointing, when I meant that I was scared of being a disappointment. I’d picture that look in my parents faces if I was anything less than what they wanted me to be, I was so stressed I became incapable of expressing my anxiety. Bottling up my emotions was how I’d cope, I’d rarely let people in and when I did they never looked deep enough to see past a fake smile to the inner turmoil I was facing. I thought I was alone, no one possibly knows how I feel, because all they do is laugh and smile, gossip with their friends and go out.

My problems were uniquely my own or so I told myself. At the time my self-value wasn’t very high, I told myself that I wasn’t good enough, that anything less than perfect was failure and because I was incapable of being perfect, then I was therefore a failure; I believed that for a long time. Things change, people changed and I changed; but that’s an entirely different blog post. I’m not the same person I was back then, I’m stronger for it and more confident, I still have fears and I still have doubts, but I’ve learned that’s what it means to be human.

“Humans are flawed, they lack intellect, they are weak, they are fragile and they are blind. Despite their many flaws, they are beautiful in a way that cannot be measured, and only be felt in the feelings that they inspire”

Not all of us have reached a place where we can start to feel satisfied with ourselves and with our accomplishments or lack there of, which is why it’s important for those who are still struggling to know that it’s ok. If you are incapable of seeing what makes you so special, then let me tell you what it is; because if at least one person can acknowledge you, then hopefully your outlook will start to change. Your qualities are many, they are overlooked and overshadowed by others accomplishments, but that does not mean that they don’t exist and that doesn’t mean that someone out there isn’t waiting for something only you can do.

I was lucky enough to have a fantastic support group when I needed it the most, which is why we need to look out for each other. Not everyone is lucky, but everyone can be; we can’t move forward as a society if that means leaving those who need help behind as all that does is add to the pain that already exists in this world and that pain has been freely flowing for far too long. Your value is not something that can be quantified, but felt through our shared interactions, your value is so immense that I feel grateful for every interaction. So any time you feel…less…..lost…..or scared, remember that just because you cannot yet see your worth, doesn’t mean you have no worth to give.

A Few Kind Words

Our words are sharp like blades, they cut deep to the core, are hard as steel and when expertly wielded, they can cut through anything. Like many of us who have experienced some form of trauma or insecurity, we have learned to expertly wield sarcasm; often to the point where it become second nature and just about everything we spout can easily be seen as a sarcastic remark or jibe. It’s easily both our weapon and our shield, keeps us safe, keeps us from forming close attachments and getting hurt, but at the expense of others.

While it can easily be seen as both the lowest form of wit or the highest form of intelligence, that doesn’t change the fact that the effect it has is as real as any tool. I learned from a young age that words had power, a powerful leader was powerful not because he could move man with his fists, but with his words and with the strength of his convictions; I learned that to be strong, I didn’t need to be physically strong, I just needed to improve my communication and learn from my failures. I was a shy kid, I preferred to observe, I rarely spoke because I lacked confidence in my words.

A common misconception that I find interesting is that some people have “IT”, a special quality that just draws people to them. “IT” being confidence. There is no magic formula for success or popularity, but you can’t have either unless you have the confidence you’ll succeed. Confidence isn’t something that most people are born without, it’s just something that most are scared to express. We claim that we’re confident and yet we allow our peers to dictate how we lead our lives, if we really are as confident as we claim, we’d actually do what we want without caring about other people’s opinions.

I cared too much, I put too much value in what other people said and thought; I undervalued myself. At the time I didn’t have a voice and when confronted, I’d use sarcasm. I was often a target and as a result, I’d use it as my shield; it became second nature to me. While I was capable of using sarcasm as a shield to deflect my feelings at the time, I still didn’t have confidence in my words, I still wasn’t capable of expressing myself. The experiences that each of us have undergone up until this point are uniquely our own, however there are elements that we all share. At some point or other, we have all cared what other people thought, we have all struggled to be understood and for many, they are still struggling.

It’s easy to say that nothing bothers us, but it’s a lie if we at some point have ever felt doubt. As someone who believes that reality is determined by our perception of the world around us and that we have ultimate power over whether or not we can be happy, then shouldn’t it also be true that the words we use and have had used against us have the ability to affect our lives. We are governed by our perceptions, we perceive that others are being hostile towards us and so we defend ourselves in whatever way we can, some use fists and others use words.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” I never liked that song growing up, I felt that teaching kids this song was gross negligence because while words can’t physically cause damage, they can cause long lasting psychological effects. Repeatedly calling someone “Stupid”, “loser” and or even “pathetic” for example will cause them to believe it; especially when delivered by someone who’s in a position of authority or a respected peer. As I matured, I’d use sarcasm less and less, I realized that by reacting to the taunts and bullying that would only give my tormentors more power over me and my happiness. I also realized that when it comes down to it, people really don’t need a reason to dislike you or to treat you differently.

Words have as much power as we choose to give them, for many, those words are used to cause and deflect from harm. However the most powerful words we can ever use are words of kindness, love and beauty. Something as simple as giving someone, even a complete stranger a compliment has the ability to lift their spirits and your own. To be able to recognize the good qualities of another, you should be able to recognize them in yourself as well. Saying the words is an expression of confidence, confidence in yourself that you are able to express to another that they are deserving of something so seemingly unimportant and yet so powerful.

I love to give compliments, not because I expect something in return, but because I want to use my words for good. Not everyone is given a compliment each day, each week or even each month. But sometimes something as small as a few kind words is enough to save a life and give someone hope.

“You are wonderful, you have a special light inside that can’t be extinguished and every time you smile the world becomes just a little bit brighter, so I hope you’ll keep smiling” – From me to you.