My editor read an article about how some African-Americans struggle with the concept of eating so-called healthy food because all the "good" food is “white people’s food". I agreed with the sentiment and said: "Oh, ja, white people's food is totes a thing because, I mean, why would you willingly eat rice crackers? They don't have any taste."
As a young black person raised by her grandmamma in a village you have probably never heard of, my diet has always been pretty standard. You know, the basics. Pap with red meat or chicken, which is usually cooked with water – and salt is only added if you're feeling funky. Add a bit of Rajah spice and voilà. Most of the time there are no veggies on the side because things like cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and onions are standalones. As in, you have one of these with pap and that's your full meal. Never with the meat ... nah-ah!
There is, of course, the exception and that is usually Sunday lunch, which has a special place for rice and seven colours - a massive veggie salad that contains every kind of vegetable. This is so much of a spoil that eating rice during the week still feels weird AF.
Though we are creatures of habit, the origin of our diet has always boiled down to what class your family fell into. In other words, how much money there was for food in the first place.
The standard of living in Mzansi decreed long ago that we were meant for the basics. Luckily for us, unlike African-Americans, our diet isn’t just fried chicken and collard greens, which are apparently high in what-what, making it "unhealthy".
Our people have always had healthy-ish food (though it may have also been due to not being able to afford southern fried spice and other such luxuries). But the one thing we really don’t compromise on is taste. Our food needs to have taste and, um, white people and bland food = same WhatsApp group.
That’s why most of us black folks are struggling with high blood pressure. We don’t measure salt. Measure for who? For what? You sprinkle that salt until the ancestors send a signal to stop ... and sometimes they don’t.
Despite the fact that we don’t even know half of the food that nutritionists tell us to eat in order to lead healthier lives, we just don’t see ourselves chilling in a restaurant, ordering the side salad as the main. Or swapping out normal milk for almond milk. Or spending a whole R54 on low-GI bread.
As black people, the folks responsible for marketing cottage cheese, sweet potato crisps, rice crackers with a soya yoghurt topping, and unsalted pistachio nuts never included us. Besides that, our budgets just don't stretch that far. It was decided a long time ago that black people would be the face of fried chicken over lean meat. Fact.
The first time I learnt about quinoa was 2016. I was 22 and it was for a university project. So, me walking into a restaurant ordering a fancy (another word for white people food) salad is never going to happen.
“Can I have the green salad with fennel bulb, celery, a sprinkle of gorgonzola cheese, mandarin dried oranges, toasted walnuts, pecan nuts, pomegranate seeds and a clementine dressing?"
Whoo shem! That can never be me.
However, I have come a long way since 2016. In my effort to achieve my summer body, I made some lifestyle changes. I also learnt that summer bodies are made out of 80% food and 20% exercise, which meant I had to become more educated and start including some of this white people's food into my diet. And I'm doing well. I have learnt to include a lot of veggies and fruit with my meat. I eat a moderate amount of carbs as opposed to carbs being my staple. But this only works when I'm at home alone.
When I go back home, ain't nobody got time to buy plain yoghurt (which is really amasi that studied overseas) instead of sweetened strawberry-flavoured yoghurt. Or use balsamic vinegar in place of the cheapest bottle of Thousand Island salad dressing. When my grandmother came over last month, I had to go buy mealie meal and "proper" food because there was no way she would have a salad for dinner.
So, you see, there is such a thing as white people's food. It's not a perception. It's enforced by our social structure, our norms and our values, and it forms part of our identities.
In the end, though, the stomach doesn’t see mos and vele ok’salayo we all poop them out.