Wednesday, September 12, 2012

FOOD FOR THOUGHT


I’m walking in a park in Saudia and a mother is sitting with her toddler on a bench coaxing her to drink a juice with some chips. The toddler is coughing a painful, choking cough. Yet the mother seems to be oblivious to the relationship between the packaged sugary syrup she is feeding her child and the constant coughing.
This is NOT an exceptional case. Children today are happily fed a staple diet of junk food by otherwise sensible, even religiously-conscious parents. This is besides the additives and pesticides that are already going into their bodies. Cooking healthy, nutritious and balanced meals is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Even when a baby is born, many mothers deny it the right to the best nutrition and protection it could ever get-the mother’s milk. As soon as the infant can eat, he is fed bowls and bowls of processed, dehydrated cereal. I too committed that error and then one day I tasted the gook and it was too sweet even by my standards. So I switched to a vegetable flavour. But it took years to develop my child’s taste for normal food as compared to my second born who ate home cooked food from the beginning and eats almost everything to date.
As soon as the child can start school, which is sooner than later for most, mothers conveniently pack him off to school without any breakfast in the morning. Mothers I have asked come up with the same answer “they just don’t want to eat in the morning”. This is alarming since after atleast 10-11 hours of sleep, the child should be ravaging hungry. The problem may be a disturbed toilet routine where the child is not emptying his stomach in the morning before breakfast or at night and is therefore too full to eat.

If it is a ‘dutiful’ mother, she’ll dole out a cereal or a glass of milk to the unwilling child. She packs a lunch of chips, noodles, biscuits or juice or hands the child some money to buy the same from the canteen. In the afternoon, after half a day of eating nothing worthwhile, the child returns to a lunch of leftovers or if he’s lucky some home-cooked food, or he might pick up something from a restaurant or vendor on the way. One advantage of home schooling is that children at the age of two-and-a-half and older are not deprived by the school of a relaxed, healthy breakfast with their mother or a midday snack. Most children, even if their parents don’t feed them junk food at home, pick up the habit from peers at school at a young, impressionable age.
Be it an Islamic class or a regular school, I have seen children given junk food at parties and snack time by the teachers and school authorities. What is even more disturbing is that the 'well-behaved' children are rewarded with a sweet or lolly pop. I said to one such a rewarder 'this is more of a punishment than a reward'. I hope she understood what I meant. In our well-meaning but naive way, we are opening the doors of harm for our own future generations.

Evening comes with the children playing outdoors and cycling but always with a plastic bag full of candies or chips. Maids are close at hand to never let the supply run dry. To my chagrin my sons usually walk in after playing with their friends with a candy in hand and two in the mouth. Dinner for most kids is, well anything to put in their mouths, from fatayer (pizzas), French fries, burgers or an egg. The essential and loving ritual of the family having mom’s home cooked dinner together talking about the day is gone ever since the school, office and restaurant has started running our lives.
And so the day of a child is over. So is his health.

What most parents don’t realize anymore is that this is the most crucial time not only of a child’s growth and development but also the start of a lifetime of healthy eating habits. A child raised on junk food or erratic eating habits cannot have a healthy, active life. His bones, teeth, eyes and overall health will suffer and deteriorate long before old age. The chemicals he douses daily will ruin his insides. He constantly falls sick and takes antibiotics every month and we can’t understand why. He has a multitude of allergies and skin problems and we blame it on the climate or pollution. He doesn’t have a proper appetite and doesn’t eat wholesome, home-cooked food anymore. And we can't seem to realize why.
Diabetes is knocking on almost every door and "this is a very recent phenomenon in the history of the world. Human genealogy has not changed to bring this about. But nutrition certainly has.Changes in farming practices and the preponderance of high glycemic, fast foods being aggressively marketed are the root cause of the insulin resistance that sets this process off. 
• Diabetes currently affects 246 million people worldwide and is expected to affect 380 million by 2025.
• The five countries with the highest diabetes prevalence in the adult population are Nauru (30.7%), United Arab Emirates (19.5%), Saudi Arabia (16.7%), Bahrain(15.2%), and Kuwait (14.4%).
• Every 10 seconds two people are diagnosed with diabetes.  
• At least 50% of all people with diabetes are unaware of their condition. In some countries this figure may reach 80%.
• Up to 80% of type 2 diabetes is preventable by adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity."
http://www.metabolic-syndrome-x.info/diabetes-statistics.html

It’s a vicious cycle too, a child raised in this fashion will not know better and will probably raise his children the same way. An interesting study says that junk food may be just as addictive as hard drugs as it produced the same brain response. So once hooked to junk food, the habit may be very hard to break.
I cannot say I never give my children junk food but I try that it should be an exception or treat rather than the norm. I try to choose the healthier alternative when eating out. Also I’ve noticed that when you start allowing a little, it can suddenly get out of hand until you wish you’d never relaxed the rules.But there are many who don’t even know or realize that what they are feeding their children is harmful. They buy junk food in bulk with their monthly grocery and serve soft drinks with every meal. It’s as if Shaitan has deluded people into thinking that there is no other way to live.

Years ago, a sister made me realize that the packed cupcakes I was feeding my child could easily be bought fresh without the preservatives or even better baked at home with wholewheat; that nuts and fruit make a great snack instead of biscuits and chips, that plain yogurt tastes just as yummy to the baby as flavoured, sweetened yogurt, that dates and honey satisfy sweet cravings amazingly.
However some people when advised give the strangest arguments. One common argument is “well everything is harmful these days, like the microwave, like x-rays, but you can’t give up everything. A little junk food won’t kill you.” This argument is the same as saying “the sun’s rays can also cause radiation, so being exposed to a nuclear bomb can’t be all that bad.” There are certain things that can and should be avoided and that are within our power and control. In this age of chemicals and hazards, we must try our utmost to save ourselves and our families from harm as best we can.

One of the commandments where all of mankind is addressed directly is about food, “O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan. Verily he is to you an open enemy.” (Al-Baqarah: 168)
We need to think, what was it that Shaitan used to tempt the first human being , Adam (alaihi salam) with- FOOD! And he’s doing the same with his progeny, which is why the entire mankind is addressed in this verse for we are all descended from the same set of parents who lost their Paradise because of one slip.
If we don’t equip ourselves physically and spiritually, we too shall fail this test. We have been sent as ‘khalifa’ to this Earth for a pre-ordained and limited time. This means that we are succeeding each other generation after generation and our role is to implement Allah’s rule in this world so that people may be saved from destroying themselves. Food is immensely important for us to function properly in this world and fulfil our goals. Yet little attention is given to what we are putting into our body, whether it is helping us fulfil our role on this earth or if it is becoming the biggest obstacle.
Our acts of worship, our health, our sleep, our state of mind, our moods and desires are very much governed by what we eat. Feel the difference in mood as soon as the first cup of caffeine enters your blood stream!

Today Shaitan, mankind’s avowed enemy, is tempting us with a variety of food never known in history before. Today we eat what our forefathers never dreamt of. As a result we have cuisines from all over the world available at our doorstep. Hundreds of varieties of food adorn supermarket shelves, a restaurant beckons from every street, food shows are aired round the clock on multiple channels. Fast food chains offer toys with kids meals that see children running to buy the food to get the toys. Even in Makkah, I marvel how the fast food chains swallow the devout Muslims as soon as they step out of the haram. The processed, refined, polished rice, flour and sugar makes our bellies bulge and visiting the bathroom a nightmare.

Everyday we create crimes against our very own body and stomach. We starve it in the morning when it is in need of some energy and our metabolism is fastest, then we down a coffee or tea kick-starting it to work. We don’t eat for long hours ignoring the hunger signals our body is giving us and then grab a sandwich or burger which we eat while we are on the phone, at our desk or on the computer. In the evening when our digestive system is slowing down and about to shut down for the night we barrage it with a flood of rich food of many different types. The only thing that gets our attention is when some system in our poor body breaks down and gives up. Then we run to doctors, go on crash diets and make the grave situation no better.
We eat leaning on sofas or dining chairs that again strains our digestive system which requires our legs to be up at level with our stomach for the blood to flow to the stomach for digestion.
We were supposed to eat a third of the capacity of our stomach but we usually don’t stop until our buttons start popping or the food before us finishes. The super sized French fries and drinks don’t help the situation. We never see how the Prophet (saw) achieved so much in such few years, because his eating habits and lifestyle were in harmony with nature. He hardly had enough to eat, yet even when he did, he did not binge eat to store reserves for future days. He ate and slept and rose with the rest of the universe, not against it. He had his food sitting down with one leg propped up. He used all five senses while eating, using his fingers to eat, not half comatose like us in front of a screen.

Yet like cattle we chew and eat without a clue, without a thought or purpose. Has Allah created us for no purpose? Has he given us this supreme intellect for no reason? Is eating a meaningless activity like it is for the cows and sheep? Did Allah create such a complex system within our bodies so we could treat it carelessly? Do we have sole ownership rights to our bodies to do with them as we please or do they have to be returned one day? If we don’t provide our children with healthy eating habits and food, will we not be questioned about them? How many times a day are we feeding our children things that are harmful for them?
We all have the power of choice. Let's use it.




10 comments:

  1. brilliant subhanALLAH and jazakALLAH for literally 'a much needed slap on the face'

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    1. jzk Naveen, it's more a reminder for myself than anyone because it's so easy to lose one's perspective and just follow the trend without even realizing wats happening

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  2. Jazakalla for the much needed thought. I really needed this one as I'm one big Junk food lover. May Allah bless your pen...

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    1. Thank you Sayema, we all need reminders, ameen to your dua, may Allah swt grant us all pure and healthy food that makes us active and effective Muslims, ameen

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  3. ma sha Allah VERY well said!! May you be rewarded for speaking such truth!! jazakiAllahkhair!

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    1. jzk Basma and ameen to your dua, may Allah give me as much taufeeq to act upon it too, ameen

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  4. Ma sha ALLAH.
    So so so true... I completely support your ideas on this topic.
    I too have a 9month old AND residing in the Holy Land.

    We have to start when they are so young.
    May ALLAH help us all in sha ALLAH!!!

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  5. Thank u for your comment Erum, yes we have to start very young and try to break out of our old habits, may Allah help us all, ameen

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  6. Very true n thanks for the reminder
    Plz write abt kids islamic upbringing, share ur own experience with kids, their schooling n islamic education...
    U havent posted from a long time..waiting for ur writings, just love the way u write!

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    1. Jazakillah khair Maryam....yes it has been a while, in shaa Allah I will write soon

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