"I make my own coconut milk from the coconuts my boyfriend collects" - Latifa, Brazil.
Latifa is my oldest friend, we have been through everything together (and I mean things like wearing braces, trying to cut our hair ourselves and wondering in agony whether our boobs would ever grow).
Next year will be fifteen years of friendship, and although there were times when we both took our distances, in a mental but also sometimes in a very physical way, both moving around the globe, we never lost touch and always rekindled the bond in a way or another.
Today, and for the past three years, she has been living in Recife, Brazil with her boyfriend Cristiano and their one year old son Samuel (a welcome surprise). I asked her to answer a few questions to try and understand how moving and having a child changed the way she eats and cooks, and what are the perks and challenges of Brazil's food culture.
Hi, Latifa and Cristiano, can you quickly introduce yourself ?
I'm Latifa, a french girl studying in Brazil for my PHD and this is Cristiano, my Brazilian boyfriend. We live together with our twelve months old baby in Recife, Brazil.
How did your interest for food grow ? What space does it occupy in your life ?
Latifa - I have always been really greedy with a weakness for sweet things. For me food is happiness, comfort and conviviality. It's also an interesting tool to discover a culture when you travel : it's a concrete and simple way of understanding people's habits .
Cristiano - I always liked to grow things, and spending time in nature is a key thing for me. I always liked to collect fruits and vegetables to eat them and when I looked at processed things I always wondered what was behind them. Some members of my family died because of their food habits (due to diabetes). So, it is always really important for me to at least ask myself "What am I eating ? Where does it come from ?". Eating in a sustainable way has also always been a concern and increasingly so.
Do you follow any specific dietary rules or do you just go with the flow ?
Latifa - I was going with the flow, especially when the flow was made of chocolate, but I've always been curious about alternative diets (vegan or vegetarian), first because of the ethical principles but above all because they explore ingredients or flavors that I'm not used to. Since living with Cristiano, my diet has changed a lot, and one of my dietary rules is to use less processed products and to instead transform them myself : I make my own coconut milk from the coconuts my fearless boyfriend collects with his bare hands. I eat less salt because my fearless boyfriend is also a dictator and we don't use white sugar, we use rapadura or honey instead (and I admit it does taste better). We also don't really cook meat at home, we are not vegetarians but that's a way to consume it in a more reasonable way.
What is your way of « eating better » ? How do you think food could improve the world and our lives ? What is, to you, the most sustainable way of eating and cooking ?
Latifa - Our way of « eating better » is to eat homemade things and to have a diverse diet. That is easier in Brazil considering that here there are a lot of fruits and vegetables available year round.
How do you source your produce since living in Brazil, has it changed ? What are things that you buy vs things that you make ?
Latifa - At first, it was really complicated for me because in the small supermarkets there everything seemed strange. The products I was used to buying did not exist in the way I knew them. I mean the packaging and the global organization of the products are really different here, so that was a bit confusing. Also they have another way of eating, for example they eat savory things in the morning like corn couscous with eggs. So I wanted to first taste the local food and understand Brazilian habits. Now I try to mix up my french diet with the Brazilian one, using some local products and my occidental recipes.
How has having a kid and being pregnant impacted the way you eat ?
Latifa - When I was pregnant, I had to « eat better » to not ruin my 24 years old body (and of course to have a healthy baby). Moreover Cristiano being the dictator I previously introduced, I was only allowed « integral » grains (whole grains), a lot of vegetables and above all, I had to really think that everything I was eating was somehow affecting my baby. The pressure was high when I was secretly devouring chocolate. That was the first time I had to understand the consequences of my bad eating habits ! Now that we have a kid, we are confronted to this ambitious challenge : to make our child an educated consumer with a healthy diet. And I guess now we have to become the people that we want our child to be.
In which areas do you think you could still improve and how ?
Latifa - I have to stop eating junk food even if it is very comforting to me. I guess I just have to find some healthy recipes that are as delicious as junk food or I will be forever frustrated and resentful !
Cristiano - I really want to produce my own food so my goal is to plant enough to be more self-sufficient at least for fruits and vegetables.
Any ingredients you love/miss ?
The thing I really like in Brazil is the variety of starches : mandioca, cara, plantain, sweet potato... If I moved out of Brazil, I would leave my clothes behind and take rapadura and tapioca (a mandioca starch) with me instead. Then there are many things I miss : cheese, bread, pasta, smoked salmon and chocolate. They don't know anything about baking here...
Latifa's recipe for banana bread/muffins Brazilian style will soon come up, she swapped all dairy products for coconut ones and uses rapadura, an unrefined cane sugar with a hint of caramel flavor. Stay tuned !