Their ideas about what is considered healthy are different from ours, and based on what is locally available. Bananas accompany at least half of our meals, but surprisingly, they eat no green vegetables. And I don’t mean few—I mean none.
The people I speak with believe in the health benefits of a traditional diet. There is one aspect of city life they find particularly intolerable: you can only get “bad meat, full of hormones and chemicals,” and the foods don’t “make you strong” like those grown on local soil. When our neighbor Paula soothes my unrelenting stomach ache with a tea of dried orange peel, I learn about their extensive knowledge of plant-based medicine.
Inevitably, the Nukini developed a taste for processed foods. Once a month, Joana satisfies her cravings at the city supermarket, bringing home chocolate, pasta sauce, instant oatmeal—even cheese. Perhaps Joana uses these products more than most Nukini, but she’s certainly not the only one to enjoy these industrial delights: a typical family goes through twenty pounds of sugar and ten pounds of salt in a single month.
One day, Joana makes my childhood favorite: brigadeiro, a paste of caramelized condensed milk and chocolate. After days of plain foods, I’m as excited as I was when I ate this as a child, and I scrape the plate clean. It’s not hard to understand the appeal these foods hold for the Nukini, but their sweet tooth has started to result in the emergence of type II diabetes and heart disease. Just like us, they eat the foods that might kill them in full awareness of its effects.