Holidays for me have always been about family and food. A time to relax, catch-up with loved ones and eat good food. When it’s our turn to cook, my husband and I take time to plan the menu. A central part of our meals are vegetables and fresh fruits but we have also learnt over the years that a good meal needs fresh ingredients, all procured as close to the preparation of the meal as possible.
Sri Lanka has not disappointed in its array of fruits and vegetables. I am still discovering the names of many; some of which I will never be able to pronounce for sure. Despite that, I love eating them!
Amongst my favourites are papaya, mangoes and kankun, the last for which I share a passion with my two pet turtles. But getting these vegetables and fruits from the same supplier on a constant basis is a challenge. Even common produce like onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers can be discoloured or squishy – not at all appetizing or conducive for a salad or other such type of fresh dish.
The price, of course, is the same whatever the quality. Fresh produce can be expensive, and regularly buying a variety of fruits and vegetables does strain the budgets of many families in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, this shouldn’t be the case in a country with such rich soils and plentiful sunshine.
The question of access to fresh and healthy food goes beyond our holiday tables. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 5 premature deaths in Sri Lanka are due to a non-communicable disease (NCD) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer. Tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity have all been identified as risk factors.
Talking to a Sri Lankan friend about his 80-year old mother, who has been living alone ever since his father passed away 4 years back, brought back memories of my own mother who passed away at the age of 76 in 2008. As my Sri Lankan friend was worried about his mother’s living arrangements (he is happy to have her move in with him, but she prefers to stay alone in the house that has been her home for 46 years), I began to muse about my own father who lives alone at 85 years. He is in reasonable health for his age, and is largely independent, except that he needs oxygen support every night while sleeping as his lungs have lost significant capacity due to fibrosis, and his eyesight has deteriorated considerably. I was feeling guilty for not taking care of him in his old age. Again, it is his decision not to move in with any of his children, as he wants to stay in the apartment which he is familiar with and to be ‘independent’. We have appointed a care-taker who stays with him all day, while my sister and brother-in-law who live just a kilometer away give him company in the nights. Still the guilt feeling is no less.