You Are What You Eat
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Travels to Ilha Grande, recounting consumerism in Brazil and a plea to live more sustainably through a mindful diet.
The night had come for me to leave Sao Paulo, a moment that was important for me at the time as I felt stuck in the giant city after suffering numerous setbacks, including a low back strain and a misplaced wallet. As a starting point for my travels through the Americas and a reference point for what I would think of Brazil as a country, I was keen to see how the rest of Brazil was different than the city that is one third the size of my country. I spent a night with the girls at their apartment and we were set to leave at 3am, a road-trip I’ve undertaken numerous times should it be compared to driving from Cape Town to the Garden Route in South Africa. Our plan for the the trip was two weeks of camping on Praia Aventureiro, a secluded beach located on the Southwest part of the island. This meant that we had to bring all of our supplies with us as there were no restaurants, grocery stores, cafes or bars that serve decent food. Beach shacks selling tapioca and acai were prevalent, but I’m still under the impression that eating too much acai will turn my skin purple. Nonetheless, the car was packed with tents, cooler boxes, food supplies, alcohol and tons of snacks - as can be expected.
We set out in a Fiat Toro, a pickup-truck that’s not available in South Africa and one that I think would sell pretty well should they be introduced in the market. My first impression of the countryside was a vision similar to the green rolling hills of Zululand, Kwazulu Natal Province in South Africa. The vegetation consists of tall green grass with thick blades and tall tropical trees dotted around the landscape. As I stared out the window, pondering the type of biome present and why a tropical country boasting the Amazon and vast Atlantic rainforests would have so much open space, I came to the realization which was so obvious in my observations of consumerism in Sao Paulo that I felt naive for not realizing this earlier - animal agriculture. More specifically, cattle grazing fields. If you squint and look closer at the silhouettes of the hills, you can make out thousands of tiny white dots, cattle grazing heads down in the lush green grass, raised only for the purpose of feeding the red meat craving, overpopulated planet. Chicken coups, pig sties and cattle grazing fields as far as the eye could see.
If you have not picked up on this notion yet, I would like to state now that the rest of the journal entry will be both a recount of my travel experience to Ilha Grande as well as an essay focussing on the effects that mass scale consumerism has on nature along with a plea for practicing a more sustainable lifestyle through diet. The journal entry focusses on Brazil, but the issue is global.
We arrived in the port town of Angra Dos Reis and set sail on a 2 hour boat ride to the island, swerving side to side over the swell, as if floating over the oceans resting pulse. The boat docked a freestanding wooden pier as we were greeted by pink hues in the sky over the turquoise ocean, fusing into a faded cotton candy colour as the sun set toward the mainland. I couldn’t have set up my tent any faster and, while everybody was settling in to our new home - tucked behind boulders and a few palm trees on the beach - I got into the my speedo I’ve been saving for just the occasion. I floated on my back with the warm water lapping at my ears and my toes, quite the opposite of a sensory deprivation float - more in the line of sensory enhancing.
I spent two weeks on the island, specifically on Aventureiro Beach and found that I could for the first time take a step back and wind down successfully since quitting the rat race back in Cape Town, a race I fell into without noticing. There was no signal and no wifi. My daily itinerary included the following:
- Wake up to see the sunrise.
- Grab my yoga mat for some stretches and fasted bodyweight exercises.
- Cook breakfast (four hard boiled eggs, chopped tomato, basil leaves from the basil tree left on the kitchen counter by our host, a mango and a few squeezes of lime, also found conveniently in a lime tree next to the kitchen area).
- Apply sunblock, grab swimming goggles and swim up and down the bay.
- Take a shower (one of an average of 15-20 a day) outside under the palm tree.
- Grab book (Chasing The Devil: On Foot Through Africa’s killing fields by Tim Butcher) and find hammock.
- Pass out in hammock.
- Wake up with and take a lengthy dip in the ocean.
- Find a group of friends in the shade and start playing cards or Rummikub.
- Take a dip.
- Make late lunch (Lentils and brown rice with sweet potato, onion and basil).
- Take a dip.
- Find hammock again for nap number two.
- Wake up from giant ant bite, apply insect repellent.
- Apply sunscreen, take a dip.
- Take a shower (by this time the sun is setting and the smell of boiling beans and roasting vegetables could be smelled in the campsite kitchen as friends group up around plastic tables set on sand to prepare the evening's dinner).
- Play cards and have a whisky on the rocks.
- Find hammock.
- Pass out in hammock.
- Wake up around midnight from stiff back in hammock and settle into less appealing but posturally-better yoga mat mattress inside small tent.
This routine was repeated daily, with some variants in foods, books and activities. The principles stayed the same though: everything I chose to do was only for the benefit of my mind, body and soul. Physical exertion was only an option if it was from swimming laps or hot and humid treks through the jungle. The heat was inescapable, only endured by constant dips and resting under patches of shade cast by low hanging branches of trees growing on the edge of the beach. The crowd was mostly Brazilian as the were no hostels or hotels, and as travelers don’t generally travel with tents, locals dominated the demographic of the beach. I found this different than most other island settings I’ve experienced as interaction with people was limited due to stark language barriers and a few “what the fuck are you doing here, gringo?” looks I got from some people. Having said that, I camped with lovely people and felt included after spending some time with them, isolated on a small beach in paradise.
I talked to a friend from California I met a week earlier about how clean the beach and the water is - how the absence of plastic is the most impressive I’ve seen from anywhere else I’ve lived or travelled. The next morning I woke up early to repeat my island routine but this time I packed my backpack for a day hike to the far corner or the neighboring beach, a destination you can see far-off in the distance from Aventureiro. Upon crossing the grand natural rock-face that divided the surf, my words from the previous night were immediately regretted as my heart flipped around in my chest. The long beach was scattered with miles of plastic and waste and I realized Aventureiro was kept clean by locals, creating a false illusion from the ever-present plastic problem our oceans face. Empty gasoline cans, toothbrushes, straws, soft drink bottles, shopping bags - you name it. If it was made from plastic, it was washed up on that beach. I remember vultures feeding on a dead sea-turtle carcass and I was struggling to get a good photo as I was trying to keep plastic out of the frame - it was impossible. I tied some sailors rope and a plastic hair comb to my bamboo walking stick and set my course down the beach as I felt overwhelmed with anguish.
The impact we have on nature is no longer ignorable. Vast swathes of rainforest leveled for agriculture, plastics washing ashore, choking up coastlines and estuaries. At supermarkets in Brazil they individually pack my groceries in plastic bags, sometimes adding one item per bag. I have since started using a tote to go shopping. Micro-plastics are entering our food sources and working their way up the food chain as humans ingest tiny plastic particles unknowingly. The rate at which earth is being devastated is much faster than what it could cleanse itself and catastrophic results are being experienced already, with climate change and pollution contributing to much of the extinction of global fauna and flora…
But we know all of this - it’s 2019!
Pro-sustainability campaigns and anti plastic-use ads are overlooked as they have become so common in the media that people have already started ignoring the efforts from Governments, NGO’s and concerned individuals. I’ve always been a firm believer of diet being a fundamental building block of a happy mind, body and soul and should be used as a compass to direct society into a more sustainable and conscious relationship with their own personal health and wellbeing.
Recently, Russell Brand said the following on his podcast, Under The Skin, when in conversation about the topic.
“…They say, don’t they, you are what you eat.
Well look at what we eat, great vast fields of wheat.
Not cross-pollinating correctly, because that’s the easiest thing to farm
and not because it’s the best thing to eat.
Endless factory farms, chickens and hens.
Row after row after row, abattoirs filled with cattle and pigs,
our brothers and sisters on this earth, row after row.
then look at ourselves in our cities and towns, compartmentalized.
Turning our backs to one-another - truly we are what we eat.
Perhaps if we start to eat differently, start to eat better, we will become better.
Start to break down these systems, break down these ideas.”
The above elegant, poetic statement is fundamental to the change that we as a society need to experience in order to grow together sustainably and not deteriorate as a unit. Referring to Plato's The Cave, It is the role of the enlightened thinkers fortunate enough to have seen the light outside of the cave to educate their brethren still stuck inside and live by means of example to showcase how the principles of healthy mind, healthy body, healthy soul and healthy planet are not taboo and out of reach, but easier to achieve than expected. My view is never extremist - don’t throw your chicken and red meat out of the window and become vegetarian or vegan overnight, but rather test and experiment with your diet to see what level of wellbeing can be achieved. Eat meat selectively, substitute animal protein with beans and lentils. See if this makes your tummy feel better, gives you more energy, have better sex or smile more during the day. Your microbiome is directly connected to your brain and when one is happy, the other will follow. When you eat, think of the one less cow that has to be bred, the one less chicken that has to be slaughtered and the one more tree that can be left standing. Choose buying foods at markets without packaging, buy locally sourced fish and grow your own herbs and vegetables in your backyard.
On my trip to Ilha Grande, we packed zero meat as we did not have sufficient refrigeration for the duration of our stay and our diet consisted mostly of vegetables, grains, beans and locally caught fish. I crafted the following example when pondering the topic on the island - if Ilha Grande was in the middle of nowhere and the locals had meat as a staple, the majority of the island would have been deforested and made into grazing fields and coups. This mentality should be applied to the planet as a whole. Don’t think that animal agriculture is something happening and destroying some far-off place, chances are it's happening in your own back yard.
All photos were taken by me and are left unedited.
Shot on a Nikon FE2
Photographs by Carl van der Linde
Story by Carl van der Linde