Blogging for good and good health – with guest expert Heidi Thornton APD, AN

Last week I was fortunate to speak to a group of colleagues in Brisbane about social media for dietitians.  And one of the main messages I hoped I got across was about blogging and social media for good. That is, I challenged the room of mainly novices, to think outside the stereotypical celebrity status updates and into the circles of those in need.  I wanted to show the power of social media to drive change in public health and in people’s lives. I wanted to encourage these already empathetic health professionals, to see social media as another way to be useful and helpful.  I kicked off, of course, with the wonderful story of Baked Relief, went on to discuss For Japan with Love and showed many more examples of dietitians, educating and driving change…just by being social.  Just like this week’s wonderful guest blogger, who looks at Cultured Cuisine in a special place in Thailand.

About our expert:

Heidi Thornton is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist who works in a range of settings, including Private Practice, Clinical and Aged Care, as well as Recipe Development and Food Writing.  Having grown up on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, surrounded by beautiful local produce, Heidi developed an appreciation for good quality, natural food early on. She also credits her mother, a fabulous intuitive cook, for igniting her passion for food and cooking. Documenting it all on her blog, Apples Under My Bed, Heidi adores having fun in the kitchen as she tries new recipes, challenges herself to work with unfamiliar ingredients, chases down street food across Asia, spends weekends cooking at her parent’s house and makes pancakes on Sunday morning.

Thailand, my Second Home

Thailand is a special place for me. My fiance and I have twice volunteered at Baan Dada, a Children’s orphanage in rural Western Thailand. My work here involved teaching English, helping with community outreach programs such as eye care and generally helping  to run the home.  When I first visited, I was expecting to do a little nutrition work, yet I ended up learning more about myself than the knowledge I was able to impart. The children (who range in ages from three to eighteen) are  the most gorgeous children you will ever meet – kind, smart, loving and very cheeky. I miss them every day.

Their daily diet

These children ate well – rice for three meals a day, loads of fresh vegetables and tofu. Not traditional Thai food, but you see this home was not traditional in any sense.

The fact that Baan Dada is located near the border with Burma, means that they’re surrounded by a whole variety of different cultures -Karen and Mon, Burmese and Thai. In terms of food, this mix of cultures allowed for immense variety. A favourite dish of mine at the home was a Burmese salad, which one of the older boys would assemble. It involved fresh tomato and toasted peanuts, but I cannot recall the other ingredients (I foolishly did not record them). Another Thai fave I do make is Pad Krapow Moo, which consists of pork mince stir fried with garlic and chilli and basil (with a little fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice), served over steamed rice and (if you’re lucky) with a fried egg on top. Simple perfection. And the fresh fruit on offer is enough to make you want to pack your bags and move to Thailand permanently. Dragon fruit wins the prize for the prettiest around town.

Baan Dada is part of the Neo-Humanist Foundation, and the children are educated in a different way as described by the Foundation:

We believe that the difficult situation into which many of these children have been born, many having suffered severe trauma, means that they require a slightly alternative approach in their upbringing. A philosophy which is holistic, gentle and which encourages the children to develop compassion towards themselves and towards all others above all else, we believe that Neo-Humanism is one such appropriate approach.

Neo-humanists do not believe in harming any living creature, hence they’re lactovegetarians, which means they eat dairy products but not meat or eggs. The kids are encouraged to eat this way, and while in the home they must follow the rules, and so too must the volunteers. When making cakes for celebrations, we cook without eggs and use apple-sauce as a binder. Yet when outside of the home the kids are free to eat meat if they wish (i.e. at school or in the local marketplace).

Eating this way was very interesting for me, but not difficult. It was all so fresh and nutritious, I was in heaven. Although I eat a very healthy diet already, practically eliminating all processed foods from my diet, and living on rice, vegetables, fruit, tofu and yoghurt did wonders for my energy levels (and my skin).  Moreover, they have their own vegetable garden, so it was a very natural process of farm to table.  I did miss my eggs though, and would often enjoy a pad krapow moo when I got the chance to head into Sanglkaburi, the nearest town.

Food mantras for you to try

The fresh approach to food harvesting, shopping and preparation I observed was really exciting. Back home in Australia I like to shop at Markets and always aim to buy local produce. Yet I have never really experienced that level of  fresh food across the whole continuum of produce, all locally produced and all super, super fresh. It really strengthened my desire to buy locally and always source out the freshest fruit  and vegetables possible. Not only does shopping this way stimulate the local economy, it provides you with beautiful food that tastes just spectacular. When food is picked and eaten at it’s peak, you can’t get much better than that.

Another food message that was undoubtedly evident to me related to portion sizes. Here in Australia (and many other Western cultures), our food portion sizes are simply far too large. We eat beyond our needs, hence our ever-growing battle with overweight and obesity.  In Thailand for a sweet treat they may have a small (and I mean small) bowl as a little pick me up, such as red bean sweet stews. It’s not jumbo-sized and it contains real food. Here in the West we need to retrain ourselves into knowing what portions of food are appropriate and filling our bodies with good, nutritious food.

Viewing meals as a chance to give your body true nourishment, as well as pleasure, and eating with family is something that many have lost in Western culture. My experience in Thailand inspired me to continue eating locally and fresh, and really get back to thinking about nourishing my body and soul with good food. I hope you feel inspired to do the same!

Editor’s comment:

Thanks Heidi.  I love reading your blog, especially your recent adventures in NYC, and your approach to food and nutrition.  Your insights into Baan Dada are a reminder to us all to be open to new ideas, cultures and foods and be grateful for what we have, TODAY. Darren Rowse aka Problogger is involved with a Blog for Good project that is looking at sending a lucky blogger to help with aid work and awareness raising in Tanzania.  And I hope some of my readers who blog apply later this year.  We’d love to hear your Cultured Cuisine stories too lovely readers? Drop us a comment below? Or perhaps you have a question or feedback for Heidi?

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