My Polynesian Heritage
Before I share my keto journey I thought it would be important to share my cultural background and experiences. They have shaped my values, opinions and experiences when it comes to food and nutrition. My cultural heritage has instilled important values such as love, family unity, respect, and hard work. My mum is Tongan and my dad is Samoan. Both were born in their respective islands and moved to Auckland, New Zealand with their families. My dad eventually charmed mum to marry him and they had four kids of which I am the oldest. From my experience Polynesian culture is based around two things: family and food, and there was always plenty of both.
Growing Up In New Zealand
I have very fond childhood memories of growing up in Auckland. My dad’s mum was an awesome cook and she made some mean as feasts in their home at Grey Lynn. My siblings and I spent a lot of weekends at Grey Lynn with my Nanna. On Sunday my Nanna would put on a big feed. Early Sunday morning, before we got ready for church, she would be in the kitchen starting to prepare her dishes. Nanna cooked all your Polynesian favourites like:
- Chop suey
- Taro and green bananas with coconut cream
- Raw fish
- Lots of meats (lamb chops, sausages, fried chicken, silver side, corned beef and pork roasts)
- Chow mein
- Curry and rice
- Salad and boiled vegetables
- Pineapple and meringue pies
- Ice cream
- Punch (usually red cordial mixed with tins of juice, soft drink and water)
The list is probably longer but I’m going to list the foods that I remember and ate the most.
With so much food to cook it was all hands on deck, aunties, uncles and grand kids all helped out. With my younger cousins we had to help mix by hand cake mixtures or cream for the pies. Then we helped peel piles of potatoes, taro and green bananas. I would also try to help my uncle and the older boys open sacks of fresh muscles and kinas on the back veranda. As young kids it felt like we were constantly washing and drying lots of dishes.
It was seriously an all-day event, once all the food was cooked it was time to eat. There was always plenty of family or guests invited to enjoy the feast. Once everyone finished eating the grand kids would be responsible to clear tables, wash dishes and clean up the rubbish.
The rest of the afternoon grand kids played games around the house and parents talked and laughed all night long. Those who ate too much pulled up on the couches in the front lounge room for an afternoon snore fest.
So many awesome memories at my grandparent’s home in Grey Lynn. My Nanna was not only an awesome cook but she was the perfect example of love, hard work and selfless service. I miss and love her heaps and I will cherish her example and memories forever.
To some this may sound familiar because that’s what happened in your family. To others this is totally foreign territory for you and that’s a heck of a lot of food. With the Polynesian culture, family and food played a massive part in my upbringing, as they were always intertwined.
Moving To Australia
In 1987, I was eleven years old and my family decided to move to Australia, away from all of our family in New Zealand. We settled in hot and humid Brisbane, Queensland. With no extended family here in Australia we still managed to make friends with other Polynesian families from church and maintained those cultural ties to food and now family friends.
When we first moved to Australia it was hard to find Polynesian staples like taro and green bananas. My diet became very westernised which consisted of a lot of meat with potatoes or boiled vegetables. Serving sizes were always big and I would have at least two or more plates. It was also encouraged to avoid wasting food because we were always told that “there were starving children in Africa”.
My dad was raised on fresh bakery bread and when we could our family would too. I would love cutting a thick piece of still hot uncut white bread, layer it with heaps of butter until it melted, and top it with jam. My dad also made the best crepe like pancakes, a recipe his mum (Nanna) taught him. It was my dad’s specialty and we would have these a lot for breakfast with jam and cream. My family always drank cordial, mainly Golden Circle Fruit Cup or Orange cordial mixed in a big three litre Tupperware jug.
My Physical Health Growing Up
As a young boy I had a blood related illness which I eventually overcame when I was fourteen years old. It meant for a long time I was very skinny and limited to what physical activity I could do. As I got older through my teenage years I maintained this stick like physique. I’m pretty sure growing up people thought my parents adopted an Asian kid because of my facial features, skinnier than average figure, and my best friends were Asian. Physically I felt like I was the odd one out in my family. But it also meant I could eat whatever I wanted and not put on any weight which was great for a while. However, this all changed once I hit my twenties. I started to put on weight and maintained what I thought was an ‘average’ weight level.
I also started playing basketball since I can remember and I still try to now. Thankfully growing up I had family and friends who loved basketball too. So there wasn’t a day we didn’t play basketball whether at school or at someone’s home. My dad built a hoop in our backyard and my brothers and I played so much we killed a quarter of the grass in our back yard. Even through my first year at UQ, I think I played more basketball with my friends than study. I also rode my bike everywhere and played volleyball and tennis. For this part of my life I lived a pretty active lifestyle.
Getting Older and Unhealthy
Moving forward into my thirties and I’m happily married with five kids and working full-time as an accountant. A pretty sedentary job sitting at a desk for seven and half hours a day, five days a week. With long hours of inactivity, it was starting to affect me physically. My metabolism was slowing down and the ‘eat anything I want’ motto was no longer applicable. I was gaining weight but really didn’t notice it. I thought it was ‘normal’ but my body was starting to show signs of struggle.
Unfortunately I had also inherited the bloodline ‘gift’ of gout and had my first attack in my early twenties. It started out with minor attacks here and there but as I got older the attacks became more frequent, aggressive and crippling. The main areas I would suffer attacks were in my toes, feet, ankles, knees and more recently in my right hand little finger.
The worse injury I suffered has to be the slipped lower back disc which left me bed bound for weeks. I was unable to stand or sit as the slipped disc caused sciatic pain up through the back of my legs up to my lower back. It was so bad, that I could not drive or go to work. I truly believe this was related to my growing weight issues.
Another moment that highlighted that my health was waning, was a number of years back I was walking up a steep but small hill that was no longer than ten metres. As I walked up I noticeably started running out of breath. I remember thinking how the heck am I struggling to walk up this small hill? Wow am I that physically out of shape? How will this affect my family if my health kept declining? Will my family’s history of diabetes and heart issues become a problem for me? For someone who was always into sports, this short walk up a hill was a wake up call that I needed to do something.
Time For Change
Last year we lost our dad who had been struggling with ill health for many years. Battling with illnesses his poor body was unable to keep up with his loving, selfless and enthusiastic spirit. My dad gave his ‘everything’, both spiritually and physically to his wife and family despite his illnesses. Seeing him struggling was hard to watch and at times upsetting because he always gave his all to help people. Losing him is still very hard, I miss talking with him, I really miss his big hugs. I love you dad for everything you have done for me. I will always be grateful to my mum and dad for their love and support.
However, my own physical health was in decline and I needed to make a change in my life. I needed to focus on my physical health and well being, before my body would suffer from more frequent gout attacks and the added consequences of being overweight.
Click here to read about my first attempt to lose weight.