Egyptian women promote ancient recipes to combat diabetes and overweight

“We believe that returning to the origins of Egyptian cuisine, exceptionally rich and healthy, is the key for the next generations to grow up in a healthy way,” Laura Tabet, the founder of the NGO Nawaya and owner of Happy Farm, explained to EFE.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
02 April 2024 Tuesday 17:25
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Egyptian women promote ancient recipes to combat diabetes and overweight

“We believe that returning to the origins of Egyptian cuisine, exceptionally rich and healthy, is the key for the next generations to grow up in a healthy way,” Laura Tabet, the founder of the NGO Nawaya and owner of Happy Farm, explained to EFE. Located halfway between the pyramids of Sakara and Giza, on the fertile edge of the Nile Canal, the Happy Farm welcomes women from rural Egypt, who work to disseminate the ancient cuisine of a country with serious nutritional and overweight problems.

The organization, led by Tabet, employs a dozen women and trains many others on their farm, where they grow their own organic vegetables and raise their own livestock, as well as organizing private meals and traditional Egyptian cooking workshops.

Rising prices have deprived a large part of the population, especially in megacities like Cairo, of access to fresh products. More and more residents are opting for fast food, which is cheaper but nutritionally deficient. This has caused, in recent years, overweight problems to skyrocket in Egypt. Almost 50% of women and 25.9% of men suffer from obesity, and diabetes affects 23.4% of women and 18.8% of men.

“Egyptian gastronomy has practically completely disappeared in the last two generations,” says Laura Tablet. Their goal, in addition to providing a healthy alternative to fast food, is also to preserve and spread Egypt's rich culinary heritage.

“When we launched Nawaya, the first step was to reach out to rural women,” she explained, and “we realized that they had virtually no knowledge about healthy eating.” Popular screenings of videos with traditional cooking recipes were organized, followed by discussions where “women also shared their knowledge,” and thus located “local leaders willing to actively collaborate with the idea.”

In collaboration with chefs and nutritionists, the women prepare a seasonal menu with food from their own farm. Among the essential ones are Bekhero cheese and the traditional Kishk Saedi, a dough made with fermented milk and wheat, a highly nutritious and endangered food.

10 years ago, says Tabet, it was very difficult to convince a rural woman to leave her home. But today, due to the economic crisis, they need income to support their families. For their work on the farm all the cooks receive a salary.

The NGO Nawaya now seeks to promote other initiatives linked to gastronomic and ecological tourism, practically unknown in a country that, in 2023, was visited by 15 million foreigners. Part of the problem, according to Tabet, is “the lack of cooperatives” that allow small farmers “to compete on prices with large food producers,” which “are accustomed to using large amounts of pesticides.”

Of Egyptian and British descent, Laura Tabet, after completing her studies in nutrition and environment in Canada, decided to move from one of the capital's neighborhoods to Sakara. This town is known for its archaeological tourism, although its benefits rarely reach the local community. However, initiatives like Happy Farm show that it is possible to make a change towards healthier eating.