Dr. Eden Tareke is an Eritrean diaspora who has studied nutrition and is working in bio-chemistry, nutrition toxicology, while she is also a scientist and environmental chemist. She made her way from Sweden to Eritrea to contribute to her country. Dr. Eden is an inspiring Eritrean woman working to achieve her dream of making a difference through research. Here is an interview conducted with her.
Thank you Dr. Eden for agreeing to this interview. First we will start with what nutrition and nutritional consultation mean?
We usually confuse nutrition with food. However, nutrition and food are two different things. Before we proceed, there are terms that fall under the umbrella of nutrition like diet- referring to the sum of food consumed by a person or organism, dietetics- referring to designing food for a specific target and includes consultation regarding diet, e.g.: if someone is fat, consulting him/her on how to be slim or if someone is diabetic, consulting them on what type of food to feed on. There is also a term "meal" which refers to the intake of edible thing at a time. When we say food, we are simply referring to something that is edible. For instance junk food are considered food as long as it is edible. The same goes for fibers despite the fact that they cannot be digested. Nutrition however is another whole different thing which is closer to health. Here, we talk in a molecular level. Therefore, we can say that nutrition is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substance in food in relation to maintenance, growth, and reproduction. Accordingly, nutritional consultation is a consultation regarding nutrition. There is also this confusion, when you say nutritionist, people ask how you prepare this or that food which is quite different from what nutrition really means.
Well, would you mind to interpret the last sentence?
Nutritionist is someone whose job is to give advice on how food affects your health not someone who only cooks it. In my case, I am a nutritionist, but I haven't been to the kitchen that much. To make it clear to you, I know what food is in a laboratory and what it can do to our body by the time it enters through our mouth. For instance, if you ask me about proteins, the first thing that pops into my head is the chemical bond of proteins and the same goes for carbohydrates and other nutrients. That is how it works as a nutritionist. However, there is this important point; the summary of nutrition can be food. Recipes most probably can fall under the summary.
What was your main goal when you made your way to Eritrea?
When I first made my way from Sweden to Eritrea, I had a dream of making my researches in my hometown. Internationally, I'm recognized as a nutrition toxicologist. I have been working on my research on food chemical, especially researches on acrylamide, which is a highly regulated chemical in the world as is a neurotoxic. It is found when making a food; when frying potatoes for instance. I discovered that heated food can create the chemical and can be consumed without knowledge, and this shocked the world. The discovery was considered one of my biggest discoveries. I want to make a research on that in Eritrea too. We have got the potential and can contribute something whether it's big or small here in my country, so why don't I do that? That thought brought me back to my country.
Would you mind mentioning some of the things you did here?
Achievement would be a big word to use as we are just starting, but I try to do my best along with my partners as someone who has been here for a few years. There was a closed health science laboratory at the University of Asmara and I was given the permission to use that space. So I organized that place to make it a base for my research and we formed a group of researchers there. On the way, we have already prepared journals for publishing. As consultants, we do our surveys at a community level. You ask the community what they have got as a food. Without affecting their economy, you simply design food from the contents they have got. We made our primary research by traveling to Anseba and Central regions, but of course that is not our final destination. We tried to show the people what content a specific food has.
So how was the response of the community to your nutritional advices?
There is a beautiful culture of acceptance in our society. Honestly, without the people, we really can't do anything. We simply lay the food on the table and show them how to distinguish the food content by telling them what the contents are. At first, the women were not attending, but then through time, they started disseminating the information regarding nutrition and many of them became part of our focus group. Another thing is, we ask them what they eat and fill them in with the information they lack. For example: we tell them that they need vitamin A, but they don't really know they have it around them, until we inform them there is always pumpkin in the area. When you inform them that they can find vitamin A from pumpkin then you find a lot of people who don't like it. The solution for that is to show them how to cook it differently. It worked out so well even though the content of the pumpkin is still the same. As a consultant, I have got the knowledge but that by itself is not enough to achieve what we are striving for. We need the peoples' assistance to provide us with the information we need. So we provide them with the information they need and ask them if they did what was required of them. If they did it, mission accomplished; if not we ask them the problems and help them sorting it out. Simply, it's more like a cycle between us and the community. It is also an efficient way of counseling because the advice we give them comes right from their mouth.
Can you please give us some closing remarks?
You can feel and see the potential of the people in our country. So, making good use of this potential is necessary. I wish the laboratory to be centralized and institutionalized to be a center of research for those smart people out there. Another thing is that we need to pave the way for the research facility to grow and be more productive. Making Eritrea a hub of research is what we are working for and definitely we won't stop until we achieve it. Lastly, all we need to do is to forward one foot and the other one will follow on its own.
Thank you again, we wish you all the best of luck!!!