Workin’ Hard For The Honey

Last weekend I watched this amazing footage of Tete, an African tribesman, risking life and limb to gather wild honey for his wife and children. (Please watch the video before reading on – you won’t regret it.)

I was struck by the extraordinary lengths humans will go to in order to savor sweet tastes when these are not easily available.

In the wild, sugar – in the form of painfully and dangerously obtained honey – is indeed a precious commodity, for in addition to its delicious sweetness, raw honey has antibacterial, antiviral and even antitumor properties. That’s why our distant ancestors treasured it not as a sweet treat, but as convalescent food and sacred medicine.

By contrast, most of us in the industrialized west have no trouble finding sugar — in fact, it finds us, and to avoid consuming it actually requires more effort than to eat it. For sugar is not only in sweet foods but also in salty ones (e.g. ketchup, crackers, coleslaw, salad dressings, etc.), “neutral” ones (bread) and things that don’t even qualify as food (medication).

In addition, many of us eat vast amounts of refined starches (e.g. baked goods made with white flour, pasta, rice, starchy snack foods) and potatoes that our bodies rapidly convert into glucose — yes, more sugar!

People who want to lower their cancer risk should minimize their intake of sugar and refined starch. For once these enter your system, they can feed the growth of cancer cells, fuel inflammation and promote obesity (an important cancer risk factor). Furthermore, when we eat sugar and refined starch, our bodies secrete two hormones, insulin and insulin-like growth factor, which further promote the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Also, unlike raw honey, sugar and refined starch are devoid of nutritional value; all they offer is fast-releasing energy in the form of empty calories that crowd out more nutritious foods. When we consume sugary foods or drinks these make us feel (very temporarily) sated, meaning that we’re less likely to eat nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish, meat or nuts that provide fewer calories and oodles of vital vitamins, minerals, enzymes and bioactive plant chemicals.

If you’ve ever seen a child glug down a glass of apple juice and then announce they’re “too full” to eat their healthy lunch, you know what I’m talking about.

At our house, sugar is eaten sparingly, usually in the form of low-glycemic acacia honey (which I use to sweeten the cake and dessert recipes in Zest for Life). However, like all children, ours too love sweet treats and ask for them regularly.

After watching Tete hunt for honey, I remarked jokingly to my family that perhaps we should introduce a new rule: it’s OK to eat sugar as long as we perform an athletic feat beforehand.

No sooner had I dreamed up this rule than a chance to test it presented itself: my eight-year-old daughter started begging for a sweet treat. Inspired by my new “rule,” I suggested she and I ride our bicycles to a neighboring village some three miles away to buy hand-made chocolates at a small chocolate shop. Usually quite reluctant to engage in strenuous physical activity, she rushed off to fetch her bicycle helmet.

Getting there was easy: the sun was shining, the road was sloping mostly downhill and we chatted amiably as we pedaled through the countryside, my daughter busy fantasizing about which types of chocolate we would buy and how soon thereafter she could sample them.

We got to the shop, opted for a 5¼oz/150g box (the smallest they had) and my daughter made her selection: Hazelnut- and almond-praliné cubes, chopped-hazelnut-encrusted logs, delicate pistachio-and marzipan squares and strips of orange peel covered with dark chocolate – a fine choice, I had to admit. We decided to sample one chocolate each (after all, we *had* just cycled three miles!) and save the rest until we got home, in accordance with the “Tete Rule.”

As we left the shop and walked towards our bicycles, I felt a raindrop land on the tip of my nose; by the time we had donned our helmets, it was raining in earnest. A sharp wind began to blow and the air suddenly felt 10 degrees colder than when we had entered the shop.

The trip back was a struggle, to say the least. Faced with an icy headwind whipping gusts of rain into our faces and a road now winding uphill beneath a dark grey winter sky, my daughter began to sob. I egged her on as best I could with promises of hot baths, dry clothes, warm drinks and, of course, the coveted chocolates. Every pedal-push was a superhuman effort; occasionally we dismounted to push our bikes, only prolonging the agony.

After the longest 25 minutes I had ever spent on a bicycle, we got home. I ran a warm bath for my daughter and brewed us a pot of spicy chai. When we were back in dry clothes, we ceremoniously opened the box and, after careful consideration, each of us selected a chocolate. As we began savoring its delicious flavors and textures, we could well imagine how euphoric Tete and his family must have felt after he delivered the honey he had struggled so hard to obtain.

My daughter and I agreed: chocolate never tasted so good!