My name is Ratha Ali. I am the new intern at Aubin Pictures, and one of my first assignments here was to watch What’s on Your Plate?, a film produced by the amazing Catherine Gund. After watching it, I was inspired to tell my story. I was born and raised in a lower to middle class family in Brooklyn, New York. I am 18 years old and up until I turned 12, my eating habits were always the same: it’s always been either greasy middle eastern cuisine or take-out if my mom didn’t feel like cooking that night.
My mom was born and raised in Yemen. Eating healthy wasn’t really the concern there. What people were really focused on was eating in general. Frankly, there weren’t that many options either. She basically ate the same foods everyday. So for her, being able to eat a lot of food and have an abundance in choices was “healthy.”In addition to not being exposed to healthy options, she wouldn’t have been able to afford them even if she did get the proper exposure. When my mother moved to America, it was hard adapting to a completely different lifestyle and in addition to that she had 6 mouths to feed. As a single mother raising 6 kids it was extremely hard to eat right with a low paying job. At that point, it wasn’t about being healthy, it was about staying alive. By the time I came into the picture, my mom had a steady job so it sort of became a family tradition to take a trip to McDonalds whenever she got a raise. Although she got a better job, it still didn’t make up for the fact that we were oblivious to all the harmful, unhealthy foods we were eating. I had absolutely no problem with all the oily pizza, french fries, and artificial chicken nuggets I was eating until I was diagnosed overweight by Dr. Bravo, my pediatrician. I was 130 pounds at 11 years old, thinking my oversized arms and large belly were the only things I needed to worry about, and to be honest,I really didn’t care.
A year later, I returned to Dr. Bravo for my annual physical. She ran tests and drew blood (like every doctor does when giving a physical) and called back a week later informing my mom that I had Fatty Liver Disease. FLD is basically the accumulation of fat in the liver. It is pretty common and for most people causes no signs, symptoms, or complications. But in some people, the fat that builds up can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver, eventually leading to liver failure. FLD is not serious and can be easily treated with weight loss or in some cases medication. Hearing the words ‘your daughter’ and ‘disease’ in the same sentence was horrifying for my mom. I, on the other hand, still didn’t care because Dr. Bravo had said it wasn’t serious. My mother was not having it, so “we” (she) decided to take action and started changing what we ate. I started riding my bike around the neighborhood for 45 minutes a day and completely cut junk food out of my diet. After a while I had even forgotten how cheez doodles tasted. It didn’t really hit me until I realized that after eating healthy for almost 4 months, I was way more energetic, confident, and happy. Everything about me was changing for the better. I was loving it. I completely changed my way of life and lost a whopping 25 pounds in 5 months. Go little me!
My mother and I finally understood what it meant to eat healthy. It was now about keeping my mind, body, and spirit intact and became far less about losing weight and conforming to the idea of being like the rest of my friends. Growing up I was always jealous of my friends because they were thinner than me. My mom actually contributed to that jealousy significantly. She used to put me down and make me feel like I wasn’t good enough by constantly comparing me to my thinner friends. But what she and I both failed to realize then was that if I hadn’t gone through that experience, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. The strong, smart, confident, and most importantly healthy young woman I’ve grown to become. That journey wasn’t only a wake up call for me but for my mom as well. Her perspective completely changed. She had finally learned to appreciate me with all my imperfections. So watching What’s on Your Plate and seeing Sadie and Safiyah really brought me back to my overweight pre-teen self. I was watching the movie through my 11-year-old eyes wishing I was exposed to it earlier. What I mostly love about the film is that it doesn’t at all teach children that eating healthy is about losing weight. It teaches them to treat their bodies right by eating the right foods. As Buddha once said, “ To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear”.