Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay2022 with an important theme: Make Mental Health and Wellbeing for All a Global Priority.

Mental health is something we take very seriously at TFF. As a global community of impact-focused and purpose-driven entrepreneurs, we spend our days trying to change the world – innovating against the norm, uprooting established systems, and combatting inertia with action. This can take its toll, which is why we focus on making sure we take care of ourselves and look out for our community.

Of course: Food is key!

Here are some important learnings about #food in the mental health realms, as quoted from our global community leaders who are currently running a “Mental Health x Nutrition x Food” campaign from different regions: Catalina Zamora Fonck (LATAM), Tsholofelo Wechoemang (Southern Africa), and Sara Badran (MENA)

🍽️ What is mental health and how does it relate to food?

The WHO (World Health Organization) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which each individual develops his or her potential, can cope with the stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute something to his or her community”. For this definition to be fulfilled, it is necessary to ensure certain conditions are met, including regular access to food and nutrition.

Not having enough food (for yourself or your family) causes physical stress and mental anguish. In this state, the body exists in “survival mode” and is not able to unleash its full potential as a creator, innovator and nurturer. Being well nourished is equally important – this means that when we eat, our body is able to distribute its resources efficiently. We can respond to daily demands and act coherently to external challenges. Good nutrition also prevents and can attenuate depression, disorientation, and the onset of chronic, debilitating diseases like Alzheimers.

The bottom line is: when we can feed and nourish ourselves, we can achieve the WHO-defined goals of mental health by developing our own potential, coping with the stresses of life, working productively and fruitfully, and contributing to our community. We can can find peace. We can be creative. We can unleash our full potential as human beings.

💭 Why should change-makers and purpose-driven entrepreneurs be thinking about this topic?

We play key role in creating the future food system innovations that can provide the food needed to keep our minds and bodies healthy, while ensuring sustainable management of resources and ecosystems. But, as much as we are the ones taking creative, innovative, and purpose-driven actions to solve key challenges, we are also facing a lot of pressure, burnouts, and difficulties that are hard to cope with, especially in our under-resourced environments.

To be blunt – as entrepreneurs we are motivated to work hard, all the time. We usually don’t have an off-switch. It is easy therefore to push aside our own needs – e.g. to skip eating, or to eat things that are fast and convenient. While this may seem like the best thing to do in the moment as we are trying to “crush our goals,” we have to remember that taking time and making effort to nourish ourselves is in the best interest of the bigger impact we are trying to achieve.

We are constantly bombarded with information about the perils of the world: droughts, floods that result in loss of crops and livestock, supply chain disruptions, populations suffering, illness, etc. We know these problems well, we live them every day, and that’s why we do what we do. But, we must be the ones to maintain mental clarity so that we can build and develop the brave solutions we need from another perspective.

As change-makers, we need to stop, slow down, and think about our own wellbeing and the relationship between mental health and food so that we are able to continue addressing the global, macro food system challenges we want to solve.

🚀 You have launched the Mental Health x Food x Nutrition initiative together. What activities have you organized so far?

In Latin America, we are pulling together testimonies and analyses of the essential links between Mental Health and Nutrition from nutritionists, consumers, agronomists and other actors in the food chain. We have interviewed a leading health professional to comment on this connection between food and mental health, allowing us to understand from another perspective what we, as a community, are interested in protecting.

In the MENA region, we held a talk about the link between mental health and nutrition with Dr. Carla Habib Mourad, a prominent nutritionist and professor. Another talk is now being prepared to listen from a psychologist point of view and better understand this link. We also aim to raise awareness about this topic and better understand the connection between both concepts.

In Southern Africa, we meet every Sunday to discuss the complexities around mental health issues in our community. By having conversations with expert panelists we have been able to help people navigate issues that they have around eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and also nutritional health connected to prenatal and postnatal care. Recently, Dr Fatima Abdoola joined to help us see that the solution to our well-being lies in our ability to do the best with what we have around us, allowing indigenous food growers and food systems innovators an opportunity to help fight mental health issues in their community.

💡 What are some of the things you have learned?

It has been incredible to discover how indigenous food cultures and ancient wisdom have already conceived food as an act beyond appeasing hunger, but rather as a process of protecting physical and emotional health. A special attention during one of our sessions was given to “brain foods,” highlighting the key nutrients that can improve mental functioning.

We also learned about the importance of listening to your body and keeping a positive self image. From a young age, we are always told that eating will help us be at our physical best. However, what we are not told is how our nutrition and food culture can impact our mental health. Food is what connects people to their cultural groups and identities. That is why we, as influencers, need to keep reinforcing this message that mental health efforts must factor in food and nutrition.

🏃‍♀️ What’s to come?

Coming soon is a series of episodes – the idea is to work across regions of our TFF community, integrating the vision of local innovators, indigenous cosmo-visionaries, and health professionals. Our intention is to consider all topics – food, nutrition, and mental health – as parts of an interconnected system and not as isolated concepts.

We are working on episodes discussing indigenous food, food cultures and roundtable discussions with entrepreneurs  – and more! We hope that you will join us, not only to learn but also to share and contribute.

🌟 What advice do you have for people reading this?

Our daily food choices are connected all the way back to the field and farms from where they were grown or raised. Every stakeholder in our food system; the farmers, scientists, chefs, and innovators, are working hard to make sure food is produced, harvested, manufactured and shipped safely and sustainably to us.  Paying attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat, is one of the first steps for you to understand the link between your mental health and eating habits and think about how you can positively contribute to your food system.

Also, remember: you are not alone. We believe in you and we know you have something to tell us and an action to take for our health. If you are an innovator: this is your space to tell us how, from your idea, we can shake up our food systems and protect the population. Or, if who is just a person who is affected by the speed at which your life is going,  you would like to contribute with an idea or story to make it better, this is your place. We invite you to join us and be part of this campaign with TFF!