Bela Gil may be the youngest daughter of Brazilian singer and politician Gilberto Gil, but she’s not riding on her father’s musical coat tails.
Instead, she has turned her fascination with the “weird” things her dad ate when she was little, such as tofu and seaweed, into her own television show on cooking, “Bela Cozinha.” In it, Gil shows how to make a vegetarian version of Brazil’s national dish of feijoada (a stew of beans, usually with pork and beef), gnocchi pasta made from yuca, or a pesto sauce from cacao — all showcasing natural ingredients from her country. “I feel that Brazilians have stopped eating real, homemade food, with salad and vegetables, and instead eat more industrialized food because they are unfairly cheaper,” the 29-year-old nutritionist and cook told AFP in her colorful Rio office.
With around a million Facebook followers, the youngest of seven children from Gilberto Gil has made a name for herself. She has two restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, three best-selling recipe books, and various branded products, from a line of organic food to a clothing line. But it’s her tropical, healthy cuisine that is best known. In it, she swaps out butter for coconut oil, eggs for linseed, dairy milk for almond milk, and sausages for roast fish. Memes have popped up making fun of her “hippy” tendencies. But in the Gil household, such jabs have never been a problem. When it comes to eating, her father was always a diner apart. From his exile to London in the 1970s, the singer started a macrobiotic diet, back when it was considered eccentric.
A niche in Brazil
Gilberto Gil, says Bela, never forced his kids to follow suit. But he chided them when they drank too little water, or too much juice, or ate too much sweet foods. Bela started to adopt some of her father’s ways at age 15, when yoga started to influence her lifestyle. At 18, she left to live in New York, where she studied nutrition. She specialized in holistic eating in search of physical, emotional and spiritual balance. Because of her father’s practices, “I didn’t feel so strange and his example encouraged me to continue in this direction,” she said.
While healthy eating is a current evident in Western countries, it’s not so prominent in Brazil, where poverty is once again on the rise even as genetically modified crops and deforestation grow. “Brazil is a country that’s really rich, and really poor,” Bela said. “Not everybody has the opportunity to choose. My fight is for those who can to give priority to organic products.”
She has joined an NGO that promotes food for society, and also hosts a radio program on childhood nutrition. But her tilt towards sustainability doesn’t end with food. She also uses her own YouTube channel to inspire other Brazilians to make their own toothpaste with tumeric, or homemade baby food, or alternatives to store-bought sanitary napkins for women. “We’re being manipulated a lot by industries pushing us to think that we can only buy toothpaste in the pharmacy, that we should only drink bottled milk, or take certain medicines.” “To learn that there are alternatives to all that is something unimaginable for a lot of people,” she said.
Like her father
With her individual style and penchant to teach it, it’s no surprise that Gilberto Gil said that she’s the daughter who’s most like him, and not only in appearance. He and other members of the Gil family pop up in many of her videos, in which almost nothing is kept secret — the one most watched was when she had a natural child birth of her second son in her home’s pool. Naturally, she ate the placenta, for its vitamins. Bela says she regrets nothing, and has no right to say what is right or wrong — only what makes her happy. “And I feel happy to have so many followers. The more people in this boat with me, the better,” she smiled.
Photo : belagil.com