October 18, 2013

What are we really eating?

Fri Oct 18, 2013

Wednesday was World Food Day and this year, the theme was “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition”.

This theme is timely, and very relevant to us here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, as it places focus on not just ensuring that an adequate supply of food is available at all times for our people, but also on putting systems in place to ensure that we eat food of a nutritious quality.{{more}}

St Vincent and the Grenadines has come a long way where the reduction of hunger is concerned. Earlier this year, we were awarded for achieving both the World Food Summit (WFS) target, which is to halve the number of hungry citizens, and the 2001 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) hunger target, which is to halve the proportion of hungry citizens in the total population. The Government has stated that its goal is now to eradicate hunger completely.

While it is clear that more of our people are eating sufficient quantities of food, the evidence before us suggests that more attention needs to be paid, both on the governmental and the individual levels, to the quality of what we are eating.

Earlier this week, Searchlight did an informal, unscientific survey on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/Searchlight1) to try to ascertain what in our Facebook fans’ opinions, were the foods that are most popularly consumed in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The responses were interesting, but not surprising. According to the over 60 respondents, our favourite thing to eat is fried chicken and chips, followed closely by roast breadfruit with stewed chicken backs. Pelau, saltfish, Ramen noodles and roast pork were also popular choices. Only two persons mentioned fish broth and three, callaloo.

The popularity of fried, stewed and preserved foods among our people, especially the younger generation, is worrying. Fresh local foods, eaten raw, or prepared using healthier methods like steaming and baking, seem not to be favoured.

We however did not need Searchlight’s informal survey to provide evidence that we need now, to review our dietary choices. When we look around, we see a larger number of obese persons in our community than was the case 20 years ago. The Food and Agricultural Organization, in their State of Food and Agriculture Report for 2013, put the prevalence of obesity among adults here at 25.1 per cent.

So while our people are not as hungry as before and are putting on weight, they are not necessarily better fed. With improved standards of living, we are eating more refined, processed foods, high in sodium and sugar and low in fibre. This, coupled with an increase in sedentary lifestyles, does not bode well. Obesity carries a higher incidence of chronic illness including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer, and often masks underlying deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.

So, while we are grappling with eradicating hunger, we simultaneously have to spread the message about food quality. The underweight and overweight share high levels of sickness and disability, shortened life spans and reduced productivity.

The best way to ensure food security and food quality, and at the same time reduce our import bill, is for us to eat more of what we grow/fish and grow more of what we eat. In many cases, the food we import from industrialized countries is at the lower end of the quality scale – that which the exporter does not, or cannot sell on the home market. What are we really eating and what is it doing to us?