Patricia Thompson, Guest Columnist
THE COST OF food will continue to rise, but this challenge has solutions, even when plagued with food shortages at the same time. Proper nutrition will provide the solution while improving the broader picture of food security and health at the same time.
Politicians and planners have bought into the idea of promoting food security, but the emphasis on merely making more food available through agriculture is misplaced.
Without nutrition considerations, there will be little benefit from producing or importing more food.
More chronic diseases
The main purpose of food is to provide nourishment for the body. Food availability data for Jamaica show that since the 1970s, we, as a nation, have surpassed our need for calories, animal protein and animal fat, thus leading to obesity even among our children. Where is this excess coming from? We have been eating more cooking fats and animal foods notably fatty meats such as pig's tail and chicken back. This has contributed to an increase in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancers and diabetes. The increased cost of medical care to treat these conditions is a strain on the national and household budgets.
Access better local food
Very often, it is not that we need more food but more quality in our diets. The current shortage of chicken back could be an opportunity to eat better. What can people substitute to eat healthier? If you took the same $60 that you would have spent for a pound of chicken back and bought pure chicken breast instead, you would get enough protein for your body but with less fat. The table below compares the waste, protein and fat content of different animal sources, relative to cost/nutrition value.
The back of the chicken has the most fat (21 per cent) while the breast, which is more protein and less fat (3.3 per cent), is often considered to be expensive. Although the per pound price is lower for the chicken back, when expressed as edible amount for nutrition per dollar, the imported oxtail is the only meat that will not meet your protein requirement.
The fact is most persons eat too much animal foods, relative to their protein needs. The lesser amount of chicken breast and lean beef for the same dollar value, would provide better nourishment than the others. We could cut our grocery bills significantly if we bought only that amount of animal protein foods essential to meet our nutritional needs.
How we use foodsAre you then worried about feeling hungry? Substitute more of your protein intake from a wider variety of dried peas and beans such as gungo, chick, lentil, and split peas. We should grow more to eat more of these and other local plant foods.
Availability data show that the foods least accessible to the public are the local provisions, dried peas and beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. These are the foods that we need to produce more of and subsidise our farmers, at least, initially to lower the cost while increasing sales.
Our school children have been found to favour more imported fruits as they say these are cheaper than local ones. Fresh fruits should be subsidised in school cafeterias and the population made to appreciate the cost-nutrition benefits, since our fruits are generally richer in vitamins A, C, potassium and dietary fibre than most imported ones. Students should be encouraged to eat fresh local fruits and to drink water instead of enormous amounts of juice, which add excess calories and contribute to obesity.
Part of the problem is that the populace has developed a desire for foreign tastes. Fried chicken is the daily norm for lunch, with high-fat accompaniments, leading to overfed but undernourished school children. Children should be exposed to a variety of local foods prepared in different ways to obviate the need for excess fat, salt and sugar.
Policies for food security
Our local food production should be protected based on nutritional value rather than trying to compete on the export market based on foreign standards. Non-tariff barriers should be implemented based on nutritional content. This means our local producers would also have to meet these nutritional standards so resulting in a healthier population.
Food security is not just about food and producing more. Food security stands on the four pillars of availability, accessibility, utilisation and stabilisation, which can be achieved only if we promote good nutrition based on local eating in preference to foreign foods. Better nutrition means better quality of life and less medical bills. Better-nourished people are healthier and more productive for study, work and physical activity.
Patricia Thompson is a registered