Campaign calls for laws to enable consumers’ return to real, unprocessed foods with nutritious ingredients we can recognise
Patterns of food consumption have changed rapidly in recent decades. The impact of the modern diet, and specifically high-energy foods, on human health has led to serious ailments. Our modern diet is characterised by high intakes of pre-packaged foods, refined grains, processed meat, high-sugar drinks, sweets, fried food and high-fat dairy products.
We haven’t always eaten this way. Our grandparents were more in tune with nature, ate fewer processed foods, and cooked vegetables and fruits that grew in their backyard. The kitchen was the heart of the house. They didn’t have to make conscious efforts to eat healthy foods – it was a way of life for them which contributed to their good health and longevity.
To shine a light on how improving our health and wellness starts with nutritious diets, advocacy group Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), hosted an interactive cooking session with celebrity chef, Zola Nene, on 26 October at Food Jams in Cape Town, as part of its recently launched, national #whatsinourfood campaign which urges South Africans to take a stand against unhealthy food.
Nzama Mbalati, Programme Manager at HEALA, says: “We need to return to real, well-grown, unprocessed food – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seafood, and pasture raised animal products.”
Chef Nene agrees. She stresses the importance of cooking with fresh, colourful, seasonal vegetables; grass-fed protein; grains and ripe fruits and berries.
According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. Obesity increases the risk of several debilitating, and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancers and more, all of which have seen a profound increase over the years.
“Eating real, whole food is often a question of accessibility,” says Mbalati. “What choice do you have when you can’t afford healthy food? In addition, the food and beverage companies unfairly and disproportionately target unhealthy products at low-income communities. Our communities should not be shamed for the choices they are forced to make. Instead, the important driver of long-term change will be for us all to demand policy changes from government that will make healthier food and beverages more affordable.”
Mbalati stresses that consumers are being influenced by an industry that is only seeking profits. “Food companies are a major driver for the rising burden of nutrition-related chronic diseases. Parents and children are the targets of aggressive advertising campaigns which mislead people into believing that products such as fruit juices, yoghurt and breakfast cereals are healthy, when they often contain harmful ingredients. We need to change our perceptions of these products and fight for our right to access healthy food, more easily.”
The #whatsinourfood campaign calls on government to demand that food and beverage companies put clear front-of-package (FoPL) labels on food items high in fat, sugar and salt so that we can make better choices about what we consume.
Promising policy proposals like the World Heart Federation’s Front-Of-Package Policy Brief presents a concise summary that helps readers understand and make informed decisions about food choices. It gives an objective summary of the research, suggests possible policy options and argues for courses of action that governments should take when considering FoPL systems as part of a larger package of policies to create healthy, empowering food environments in their country.
Locally, Treasury introduced the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) on sugary drinks in 2018. Colloquially known as the “sugar tax”, it is charged on non-alcoholic sugary beverages, except fruit juices, and works out to about 10%-11% per litre of the sugary drink.
“We are advocating for policy changes that will empower consumers and afford them agency in how they choose food and beverage products,” says Mbalati. “We need to return to our grandparents’ ways of eating if we want to live longer, healthier and happier lives. That is why we are inviting the public to join the #whatsinourfood campaign,” says Mbalati.
Visit: www.whatsinourfood.org.za to get more information.