Right to Adequate Food

Photo credit: kudumomo

Vietnamese Pho Bo

Many are familiar with the drastic decline in the health of indigenous people worldwide when their communities are introduced to “fast food”.  Food is readily available, but it’s “calorie rich, nutrition poor”.  Now it seems our cities are becoming “food deserts”, or more correctly, “nutritional deserts”.

Limited access to wholefoods and good sources of nutrition is becoming endemic in large sections of the world’s cities with many areas supplied mainly by convenience stores and small grocery outlets which charge high prices.  The average low income shopper simply can’t afford the basics of a healthy home-prepared meal, such as fruit, vegetables and quality proteins. It’s usually cheaper to buy from fast food outlets, with the resultant nutritional inadequacies in fibre, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, etc.

In this way our cities are fast becoming centres of both malnutrition and “over-nutrition”, warns the United Nations.  Over-nutrition describes a diet high in sugar, fat and salt.  It’s high in calories which are nevertheless “empty”, not only providing little goodness but actually creating nutritional deficits and setting such populations on a fast track to obesity and its related comorbidities, like diabetes and heart disease.

Yet some cultures have always done “fast food” well.  Take street food in Vietnam, for example.  The much loved and very affordable beef noodle soup (pictured) or Pho Bo is packed with fresh herbs and lean beef, in a nutritious spice-infused broth made from beef bones with no other fats added.  (Beef, contrary to what we’re led to believe, generally contains less than 2% saturated fat!).  Pho is not just available on every street corner, but at several outlets in between, where customers often squat on baby chairs to enjoy a quick meal, often three times a day. Very low overheads.  The Vietnamese are one of the leanest populations, currently ranking number 69 in the world obesity ratings, with a prevalence in the adult population of only 0.5%.

The right to adequate food is one of the topics for discussion at the 2012 UN World Urban Forum in Naples. Managing rapid urbanization is one of the most pressing problems confronting humanity in the 21st century.  Previous meetings have focused on inclusivity and sustainability.  As we embark on the era of the longevity boom it’s timely to see nutrition on the agenda.  Vital, in fact, to reduce the projected blowout in health budgets worldwide.

Have a look at the topics discussed in Naples here.

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