Friday, October 16 was World Food Day. Below is my translation of parts of a post which appeared in the Coatepec Blog today:
"This Friday 16th of October we celebate the World Day of Food, a day which has as its objective to make humanity aware of the straits in which many childre and failies still live because of poverty and lack of food.
"It is for this that DIF Municipal de Coatepec, which Viridiana Virues de Ramirez Cabañas presides over, through the Section of Food Assisstance and the Executive office of CEDAS (family and child aid office) developed a series of activities to commemorate this important day.
[The students in primary schools from various communities] saw an interactive movie entitled "Fer Wants to Know...What You Have to Eat" which taught children the basic characteristics of food...and most of all the importance of eating well ind order to grow up, to enjoy good health and to always have enough energy for all their activities; and to avoid the resuts of not eating right and not eating food from all the food groups....
"At the end of the program in the halls and patios of the Palacio Municipal there was a demonstration and tasting of foods prepared by the schools."
Here is picture:
You'll notice that the food is home-made, not packaged: lots of tortillas and beans and ensalada stuff. Milk. Oops...and candies for treats....lower right. Well, for a treat, that's fine.
Mexico is very aware that it has a food and nutrition problem which is something of a tragedy. Indigenous foods provided a truly healthy, balanced diet. Except in times of drought, in the very olden days people did not want for nutritious food: beans and tortillas, for instance, make for a complete protein. And there were squash, tomatoes, chiles, leafy vegetabes, fish, turkeys, dogs in hungry times, and a myriad of fruits. Colonial agriculture and then large scale agriculture after independence diminished people's capacity to grow enough for themselves.
Today, especially among children, the problem is marked, ironically, by obesity brought on by the consumption of junk food, comida chatarra. Mexico is "the second most overweight and obese country in the world. It is second in the consumption of sodas and it epresents the biggest growth of obesity on a global scale. Only in the last seve years, overweight and obesity among children 5 to 11 has increased 40 percent."
The artice sited here in the news section of the Tecnológico de Monterrey web page, reports that Alejandro Calvillo, director of EPC (a private non-profit in Mexico called Power of the Consumer) says that,
"[T]he agro-industrial model of food production has destroyed the traditional balanced diets giving rise to the consumption of processed foods, rich in refined wheats, saturated fats and artificial flavors and colors. He urged that in the face of this situation junk food be prohibited in schools and that deceptive advertising of junk food destined for children by eliminated....He pointed out that ...it is not unusual to find type 2 diabetes, so-called adut diabetes, in children, and that in secondary schools there is a significant portion of students wth hypertension....
"He also said that these products cause malnutrition, especially in poor areas where they are consumed in place of nutritious foods [often because they are cheaper]. In many rural and indigenous popuations where one finds the most malnourished people, especially children, it is not uncommon to see a baby drinking cola in a baby bottle.
"Obesity is a global pandemic: 22 million children under five years of age are obese in the world. There exists solid evidence which shows that the millions spent in advertising influences the choice of food for children. Foods which are high in sugar, fat and salt are not healthy and ought not to be promoted among children."
The article goes on to describe exactly what ingredients go into junk and processed foods and why they are so damaging. It strongy condemns the influence of advertising:
"The giant transnational corporations which are the producers of junk food spend millions of dollars in deceptive campaigns which try to persuade consumers to buy these products, which have little or no nutritive value and which in recent years have greatly contributed to the problem of national obesity.
"Mexico occupies first place in the number of TV ads for junk food , with 39 advertisements an hour on Canal Cinco [one of the most-watched channels] of which 17 have to do with food not good for child health.
"The ads try to convince chidren that by consuming this junk they can achieve great things, and they will be able to enter into their world of fantasy having as an admission ticket the promoted product. Another method these companies use is the promotion of sales which stimulate irrational consumption of these products with the offer of promotional goods which are better than other kids have....To succeed, these giant businesses bombard consumers using all available concepts of communication and displaying them in all possible places."
Other facts mentioned in the article:
"Children are most vulnerable to this advertising and most of the spot adds are directed to them.
"The foods most advertised on television are instant soups, pizza, all types of fried snacks, sodas, desserts, processed meats, sweetened milk products, drinks and cereals, etc.
"Mexico has the most messages of this sort directed at children; second is Australia and third is the United States. Norway is in last place: it does not permit commercials directed at chidren because, according to their specialists, it takes advantageof their innocence and is a violation of their human rights."
If you read Spanish, take a look at this article not just for information on Mexico but for a global perspective on these junk-food-producing agroindustries. It will make your blood boil.
And this might, too. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University , was invited to give something called the George McGovern World Food Day Lecture to the FAO (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization) in Rome. The lecture is sponsored by the United States Embassy. She was in for a bit of a surprise: The US Ambassador to the United Nations in Rome stepped forward after her talk to make a point of saying that the opinions Nestle expressed in her talk were hers alone and not those of the US goverment.
And what did she talk about to provoke this?
"The main point of my talk was that hunger, obesity, and food safety are social rather than personal problems and require social rather than personal solutions. If such problems are individual, they can be solved with technical interventions such as functional foods, commercial weaning foods, irradiation, and genetically modified foods. But if we view them as social problems, we need to find solutions that involve sustainability, social justice, and democracy.
For example, we know how to end hunger:
• Clean water and safe food
• Empowerment of women
• Community food security
• Sustainable agriculture
• Political stability
These are social interventions. Technical solutions do not enter into them except in emergencies.
I praised the Obamas for leadership in promoting sustainable food production, and ended my talk with [the image copied from the Atlantic below]. I left it up while I was answering questions but the ambassador asked to have it turned off."
Ms. Nestle said that at first she dismissed this reaction by the ambassador as standard, but then she went on to talk about how agroindustry seems to be exercising its clout against sustainable food efforts:
"According to an account in the Los Angeles Times, another university--this time Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo--has reneged on a Michael Pollan invitation under pressure from agricultural interests.