Sunday, September 21, 2014

Globalised Food Monoculture and the Colonial Legacy in the Pacific islands

Micronesian and Polynesian people settled early on the islands in the Pacific Ocean. Both in Nauru (Pleasant Island) and the Cook Islands they practised aquaculture and grew coconuts and pandanus fruit. A self-sufficient way of life in the Pacific flourished and inspired Western dreaming and art in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Successions of colonists made an uninhabitable quarry out of Nauru, ruined arable land and 'educated' the indigenous population to like imported foods. In this denuded land islanders became dependent on the boats arriving for sustenance. Colonial rule and Christian missionaries made Western style food appear palatable. Out of independence came dependence and a long time health legacy.

"Anthropologists Dr Amy McLennan and Professor Stanley Ulijaszek found that islanders lost many of their traditional food cultivation, preparation and preserving skills after settlers insisted that they learn western ways of eating." (source)

"Dr Amy McLennan said: 'Under colonial rule, much changed in how food was sourced, grown and prepared and the social change was swift. What happened to the land also changed as colonial agriculture and mining industries expanded. There was an increase in family size meaning food was increasingly imported. The good news is that if obesity is tackled across the whole community not just amongst people labelled as 'obese' -- dietary habits could change quickly again. Lessons learned from the experiences of these smaller nations could also help us to think in new ways about social change and obesity in larger societies.'" (source)

The colonial legacy and social changes lead to an unhealthy diet and hence to obesity. "Islanders on Nauru and the Cook Islands in the Pacific have the highest levels of obesity in the world." Imported and nutrient-poor food products are associated 'civilisation' diseases. Metabolic diseases such as diabetes are only one out of the array that globalised monoculture brings about. The production of unhealthy and dependent customers is not confined to Pacific Islands.

Obesity in Pacific islands ‘a colonial legacy’ of settlers trying to civilise the locals, University of Oxford. Amy K McLennan, Stanley J Ulijaszek. Obesity emergence in the Pacific islands: why understanding colonial history and social change is important. Public Health Nutrition, 2014

Paul Gauguin,
Under the Pandanus, I Raro te Oviri, 1891
The Mysterious Water, Pape Moe,1893
Tahitian Woman with a Mango, 1892 (detail)

David Tilman, Michael Clark. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13959 
Could Western diets derail climate action?  The Western diet is a four-degree diet. 29012015 Agenda

Western guts have lower bacterial diversity 17.04.2015 abc 

The People Of Nauru Want To Get Healthy — So Why Can't They Succeed? 22.09.2015 npr

No comments: