Nigeria Joins Food Revolution Campaign

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As the food revolution train hits Nigeria, its proponents are urging citizens to come together and demand for government’s commitment to food security, safety, malnutrition and obesity in children, Peace Obi reports

Over the years, the major challenge to world leaders has been how to eradicate chronic poverty among other threats it poses to human existence including underdevelopment, hunger and death. And while some significant achievements have been recorded in this fight, cases of obesity have equally risen, so high that it has become a global concern.
According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment between 2014 -2016. And children have been observed to be the most visible victims of undernutrition around the world as it is said to be responsible for 3.1 million under five child deaths annually.

But as the world increases food production to meet up with the ever-increasing demand for food, concerned food experts have continued to draw the world’s attention to the increasing compromise by businesses in food processing, packaging, falsehood in labelling, unhealthy eating habits, leading to what has been described as ‘hidden hunger’.
According to the former Deputy Executive Director of United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF), Kul C. Gautam, ‘The hidden hunger’ due to micronutrient deficiency does not produce hunger as we know it. You might not feel it in the belly, but it strikes at the core of your health and vitality.

Now, with the estimated figure of 41 million children under five years being overweight and 159 million undernourished, it presents to the world a double-faced problem of hunger and obesity. And rising to this global challenge is a British Chef and Campaigner, Jamie Oliver who has over the years through different programmes targeted at drawing governments’ attention to its role in ensuring healthy food production, among others also educate people on food consumption and encourages them to adopt healthy eating habit.

Oliver who had attempted to reform the US school lunch programmes, help American society fight obesity and change their eating habits in order for them to live healthier and longer lives, has through one of his initiatives, ‘Food Revolution Day’ launched a global campaign intended to provoke debate and inspire positive, meaningful change in the way children access, consume and understand food. Famed as the longest-ever Facebook live stream campaign, is intended to encourage more people to sign up to join the food revolution, and put pressure on governments to develop and implement plans that will tackle the child nutrition crisis.

The 2016 Food Revolution Day saw 10 countries of the world partner with Oliver in his drive for healthy society through right food consumption. And among the chefs and personalities that joined in the 2016 Food Revolution Day campaign is a Nigerian chef and food cruiser, Chef Tolu Eros along with musician Waje Iruobe and singer/actress, Lami Phillips; Australia by Chef Donna Hay; Canada by Chef Lynn Crawford, Tanzania by Cookery personality, Marion Elias and Ali Kiba, among others.

Speaking during the fifth but first edition of Food Revolution Day campaign in Nigeria which held in Lagos recently at the Dowen College, Lekki, the Nigerian partner of Chef Jamie Oliver, Chef Tolu Eros said that the campaign was all about people coming together to start a global conversation about “the way we buy, the way we grow, the way we eat and mostly what we understand about our food.”

Noting the major concern of the campaign to be on the increasing number of malnourished children as well as the problem of obesity among children under the age of five in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world, Eros said that malnutrition and obesity in children do not necessarily mean lack of access to food but caused by poor dieting. “We need to ask what is causing stunted growth or obesity. In Nigeria, you find out that stunted growth is really high due mostly to poverty but that does not mean that people who are poor or people living in the rural areas in particular do not have access to good food.”

Highlighting some of the causes of malnutrition and especially the hidden hunger that eventually culminates into obesity and some other health challenges, Eros said “The problem is that they (parents) are not educated on how to consume those foods and what to grow and how to grow things that are necessary for healthy living. And the way we cook our soup, we kill a verse majority of the nutrients the child needs to grow and live a good life,” the executive chef explained.

Eros who hinted that the country has the capacity to be food sufficient, said that if cultivation and growing of food are done in the right proportion and subsequently enabled by the availability of right infrastructure, preservation mechanism, investment in sustainable agriculture, among others that Nigeria would not only achieve food security but also experience improved nutrition in children and adults. “They grow much cassava, how about the vegetables, the cultivation of proteins, rearing of animals. There are a lot protein and fibre that can be grown but we are focusing on the wrong kind of foods, we cook and eat them wrongly,” Eros stressed.

Speaking further on the need for government to help instill some discipline in the manufacturing of food in the country by making businesses to actually tell consumers the truth about what they buy and what they eat, Eros said, “We need to start asking questions about what really is the content of the food we buy, you know we buy a lot of processed food. The business people are actually lying to us about the content of the ingredient in the food we buy. Sometimes you think the sugar content is low but on the contrary, it is almost double than what is indicated.

“That is why we are starting a global conversation. This is a conversation where we are asking our government and our people to tell us the truth about the food we buy and the food we eat. So this revolution is all about pushing the government to make the business people to tell us the truth about what we are consuming, educate us about how to consume it, what to consume and when to consume it,” he said.

Determined to help shape the health and wellbeing of people around the globe by providing access to right information, and to educate them about food by campaigning on the issue, lobbying governments and industry to do the right thing to create a healthier and happier world, this year’s Food Revolution Day saw chefs across the10 participating countries demonstrate how to identify, cook and eat healthy meals before school children. Here in Nigeria, Chef Eros assisted by Waje Iruobe and Lami Phillips along with the students of Dowen College who also anxiously watched the chef prepare two different dishes using mainly locally sourced food ingredients.

Explaining his choice of food and ingredients used, the chef said, “Today, we made two different things. So for the first one which was the main dish was the ofada rice. I made it a little healthier, so I put spinach and on the side, I made a Nigerian Marinara.

“I chose Ofada rice, it is a rice that is grown here in Nigeria, it is our own natural grown brown rice. And it is pack-full with so much nutrients from magnesium down to sodium. The sodium in itself gives you the illusion of being fuller than you really are and that will help curb obesity and at the same time it gives you the energy your body needs to run through the day,” Eros explained.

“For the Omelette challenge, I made a plantain, fish and avocado omelette. I used a common ice fish called Tete in Yoruba that is the Mackrel fish that is sold for about N300 for one. I cut it into seven portions and I used one portion along with one plantain and four eggs to feed three people a full meal. That is under N500 for a meal that is supper nourishing. Let us not talk about the avocado that has gone into it alongside with the tomatoes and the pepper, and others. All these are ingredients that can be sourced locally and are easily accessible.

“In omelette challenge, we are trying to start a conversation about a humble omelette. Everyone makes an omelette, everyone has their own version of omelette. So, what the omelette challenge is about was to see the different types of omelette the different regions, different countries make and what goes into their omelette and how original they are and just to give people an idea of other things they can make for breakfast,” executive chef explained.

For Chef Tolu Eros, the global goal for food revolution across the world is to achieve zero hunger which is hinged on four main targets – end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition and achieve sustainable agriculture. “Sustainable agriculture is about growing better that is organic growing, which is what we are practicing here in Nigeria. Now what we want is that government and our business people should invest in sustainable agriculture. We are talking about processing, we are talking about storage. For example, why we have tomatoes crisis is because a lot of our tomatoes have gone bad. Why do they go bad because we don’t have storage facility. So, the whole idea is to grow better, buy better and to eat better, and generally have a better understanding of what food is,” Eros noted.

For the musician, Waje Iruobe, joining the league of food revolutionists around the world is something that sits well with her passion to affect lives. And that being a fan of Chef Jamie Oliver, sharing in his passion for cooking and belief that cooking healthy and eating good food has a way of changing the society, is an interesting partnership to build a better society particularly as it would lead to improved nutrition for children.
Speaking on her role and experience, Waje, said, “What we did today was to show people our hero ingredients and different ways to prepare stuffs that you are very familiar with but never realised that these things are actually healthy. For the first time, I am made to know that Ofada rice is our own brown rice.

“Sometimes, when I go shopping because I am trying to stay healthy, I will rather buy imported brown rice or basmati rice. But now I know that Ofada rice is our own locally made brown rice and it is really healthy. That is one of the lessons.”

Urging parents to pay more attention to what they feed their children with, Iruobe said “these are different in ways, we can spice up our cooking and make sure our children are enjoying the food that they eat and also to stay healthy. I understand that traffic, work and all of that take our time but as parents we have to pay attention to our children and not just paying attention to make sure they have the best shoes, they go to best schools, but also what they put inside their system.”

Chopping and slicing food ingredients and helping in making the food ready, singer and actress, Lami Phillips said it was an interesting experience seeing young school children learn how to select, cook and eat healthy food. Food Revolution Day marathon which had 115,296,411 million people around the world connected online was also supported on social media by Coldplay, James Corden, Kate Hudson, Nicole Scherzinger, Rio Ferdinand, Paloma Faith, among others.