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Marcello Gelormini and Sérgio Adriano Maló. Street food is the new way to eat in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique

Taste / -

Street food in Mozambico
© Annalisa Cavaleri

Bhajias, bean and corn fritters eaten with white bread, maheu, a cornflour drink sweetened with sugar and buns with hamburgers and fried egg. A journey through the best-loved street foods in Mozambique.

Urbanization has a strong impact on people’s dietary habits. Mozambique has a population of about 25 million, of whom over 1.2 million live in Maputo. The capital is also the destination for all those who live in the surrounding areas but go to work in Maputo. And for many of them, because of their low incomes, street food is not just a quick and cheap way of eating, but it is their only choice. Marcello Gelormini, a public health expert and Sérgio Adriano Maló, professor of Geography at the Eduardo Mondlane University, have carried out a first survey of the food situation in Maputo to see how much dietary habits are changing following urbanization. The survey was run by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in partnership with the University of Porto.
 
Why did you decide to undertake this survey?
We want to see how urbanization changes people’s diets. Our choices are strongly influenced by the context we live in and the people we frequent: we choose the same things as the people around us, even though it may happen at a subconscious level.
 
What came out of your study?
Over 25 million people live in Mozambique and over 1.2 million, or around 4 percent of the total population, are concentrated in the capital. Additionally, Maputo is the main destination for workers coming from the surrounding areas. These are people with low incomes and for most of them street food is their only eating option.
 
What is the street food like in Maputo?
It is cheap, tasty and very filling, always available and close by. It is sold by itinerant street sellers and women sitting on the edge of the road. Yes, it’s mostly fried, high-sugar food made from white flour. The front rows of their stalls have industrially-produced and highly processed cookies, ice creams, candies, bread and cakes. 
 
Other serious issues?
Sweet carbonated beverages and energy drinks. Also, nearly all street food is sold in unsustainable plastic wrappers, which create high environmental waste levels.
 
Which are the three best-selling street food items in Maputo?
First of all, bhajias, bean and corn fritters which are eaten with white bread. Maheu is the most popular drink; it is made out of cornflour sweetened with sugar, and it becomes slightly alcoholic if left to ferment. Another of the most popular street foods is a hamburger bun with a meat patty and a fried egg.  
 
Are there any new habits relating to street food which are becoming more and more common in Maputo?
Selling food directly out of the trunk of the car: for town residents it is a quick way to do business and run their own little start-up. The food is prepared at home and then delivered directly to others’ homes or sold at the roadside, by just opening the trunk.
 
What can be done to fight the junk food craze and connect street food to a healthy way of eating?
The way to achieve better nutrition and greater food safety is to make the healthy choices easier for people, setting off a chain reaction by imitation. As we said before, people tend to replicate the behavior of their peers, so the more people eat healthily and have healthy food at their disposal, the more this lifestyle choice will spread.
 

Food and TV. When a passion for fiction is just a question of taste

Lifestyle / -

cibo e serie tv
© Hero Images/Corbis

What links Francis Underwood to Sheldon Cooper? Both have particular food tastes that reveal interesting psychological quirks. Here they are.

Getting your hands dirty
In the TV series House of Cards, the politician Francis Underwood is crazy about ribs in BBQ sauce eaten with his hands, alone, in a bar out in the suburbs. According to Sergio Brancato, Professor of Sociology of Cultural and Communicative Processes at the University of Naples, this is not a random food choice: "That dish does go back to his origins, to South Carolina where he was born and raised. Eating alone helps him to step back, at least for a moment, from his daily political intrigues. Underwood eats alone because he is a predator, he is alone at the top of the food chain; by his very nature he cannot have friends or share meals with them."
 
Thrones and banquets
In Game of Thrones, another popular TV series that tells a medieval saga streaked with fantasy, food is fundamental. From the series, a blog and two cookbooks have emerged featuring dishes enjoyed by the characters in all four seasons of the series. They range from stewed mushrooms to marzipan cakes, and from spiced locusts to prime rump. In Game of Thrones everyone eats a lot, and makes a mess. According to Brancato, the series shows a relationship with food that takes us into a world that tries to be more civilized (think of the lavish banquets of the court), but it is still basically barbaric (many people fill themselves up with food until it hurts).
 
The end of the world
In The Walking Dead, an apocalyptic series that recounts a world ridden with zombies hungry for human flesh, survivors feed mainly on canned food and the risk of cannibalism, at least in Terminus, is a reality: "The world of The Walking Dead encapsulates the origin of the human race - notes Brancato - and its uncertain future. Cannibalism is the greatest taboo of modern times, and is the end of civilization. Zombies are a reminder of this primitive world and evoke in us the fear that we might slip back into barbarism."
 
A chat in Central Park
In Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw would not cook even under torture, to the point that her abandoned oven was turned into a comfortable shelf. The four friends would regularly meet for brunch, have tea with cupcakes and brownies and would often dine in ethnic restaurants: "In this series, questions are discussed at lunch because - says the sociologist from Naples - the question of food is intrinsic to their conversation and a basic element of sociability. By eating together, the girls of Sex and The City take care of one another."
 
According to Marta Martina, PhD in Theatre Studies and Film at the Department of Visual Performing and Media Arts at the University of Bologna, the function of food in TV series is to create a world and to develop characters down to the minutest detail.
 
Eating meals together, as in The Big Bang Theory whose characters are crazy about Thai cuisine, becomes a narrative element that helps illustrate not just the psychology and culture of reference of the characters, but also their bonds of friendship. In detailed references to takeaway menus, Sheldon shows us his manic side, but also his need to be in company without all the cooking that he and his friends consider a waste of time.
 
For Brancato the reasons behind the intense following of the TV series derive from the fact that "since the 1990s, cinema has given these series the purpose of recounting our world. Their beauty lies in the fact that they come close to modern man's psyche and new forms of digital media." What they offer, after all, is a treat – almost limitless. The pleasure of a good movie without the risk of an imminent and final “end”.
 
 
 

Reversing the global obesity pandemic

Sustainability / -

José Graziano da Silva
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The worldwide surge in obesity rivals war and smoking in terms of the global economic burden it imposes.

Obesity is no longer a concern solely of higher income, developed countries. The prevalence of obesity and overweight has risen in all regions, including in low-income countries. Today, nearly half of all countries are struggling with both undernutrition and overweight/obesity. Indeed, undernutrition and obesity often co-exist in the same communities – even in the same household.

Economic and social transformations, including higher incomes, in many poor and middle-income nations and the availability, at relatively attractive prices, of over processed foods have led to changes in lifestyles, including dietary habits and reduced physical activity across the globe.
Not a single country – not one – saw declining obesity between 2000 and 2013. WHO estimates 1.9 billion overweight people, of whom a third are obese.

This involves social and economic costs that, piled on top of those resulting from malnutrition, society can ill afford to bear.

The 2013 edition of FAO's State of Food and Agriculture noted that the social burden due to overweight and obesity has doubled over the past two decades. According to the report, the cumulative cost of all non-communicable diseases, for which overweight and obesity are leading risk factors, were estimated to be about US$1.4 trillion in 2010.

More recently, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated the global price tag of obesity – including the increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, and some cancers affecting the overall quality of life – could run as high as $2 trillion a year, third only to smoking ($2.1 trillion) and armed conflicts ($2.1 trillion).

While the numbers are not comparable and the global estimates of the economic costs of obesity and overweight vary, they coincide in their scale.

Now, think of what could be done to tackle malnutrition – hunger, undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity – if we threw that amount of money behind the effort. Increasing funding is necessary to scale up efforts, but it should be part of a bigger effort to re-strategize our approach to tackling malnutrition in all of its forms, deepening our focus beyond the immediate causes to include the broader socio-cultural, economic and political dimensions of nutrition.

This was a challenge that was taken up at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome in November 2014. At ICN2, governments endorsed the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the accompanying Framework for Action, committing themselves to address the broad spectrum of malnutrition – including undernourishment, stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity and related non-communicable diseases. 

Making progress on these pledges will require major shifts in the manner in which we address malnutrition. It entails shifting from treating the adverse effects of malnutrition to prevention by ensuring healthy balanced diets, to better address the root causes of malnutrition, and we'll need to develop new policies, strategies and programs to help us do that.
 
Some guiding ideas
First, let's reform our food systems to ensure better nutrition for all. FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture 2013 showed how food systems influence the quantity, quality, diversity and nutritional content of foods, and determine the availability, affordability and acceptability of foods needed for good nutrition. Reforming our food systems to improve nutrition will require growing nutrient-rich foods and ensuring healthy processing to minimize the loss of nutrients.

Second, we must make it easier for consumers to make food choices that promote healthy diets. This requires political commitment besides effective and coherent policies and strategies. It will require increased investment in nutrition promotion and education programs. It will require creating schools, work places and communities that make healthy diets easily accessible and encourage people to exercise more. It will require empowering consumers with information through formal and informal popular nutrition education and giving more information on the food being sold to them, including through appropriate labelling.

Third, by creating a common vision and multisectoral approach involving governments, farming, health, retail and other relevant public and private sectors, as well as civil society. The multiple causes of malnutrition, including obesity, call for effective collaboration: no sector or entity can effectively address the problem on its own.

Fourth, trade and investment agreements must be designed to influence food systems positively. By improving the availability of, and access to, food, efficient and effective trade can play a key role in achieving nutrition objectives. But such agreements should not “crowd out” the possibility of developing local agriculture. Thriving national and local agriculture systems not only reduce countries' dependency on food imports but promote greater diversity in diets, can act as a buffer against price spikes in international markets, and generate jobs to help reduce rural poverty.
 
ICN2 has set the stage for all actors to come on board to reverse the fast rising global obesity. Malnutrition, from undernutrition to obesity, is preventable at a relatively low cost if we work well. Let us move quickly to reverse obesity trends and to make hunger and all forms of malnutrition history.
 

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