Health Food Traditions of Asia project meeting (10-11 February)

A two day meeting of Health Food Traditions of Asia (HFTA) project under the ProSPER.Net research program was hosted by the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies (CGSS), Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang 10-11 February. The eight month project was coordinated by the University of Gadjah Madah (UGM), Yogyakarta, Indonesia with three partners Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the Prince Songhkla University (PSU). Experts from UNU-IAS and the Oxford University also participated in the event.

The event highlighted the vast geographic, socioeconomic and cultural diversity in Asia (with special reference to ASEAN) and the relevance of rich food traditions in the region, as well as the increasing disparity in health status within and between countries. While the developed parts of the region are going through rapid demographic and lifestyle transition leading to an ageing population and increasing non-communicable chronic diseases; in less developed regions poverty continues, with inequity and environmental degradation contributing to malnutrition, and infectious diseases. In terms of nutrition, especially protein energy malnutrition, deficiencies of vitamin-A, iodine, and iron continue to be major issues in most developing countries in the region. Conversely in transition economies increasing unhealthy diet patterns, high saturated fat, high salt intake, high calorie diet, and low fiber are becoming common, leading to a different set of health issues. Increasing diet simplification and rapid reduction of food source diversity in the region were also topics of discussions.

In this context, the meeting deliberated on various dimensions of traditional practices related to health and nutrition starting from agriculture, food processing, cooking methods, production consumption practices and specific health related claims of traditional foods in areas such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver, obesity, anaemia, and other nutritional disorders. Detailed documentations of food traditions and their socioeconomic dimensions were presented by the four partners. The meeting drew attention to an immediate need for strengthening traditional food and health practices and promoting local production and consumption practices which also have an impact on livelihoods.

An open public forum on the first day discussed food security and sustainability challenges in general. Highlighting several important scientific research programs and policy initiatives internationally on traditional foods, the meeting called for the need to integrate healthy traditional practices in the higher education curricula at various levels and for more focused research and networking. The project is developing a working paper, two research publications and a post graduate curriculum to be integrated in the partner institutions. The project will conclude March 2015.