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Food Justice


A strong food justice coalition is needed to fight effectively for the health of all South Africans

A strong food justice coalition is needed to fight effectively for the health of all South Africans
Healthy food is a human right. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

Food justice is a holistic and structural view of the food system that sees healthy food as a human right and addresses structural barriers on the right to food. The dominant food system, with its cheap, empty calories and ubiquitous fast food joints, leaves many people in South Africa undernourished and unhealthy.

In South Africa, the situation is bleak — diseases linked to obesity, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and some cancers, are among the top causes of death, killing four in 10 people. 

It is not by coincidence that South Africa has the highest obesity rates in sub-Saharan Africa and that the rates are continuing to soar.

Nearly seven in 10 South African women, and about four in 10 men, are overweight or obese. In this day and age, it’s unacceptable that one in four children are stunted or too short for their age because they are not getting enough nutrients for their development.

A further one in eight children are obese or overweight, due to eating food low in nutrients but high in sugar and fat. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke are among the most common causes of illness, disability and death in South Africa.

food justice coalition

In South Africa the situation is bleak — diseases linked to obesity such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and some cancers are in the top 10 causes of death. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

The theme of the SA Child Gauge 2020, “Slow Violence of Malnutrition”, draws attention to child malnutrition and identifies critical points for intervention across the life course, motivating for urgent, early and sustained investment to reduce the burden of stunting, obesity and non-communicable diseases; improve children’s health, education and employment prospects; and drive national development. 

Low and no-income households are stretched to meet their daily nutritional requirements for health and productive lives. In September 2022, the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group reported that the average cost of the household food basket was R4,805 — way above the minimum wage.

The month-on-month average increase in the cost of the household food basket increased by R30.28 (0.6%), from R4,775 in August 2022 to R4,805 in September 2022, and the year-on-year average cost increased by R586 (13.9%), from R4,219 in September 2021 to R4,805 in September 2022. 

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These astronomical costs, weighed up against social grants, is a David and Goliath situation for struggling households. If South Africa is going to fulfil its obligations to children’s right to food and basic nutrition, and honour its commitments to the United Nations’ Nutrition Goals by 2025, it must institute a universal basic income grant and explore options for a subsidised food basket for grant recipients.

The Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) has started a Food Justice Coalition, a grassroots initiative by social justice movements which emerged in response to food and health inequity and economic pressures that prevent access to healthy, nutritious food for all in South Africa. 

Currently, the South African food environment is skewed towards unhealthy food choices, causing South Africans to consume more ultraprocessed foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat. This is contributing to the obesity and NCD disease rates in the country.  

food justice coalition

One in eight children are obese or overweight, due to eating food with low nutrients and high in energy from sugar and fat. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

The government acknowledges that policies which help prevent and control obesity and NCDs are needed in South Africa. Healthy food policies can improve the diets of all South Africans, including disadvantaged and lower socioeconomic groups.

The Health Promotion Levy (South Africa’s sugar-sweetened beverage tax) has been successful in reducing sugary beverage consumption and overall sugar intake. Another initiative is the introduction of front-of-package warning labels on foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat. This provides consumers with a quick and easy way to understand what is in their food — helping them make healthier food choices by avoiding these unhealthy food products.

It is our aspiration as the Healthy Living Alliance and other progressive movements to have the right to affordable and nutritious food realised. It is our duty to ensure that the situation of food inequity is urgently addressed and that no one profits at the expense of our health and our lives. DM/MC

Nzama Mbalati is the programmes manager and Zukiswa Zimela the communications manager at the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala).

October 16 is World Food Day and Maverick Citizen will be publishing articles throughout the week in commemoration of this, culminating in a special newsletter on Friday, 14 October.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Antonette Rowland says:

    Holistic Family education and modelling by example would go a long way to solving the nutrition issues. Kids can’t be blamed for copying their elders.

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