De Schutter, whose work usually focuses on ending hunger, just published a new report saying, “The right to food cannot be reduced to a right not to starve. It is an inclusive right to an adequate diet providing all the nutritional elements an individual requires to live a healthy and active life, and the means to access them.” In other words, the right to a healthful diet must be included in the human right to food. And, as the unhealthy diets already common in the United States spread to poorer nations, so do the health problems associated with those diets. However, unlike wealthy nations, poorer nations are not equipped to deal with the health consequences via medicine, making preventable diet-related health problems more deadly.
While the poor around the world face hunger, for those who have enough to eat in non-industrialized nations, traditional diets are quite healthy. In Kenya, for example, peasant farmers subsist on a stiff corn porridge called ugali eaten with a variety of green vegetables, beans, and perhaps some pumpkin. Peasants in Bolivia may dine on potatoes, quinoa and other grains, corn, sweet potato, and other Andean roots and tubers. Mexicans combine corn tortillas and beans to provide complete protein. A Filipino family may eat pinakbet, a stew of local vegetables flavored with bagoong, a Filipino fish sauce.
In each and every case, traditional diets are made up of whole foods, including grains, beans, vegetables, fresh fruit, and perhaps some animal products. Wild plants that an American might dispose of as “weeds” are used to provide essential micronutrients, feed families during hard times, or serve as medicines. Often fermentation is used to preserve foods and increase their nutrition, as in the case of Kenya’s fermented porridge uji. Livestock enjoy diverse and natural diets, and meat is reserved for special occasions — perhaps a chicken to celebrate the arrival of a guest, a goat for Christmas, or a cow for a wedding.