One Western habit Asia can do without: its fatty, sugary diet

Stephan Richter says for Asia to crave the factory-produced food of the West is not just unhealthy but mad, given its own excellent culinary traditions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 March, 2013, 3:18am

In an age when Asia can more than hold its own economically, no one can argue that the spirit of the times is such that Asia should simply seek to mimic the West, especially the United States, in its dietary practices. Certainly not when the price to be paid is massive obesity.

To be sure, the image of Indians and Chinese fattening themselves up is not a case of Western culinary imperialism. This statement holds, even though the sales tactics of the McDonald's and Coca-Cola's of this world certainly play a part in Asia's worsening obesity problem.

But at a time when educated Westerners have come around to seeing the wisdom of India's vegetarian path to nutritional enlightenment, it is sad to see that the world's two most populous nations are moving in the opposite direction.

The quest of China and India in this regard is not one of demanding equal rights in terms of caloric consumption. The argument for restraint is also not a matter of denying them a meaty future for environmental reasons. It is a call for Asia to remember some of its best traditions. A healthy diet is something to be proud of and hold on to.

Anybody who argues that it is a matter of global fairness for a billion Chinese and a billion Indians to now gorge themselves on factory-produced pork, poultry and beef is really delivering an argument for self-mutilation on a massive scale - leaving aside the climatic and planetary consequences of such a shift.

In the West, what was considered a sign of wealth - overloaded food tables - is now a sign of a breathless lifestyle, little to do with quality of life.

The biggest nonalignment movement in the world's history ought to be launched by the developing countries now. They should declare their nonalignment to sugary and salty foods, fatty foods, and almost all fast foods.

There is a sickening addiction to food with excess sugar (particularly high-fructose corn syrup) that is pervasive in all kinds of foods and has a deleterious effect on people's health, particularly children.

On this crucial front, the US Food and Drug Administration should become much more assertive; it could exercise a true form of global leadership. But for that to happen, it would need to stand up to the fast-food giants. This would have tremendous benefits in the global fight against obesity. But as long as it is shying away from what it ought to be doing, it is illusory to believe that much weaker agencies (and governments) abroad could take on these firms.

Asian nations should learn from the West's own painful lesson in how to combat heart disease and obesity-related diseases. The successful counter-strategy, in essence, is an embrace of the strategies and styles of Eastern nutrition.

It would represent the worst form of colonisation - self-colonisation - for Asia to copy the West's modern food styles and intake regimes. It is high time for Asians to reject the Western diet and its fatty, salty and sugary fast food and to embrace their own healthy dietary traditions. If they need any reminder, it is this: true wealth in the West is enjoyed by those who have embraced many traditionally Eastern elements of life.

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist and president of The Globalist Research Centre.