“Grow, Nourish, Sustain Together: Our actions” is the slogan of World Food Day-2020. This year the day is different from the last several years and because of the pandemic caused by novel coronavirus.
To date this virus affected 35 million and caused more than 1 million deaths all over the world. Of this, 3.6 million are people affected in Bangladesh with around 5.5 thousand deaths. The percentage of deaths worldwide and Bangladesh are 2.95% and 1.4% respectively. Irrespective of system error, the death toll in Bangladesh is around 50% less than the total cases reported all over the globe. This definitely raises hope for the people of Bangladesh.
We can look into how the nutritious food and sustainable food habits of the common people in Bangladesh with their 'growing together' mentality has helped them to survive with considerable confidence during the pandemic.
SARS-COV-2 is an enveloped RNA virus which has no known antidote except for the human immunity system, the best fighter against any viral outbreak or viral diseases. Hence, herd immunity has been prescribed as the best weapon to fight against this invisible enemy.
If we look for the sources of the immunity in humankind, we can roughly divide them in 5 major categories - smart food habits, adequate rest, stress management, physical exercise, and avoiding intoxicating drinks. Among these five major factors, Bangladeshi people enjoy a very relaxed life because of their very low expectation levels and the citizens categorized as low-income group have the opportunity to do very hard work which naturally boosts their immunity.
Additionally, the village people have the opportunity to eat fresh foods with organic vegetables and plenty of fish from natural sources. This helps them to boost their immunity. And then there is the social and state-imposed embargo on alcoholic drinks.
It is also evident from recent antibody-based studies among the dwellers of Dhaka city, that about 50% of the citizens have been affected by COVID-19 but are still living normal lives. This is surprising but not miraculous considering if the food habits of the Bangladeshi individuals.
Historically Bangladeshi people would consume a lot of spices like ginger, cloves, turmeric, garlic, onions, cinnamon, cardamon and other additives full of secondary metabolites to enhance their immune system. Being “machhe bhate Bangalee” [Bangalees with their fish and rice], perhaps enhances their immunity significantly.
Moreover, agricultural research has increased the availability of different kinds of fruits and vegetables along with the grains all round the year and the prices are comparatively affordable compared to neighboring countries and developed nations. For example, the nutritious fruit guava may cost only 50 cents. So food habits and availability of nutritious foods boost the immunity of the people of Bangladesh.
On the other hand, the manipulated increase in the prices of essentials by dishonest persons is an obstacle to food security and safe food.
The use chemically treated preservatives and the harmful colouring agents to save production costs and inflate profits, are major challenges to ensure adulteration-free foods for all. Most of these additives have been reported to cause different diseases like kidney failure, cancer and so on. The number of cancer patients has increased alarmingly, if we compare the data available for the last 20 years.
Let us come forward to change and ensure a country with safe food. Let us make the slogan “Grow, Nourish, Sustain Together: Our actions” true and effective for our countries
In addition, the threats and complications related to reproductive health, for example polycystic ovary, becoming very common for the people living in urban areas. The food sources for poultries, hatcheries and other farms have been reported to be contaminated with heavy metals and chlorinated compounds which have potential to mutate any DNA followed by the personalized diseases related to DNA mutation. In most cases, those who are involved in production of adulterated foods or contaminated foods they do not have the minimum knowledge about the adverse effects of these additives or they do not have any modern technologies to identify those harmful chemicals. This makes it essential to establish training institutes to train the businesspersons and producers.
The Food Safety Authority provides a support to ensure safe food for the citizens of Bangladesh, while the limitations to act independently and lack of experts impose some obstacles. Trying to bring any change by only implementation of laws in a third world country will never be success in eradicating bad practices. The only way is to make people aware about the bad impacts and long-term effects of consuming adulterated foods.
Conjoint and constructive actions to ensure enough food with minimum possible chemical additives and unnecessary chemical fertilizer free production of vegetables, crops and other food products will ensure safe food for all. This will allow us to establish a healthy and nutritionally sound generation and grow together to establish a prosperous and compassionate society.
We need to keep in mind that the forthcoming world will be evaluated by their abilities to ensure safe food and food security for all of its citizens. It will help us protect our future generation from any kind of pandemic that could be more harmful than the COVID-19. So let us come forward to change and ensure a country with safe food. Let us make the slogan “Grow, Nourish, Sustain Together: Our actions” true and effective for our countries.
Sheikh Mahatabuddin is Associate Professor at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Daffodil International University, Dhaka