Store food backlash as South Pacific Islanders address health crisis


“I spent several years studying the primitive people in various parts of the world.

And I’ve come as a missionary from them, to the people of modern civilisation.

And I beg of you to learn of their accumulated wisdom.

And if you do, you can have strong, healthy bodies without so much disease as we suffer from these days”

Dr Weston Price, 1936


Store food ruining health for decades

Dr Price (1870-1948) surveyed the physical differences between isolated and modernised indigenous populations during the 1930’s and documented his findings in the famous nutrition book ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’.  Dr Price’s key finding was that irrespective of the traditional diets followed by these groups, they appeared to have impressive physical and mental health. However, once these groups allowed store food such as sugar, refined wheat and seed oil to enter their environment, their health started to suffer. The groups were quite conscious of the fact that ‘diseases of civilisation’ had only arrived since the ‘blessings of civilisation’ had been introduced. One of the group’s Price visited was the South Sea Islanders and he noted “The Tahitians are…fully conscious…of their rapid decline in numbers and health” and “they know something serious has happened since they have been touched by civilisation.”

Torba locals fight back

Fast forward to 2017 and the nine most obese nations on the planet are located in the South Pacific – but one tiny province has decided to fight back. In February 2017, The Guardian reported that leaders of the tiny province of Torba located in Vanuatu have decided to cease the import of store food or western foodstuffs such as refined rice, sweets, biscuits and canned fish, and return the local population to their traditional diet of fish, crabs, shellfish and organic taro, yams and pawpaw. The leaders of Torba have noted that other provinces where the western diet has been adopted are not healthy. “In other provinces that have adopted western diets you see pretty young girls but when they smile they have rotten teeth because the sugar has broken down their teeth…we don’t want to develop the illnesses that come with a western junk food diet.”

Torba to become Vanuatu’s first organic province?

Leaders of the 10,000-strong population of Torba acknowledge that their remote location has spared them from most of the health problems experienced by those living in other provinces and they would like to keep it that way. The ban on western foods will hopefully result in Torba becoming Vanuatu’s first organic province by 2020.  It will be interesting to see whether other provinces follow suit and make the decision to transition back to their traditional diets. Can banning the western diet staples start these populations on the long road back from the scourge of obesity and chronic disease?

Only time will tell.