Louise Steen, who runs the My Healthy DXB blog, says the public must take responsibility for their own nutrition, rather than relying on legal protection or guidelines around food. Steen, whose background is in pharmacy, recently joined forces with fellow blogger Judy Sebastian, owner of FoodSheBlogged, to start the Safe and Healthy Food UAE – or SAHFUAE – campaign, based around scientific research, rather than the latest food trends.
The pair conceived SAHFUAE as a way to educate people looking for healthier and safer food options in the UAE, but who lacked the knowledge on where to find better products, and what to look for. Sebastian, who works as a food safety consultant at Apex Food Consultants, focuses on the safety aspects of the campaign, while Steen looks at nutrition – which she believes is a question of personal responsibility.
“It’s too easy for consumers to say, well this is allowed on the market, and it looks nice and colourful for my kids, so I should be feeding them this. You can always find someone who’s trying to take advantage of a situation, or a loophole in the market, and I think there is an ethical responsibility – but it’s consumers themselves that should be critical,” said Steen.
“A major corporation, why are they there? We shouldn’t fool ourselves, right? Corporations are there to make money, and it’s just the way it is, and it’s not going to change. I think we should be looking more at what are our own standards, instead of where are the legal standards from a company point of view,” she added.
Steen acknowledges this is a big educational issue in the UAE, but wants people to understand the food they pick unthinkingly from the shelf may have health consequences. Instead of looking at the price per item, she suggests consumers should focus on the price of the nutrients within food products, as a way to gauge value.
“Then you might buy something that’s a bit more expensive, but where you get a lot for your body to work with, in terms of something not being full of chemicals and refined sugar, but gives more real food. You can say, I might pay a bit more, but I will be giving more to my body to work with. We need to change people’s minds to relate to what they actually eat – it’s an investment, rather than just filling your stomach,” she said.
Food miles and nutrition
Steen also points out that many foods which consumers see as healthy may not be as nutritionally valuable in the UAE compared to the rest of the world. She says one key reason for this is the distance much fresh food, particularly fruit and vegetables, has to travel, and the storage conditions it faces both in transit and in the UAE.
“One example there’s been research on is spinach: when you pick spinach, within a week it loses more than 50% of some of the vital nutrients, such as folic acid. When you go to supermarkets you can see this beautiful spinach on the shelf – but it’s been grown somewhere in Europe, picked, shipped, sits in the supermarket and then sits another week in the fridge at home,” she said.
“So I might think I eat healthily – but I might not get what I think I’m getting, compared to going to the farmer’s market for fresh products,” added Steen.
Steen and Sebastian ran the first SAHFUAE event, a workshop around nutrition and food safety, in June, and are planning more events for the autumn.