Friday, September 12, 2014

A 'New' Wonder Food - But Can We Get People to Eat It?

Food insecurity and hunger is a world wide problem, especially as the global population lurches out of control. I was astounded, for example, to read that currently Africa's population (now 1.1 billion) is expect to comprise 40 percent of the entire global population by 2100. Thus, out of some 15 billion projected by then, some 6 billion will be Africans - as many people as there were in the entire world back in 2001. But how will they eat? What will they eat?

GMO foods, which are currently all the rage as a solution, are not going to be enough, apart from the fact their glyphosate content renders all the foods toxic that they're embedded in. See e.g.

So what other option might there be to halt world hunger, especially in impoverished nations. It turns out that it's the breadfruit, Atcarpus altilis.  Originally brought to the West Indies (Jamaica) by Captain Bligh in 1792, to feed the vast numbers of slaves, the British plantation owners soon learned they weren't accepted. The slaves initially turned their noses up at the lumpy fruit with its potato like texture. 

But fifty years later it had become an island staple and in another fifty years or so a staple in Barbados.  In the island one can see breadfruit trees all over the place. A favorite island dish is "flying fish and breadfruit".  Most often the breadfruit is baked, but I was never able to eat it that way - much too bland. However, when done in the form of pickled breadfruit I could handle it.

The quandary for Barbados, Jamaica and the West Indies - all areas of food insecurity, has been how do you integrate this bland food - which is abundant and indeed thrives in the tropics - into regular menus?

Though bland and the texture potato-ey, there are many benefits. It can be used (as Bajans learned) in both sweet and savory recipes as well as ground into flour.  It's also versatile and surprisingly nutritious (and no need for glyphosates to be added in any GMO form!) It's high in vitamins and minerals, a source of gluten-free carbs and protein and has a higher proportion of essential amino acids than soy. One kilogram breadfruit easily provides the carbs for a family of five for one meal.

Given these benefits it's no surprise than an initiative called "the Alliance to End Hunger" is working toward distributing the fruit to food insecure countries world wide.

This despite the fact the breadfruit has fallen out of favor in Jamaica. (Not yet in Barbados!). So those running the Breadfruit Institute in Hawaii are cognizant of the fact that they need to identify varieties of breadfruit that best suit particular environments, climates and tastes. They understand they can't just foist the fruit on countries in Africa or elsewhere, never mind they have millions of starving people.

Current research at the Breadfruit Institute, according to a New Scientist piece (June 28) is revealing how different varieties compare when one considers things like yield, fruiting season, mineral content and protein. As noted in the article (p. 42):

"The work to identify desirable traits is ongoing. For instance, first indications are that some cultivars may be salt tolerant, important in Caribbean islands where soils are set to get saltier as sea levels rise."

The other problem to be solved before breadfruit can be delivered worldwide is how best to propagate and transport the plants. Eventually, the specialists at BI and elsewhere want to see breadfruit agro-forests in abundance in other food -impoverished nations. First, however, they need to get local people to acquire a taste for it.

Let's hope they succeed!

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