Part IV of our stunting story recommends local mills for freshly-ground grains; true 100% wholemeal wheat and maize. Once cracked the oils begin to spoil.
A recent international study found that a staggering 81% of South African 10 year-olds cannot read for meaning. Educators are blamed but clearly a stunted brain cannot be easily taught.
Can stunting in South Africa be reversed? Can we think innovatively and build capable school feeding schemes? Can we undo the great harm done by public administrators in both education and health who lack understanding about these fundamental issues and have failed to take the initiative?
Are their brains also stunted is a legitimate question? This is not a new problem after all.
The steepest challenge I would suggest is the general acceptance that refined maizemeal, white rice and cake flour are good food; that which adults eat themselves and need not hesitate to give to their children. From the Ministry of Health to that of Education there is not a word on the probable consequences of feeding these ultra-processed meals to our kids.
And because these extracted nutrients also give food its taste, either chemical flavouring or large amounts of sugar and salt must be added.
It comes as no surprise thus that South Africa has become one of the most unhealthy countries in the world; diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease abound. In the main, these are the diseases of poor nutrition.
We must have people on board who are willing to use strong words that have meaning. And the food industry in general needs enemies who will be both their and our saviours; superficiality will get us nowhere. South Africa desperately requires those who are willing to ask questions that may not be PC, that we are not ready to face; but will serve to guide and lead not only our children to a healthier future but we adults too.
Has anyone ever met a agriculturist who will feed his cattle refined maizemeal? A chicken man who supplies his birds with polished rice? A pig farmer who would include cake flour in their troughs? The discovery of the first vitamin arose from an observant doctor who noted that animals were dying of stunting from “foods” like those.
Would you give your dog white bread for its main meal? None of these should be classified as food; and they should all, like sugar, attract a sin-tax. To convince civil society at large will take a seismic event as large as a meteor shifting the axis of the Earth.
It’s time to ask why we are feeding these pseudo foods that have been hollowed out to our children. Until society is willing to discuss this, all is lost; the refiners of wheat, maize and rice will continue to gobble up both Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother; and the Three Pigs. We will continue to make sweet treats freely available to our kids.
Everyone in Pietermaritzburg has heard of Mason’s Mill. When the early settlers arrived, one of the first things they did was to install a stone-grinder.
Today it’s far easier with electrically powered grinders. Every single village, town and city should have a local mill that can provide fresh 100% whole grain for those who desire it; and for school feeding schemes.
Farmers sell their maize for R4/kg. The cheapest highly-refined super cornmeal starts at R500 for 50 kilogrammes; the price rises steadily for smaller amounts.
A small backyard miller could provide the very best wholegrain, freshly-ground maizemeal and wholewheat flour cheaper than supermarkets charge for pseudo foods from which the best parts have been extracted.
A second challenge is that the Nutrition Society of South Africa has clearly not been asked to give guidance on the food being provided by the National School Nutrition Programme; or it's not been heeded.
Until we return to the science behind these deep problems I have zero confidence that we can move forwards on the question of stunting; and without intelligent, strong workers South Africa will continue its ominous slide towards becoming at best a mediocre and at worst a failed state.
There are not many more misleading terms than that.
A third great challenge is that despite extremely high unemployment, with one in seven families experiencing extreme hunger, research indicates that less than twenty percent of homes are growing any food in their own gardens; not even a few rows of mealies.
Children are already permanently stunted by 5-years of age; that's before they even get to school. Feeding schemes should be thinking of toddlers; and parents who have time on their hands need seeds and instruction on gardening.
A sustainable future in South Africa means that people everywhere, rich and poor, hungry and well fed need to start growing their own food at home; just as they should be harvesting rainwater and sunshine on site.
It’s abundantly clear that neither the government, nor society in general have the brainchild of how to create a well-fed, healthy nation. And without a vision, the people perish. We have to do this for ourselves.
Just as the state is unable to provide South Africans with reliable electricity and clean water, neither is it able to give the lead concerning the provision of food that will prevent the stunting of our children. It’s up to civil society to come up with a solution.
Part V will consider various scenarios in support of wellness. One small example is that food rich in beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, drastically reduces the vulnerability of children to blindness, measles and diabetes.
Stunting story recommends local mills for freshly-ground grains.
Part V will consider various scenarios as to how harmony and balance can be restored for future generations of children.
Let us not forget that whilst physical stunting of children is easily spotted, the mental decline associated with a lack of nutrients such as folate is subtle and not readily detected.
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