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Globalisation and Diet

Globalisation is changing diets worldwide, although to various degrees. There are several reasons for that, which can be reconducted to what the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman called “the liquid modernity”.

Up to a couple of generations ago diets heavily relied on local food availability, with periods of abundance and shortage. This pattern has now changed, particularly in the Western world. Physicians increasingly face the challenge of discussing eating behaviors that are not typical of their region and need to know how “novel” dishes contribute to their patients’ health.

Globalisation and Diet

Globalisation is changing diets worldwide, although to various degrees. There are several reasons for that, which can be reconducted to what the Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman called “the liquid modernity”.

Open borders and access to information

People travel more and goods are more easily transported around the world. Probably more important: The Internet is providing easy access to information. Also, the prevalence of poverty and extreme poverty is tapering off.

As more people have access to food, they usually look toward the Western world as an example of good and tasty nutrition. We should not forget that our genetic background is programmed to prefer foods that are high in calories, namely from sugars and fat. Human milk is a clear example and our first sip of it paved the road.

We are also trained to stay away from bitter items – such as most vegetables – that we equate to poison. In short, human beings instinctively search for a high-calorie glob diet, and globalisation is now providing them with inexpensive sources of caloric foods.

Globalisation and Eating Patterns

A paper recently published by Bentham et al. reported that “South Korea, China and Taiwan experienced the largest changes in food supply over the past five decades, with animal source foods and sugar, vegetables and seafood and oil crops all becoming more abundant components of the food supply. In contrast, in many Western countries the supply of animal source foods and sugar declined.”, again confirming globalisation-induced dietary shifts.

Probably the most noticeable consequence of globalisation and increasing affluence is the rapid increase in meat consumption, which went from approximately 50 million metric tons in the 1950s to the current 300 million metric tons. This is particularly relevant in China and the rest of Asia, Central and South America, and Africa. Conversely, meat consumption is quite stable or slightly declining in Europe and North America.

Globalisation and Lifestyle

Another often overlooked consequence of globalisation is that, via watching TV or surfing the Internet, we learn of foreign dietary habits and we sometimes incorporate them into our lifestyle.

Other examples are those of ready-made foods and of food delivery. As regards the former, food technology is rapidly advancing, and consumers have access to dishes that are ready (or almost ready) to be eaten. This was unthinkable of just few decades ago, when time devoted to food preparation took a large proportion of the day. Food delivery is also on the rise and gives us control over what we eat, but not on its ingredients.

Globalisation is Integral to Human History

We should not forget that globalisation is an integral part of human history, via migrations that are often food-induced  and through food import-export, exposure to different cultures and civilizations.

In short, globalisation is unavoidable, and we have a great opportunity to control it and direct it to our advantage.

It should be becoming clear that we are heading toward an over-exploitation of our resources. Future diets and public heath guidelines must take all the aforementioned into account.

Author: Dr. Francesco Visioli

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Nutrition for Health and Sustainability

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