George Edwards, a U.S. professor of international law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, recognizes that food is critical to a person’s existence, and that international law provides that all people have a right to food. He noted that in the Pacific and elsewhere, “some people have no access to sufficient, appropriate food,” and are not afforded their right to food.
Professor Edwards collaborated with celebrity chef Robert Oliver, of New Zealand, on a public lecture series on food deprivation in the South Pacific, and legal and practical remedies.
The lectures, held in Suva, Fiji, in April 2019, synced with the global launch of the reality TV cooking competition series Pacific Island Food Revolution, Mr. Oliver’s brainchild, which premiered before an audience of celebrities, royalty, government officials, diplomats and students at Suva’s Grand Pacific Hotel on 6 April.
Lectures were held at the University of Fiji Faculty of Law, Fiji National University, and the University of South Pacific Faculty of Law, and were facilitated by the United States Embassy – Suva, Fiji and EducationUSA, a U.S. Department of State Affiliate, between 4 and 8 April.
Mr. Oliver identified food-related problems in the Pacific.
Traditional, healthy food in the Pacific has been pushed aside in local diets, replaced by low value sugary and processed foods – junk food. Less healthful items, such as dried noodles, are being imported, displacing locally grown more healthful traditional food choices.
Dietary choices have led to increased non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Pacific. These preventable diseases include diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity, strokes, stunting (children’s growth stymied by lack of nutrition, causing obesity and type 2 diabetes), and cancer.
The World Health Organization noted that in the Western Pacific Region, 131 million people were living with diabetes in 2014, and that figure may double by 2030.
Professor Edwards noted that international law requires countries to ensure that people have access to adequate, appropriate food. Obligations flow from “hard law” treaties that countries sign and ratify, and expressly acknowledge as binding.
For example, countries such as Fiji are bound to the United Nations Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and thus are obligated under article 11 to recognize the “right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food’. This same article recognizes the “fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.
Professor Edwards said: “If a person eats cardboard, or dirt, their stomach may get full, and they may not be hungry, and it could be argued that their right to be free from hunger is satisfied. But the right to adequate food requires more than filling the stomach. The right to adequate food requires access to sufficient, nutritious food that will support a person as they seek a life of physical, psychological, social, and emotional well-being.” Professor Edwards identified Pacific countries that ratified treaties providing for food rights, and countries that have chosen not to be bound. But even if a country has not agreed to a specific treaty, they still have obligations.
Countries should also take note of “soft law”, such as declarations, guidelines, or other international instruments, that provide moral authority for compliance, and that are often linked to unwritten binding norms, known as customary international law norms.
Mr. Oliver’s antidote to nutrition deprivation problems in the Pacific is encapsulated in the Pacific Island Food Revolution, a 12-part reality TV cooking competition across the Pacific. As Mr. Oliver’s’ brainchild, the series is an agent for more healthful food consumption and eating. The show uses edutainment to teach, in a graceful, non-demanding manner, about the benefits of returning to traditional Pacific cuisine. Mr. Oliver is executive director and show host.
The show involves 12 teams of two chefs each from Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa who compete in their home countries for a chance to advance to the finals in Fiji. Their challenges highlight their culinary skills and educate viewers on what is possible using traditional foods.
"These dishes that belong in Pacific heritage are extremely valuable and have all the kind of things societies need to sustain themselves. When food is fundamentally based in nature and heritage, you can't go wrong from a health perspective."
Diabetes and other NCDs can be decreased if Pacific Islanders return to traditional Pacific cuisine.
Pacific Island Food Revolution co-hosts are acclaimed chefs, TV personalities, royalty, an Olympian, and other distinguished members of the Pacific community.
The Pacific Islands Food Revolution show is co-funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). The project is supported with digital campaigns, including an online academy, digital storytelling and social media activities to bring about food awareness and encourage positive eating.
Partners of the Pacific Islands Food Revolution include the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF), Pacific Community, University of the South Pacific (USP), and Moffat Commercial Catering and Bakery Equipment.
Pacific Islands Food Revolution series is airing on over 20 stations throughout the Pacific Islands.
For dates, times, and other details, please check www.pacificislandfoodrevolution.com.
The finale of Season 1 of the Series will be aired the week of 24 June 2019.
The South Pacific has food problems. But, those problems can be solved.
International and local law provide remedies for those food problems. Other practical remedies also exist.
Professor Edwards and Mr. Oliver plan to continue discourse on the problems and remedies during a presentation in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on Friday, 28 June 2019, at the Faculty of Law of the University of the South Pacific, Emalus Campus, Room 8, from 10:00 a.m. until noon. This event is supported by the U.S. Embassy Suva, Fiji and EducationUSA.
Robert Oliver is a New Zealand chef, award-winning author and television presenter. He is Ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. His book Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific won Best Cookbook in the World 2010 in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. He followed this with Mea’ai Samoa: Recipe and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia, which won Best TV Chef Cookbook in the World 2013. He hosted TV series Real Pasifik, a finalist in the New York Film and TV Awards 2014 in Travel & Tourism. Real Pasifik plays in over 40 countries and is on its 75th re-run.
George Edwards is a professor of international law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and holds the endowed title of The CM Gray Professor of Law. He founded Indiana McKinney’s Program in International Human Rights Law, to which the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2011 granted Special Consultative Status, and his program is one of only 2,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (20 per country) accredited to the UN with that status. He has been Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law (United Kingdom) and Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Law (Thailand), and was a Fulbright Professor in Peru, South America. He has lectured in dozens of countries at U.S. Embassies, Consulates and other institutions on various topics, including international students coming to the U.S. to study law. His books and law articles are widely disseminated in the U.S.a and overseas. He and his students have been actively involved on international criminal law cases pending before United Nations war crimes tribunals, the U.S. Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and domestic courts of various other countries. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and of the Harvard International & Comparative Law Journal. Professor Edwards is thankful to students from Indiana and Chulalongkorn who have assisted on this project, and to the staff and administration of both institutions for their support.