Rome hosts UN meeting on malnutrition

Political leaders from around the world gathered in Rome on Wednesday for a three-day UN conference on malnutrition aimed at tackling a global scourge which afflicts poor and rich alike.

Rome hosts UN meeting on malnutrition
The UN conference on malnutrition is organized by the UN food agency in Rome (pictured) and the World Health Organization. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Representatives from 190 countries were expected to attend the Second International Conference on Nutrition (CIN2), organised by the UN's food agency (Fao) and World Health Organization (WHO) and boasting appearances from leaders including Pope Francis.

"We are registering unacceptably high and persistent levels of malnutrition in the world," Leslie Amoroso, a Fao nutrition expert, told journalists ahead of the conference, which will draw together over 100 health and agriculture ministers.

"The human costs of malnutrition are very high: 805 million people are undernourished and 161 million children have delayed growth," she said, adding that it was "a global problem which demands coordinated action from numerous sectors."

A lot of progress has been made already, with the number of undernourished people in the world dropping by over half in the past two decades, from one billion people in 1992 when the first conference (CIN1) was held, to 805 million in 2014.

But malnutrition is not just about hunger: two billion people suffer from deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin A, iron and zinc – a condition known as "hidden hunger" by experts – while 42 million children and 500 million adults are overweight or obese.

As poor nutrition "acts like a brake on development," investing in healthy food is proven to "improve productivity and economic growth, reduce health insurance costs and foster education and intellectual capacity," Amoroso said.

Royalty, philanthropists, the Pope

Star guests at the conference will include Queen Letizia of Spain, King of Lesotho Letsie III, philanthropist Melinda Gates and economist Jeffrey Sachs, as well as Pope Francis, a fervent campaigner against hunger who is expected to give a speech on Thursday.

Delegates will adopt a "Rome Declaration on Nutrition" and "Framework for Action", which Fao said were based on a consensus reached by over 200 national governments after consultations with civil society organizations and the private sector.

The declaration focuses not only on access to healthy food but also the growing problem of inactive over-eaters, finding that "dietary risk factors, together with inadequate physical activity, account for almost 10 percent of the global burden of disease and disability."

It stresses that "food should not be used as an instrument for political or economic pressure," and that food price volatility can have a knock-on effect on food security and nutrition and therefore "needs to be better monitored and addressed for the challenges it poses."

The action framework presents 60 recommendations, including developing and implementing national plans and policies to better nutrition, as well as upping related investments.

It stresses the need for universal health coverage, because "for health systems to be able to deliver improvements in nutrition, it is essential that there is access to health services for all, including the most marginalized and most vulnerable."

It also urges governments to ensure universal access to safe drinking water and protect children from infections, such as diarrhoea, malaria and intestinal worms.

The framework said it backed commitments made by the WHO to reduce deaths from NCDs – diet related non-communicable diseases – by 25 percent by 2025, as well as reducing salt intake by 30 percent and halting the increase in obesity prevalence in adolescents and adults.

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OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.