Saturday May 28, 2022

Food and tourism

February 25, 2020

Pakistan is blessed with several tourism opportunities – cultural, religious or nautical tourism.

With an improved security situation, and through the endless efforts of the present government, the tourism industry is blossoming, not only enabling to create a positive image of the country globally but also attracting a much-needed boost to the country’s economy.

Traveller by Condè Nast, one of the world's top travel portals, has named Pakistan as one of the top tourist destinations for 2020. Many travelers, mountaineers and bloggers are visiting and sharing their experiences of safe and pleasurable travelling, adding to a positive image of the country in the world.

With the rapid development of tourism, it is imperative to understand that there is no tourism without healthy food and nutrition, not only because of the biological need to eat, but also in a socio-cultural and tourist context.

Healthy and nutritious food attributes to the diversity and productivity of experiences the tourists are there for. With globalization, a majority of tourists make food and nutrition one of their main drives for tourism rather than just sightseeing. As a result, various types of tourism have evolved in recent years like food tourism, culinary tourism, cultural tourism or specific event tourism etc, where food and nutrition is an integral part of the event.

The best example is culinary tourism in Macedonia, which has gained great popularity in the last decades – reflecting traditional cuisine with all its health and nutrition benefits. Its traditional food, ingredients, method of preparation and serving actually reflects the whole cultural heritage of the tourist place.

Taking care of hygiene and food safety while preparing food is the key factor in food tourism and plays a major role in its success. Hence, food providers need to be very careful and should follow standard mechanisms for food preparation to attract tourists.

Safe drinking in the form of boiled water, bottled water or chemically disinfected water is the best way to stay healthy, hydrated and avoid many diseases. Packaged and sealed food such as milk, bread and biscuits are better options to eat when a tourist is not sure about the food standards of the place. Raw foods like fruits and vegetables should be washed properly before eating.

Tourists normally enjoy eating street food as it gives them a flavor of the culture of the place but extra care should be taken before using them and one should prefer to eat from places which seems to follow the general standards of cleanliness and hygiene.

The main objective is to minimize the incidences of foodborne illness and confirm a safe food supply to the tourists. To achieve the objective, all food handlers and providers should strictly follow food safety guidelines, regulations and food handling practices. At the same time, tourists themselves should also adopt healthy behaviour to stay well – washing hands frequently, keeping sanitizers and drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated etc.

The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has developed a manual presenting the most up-to-date information regarding issues produced by the lack of quality, hygiene and safety of food management and facilities during tourism; also it has mentioned the modern solutions of those issues.

Tourism also positively impacts the eating habits of local inhabitants. The effort to provide nutritious and healthy food to tourists to facilitate their visits creates awareness within the local community and directs them towards positive food habits.

Different case studies establish the fact that the tourism industry can effectively be used to contribute in achieving SDG 2, which is “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” and SDG 3, which focuses on health.

The need is to adopt a holistic approach integrating tourism and local farmers to produce nutritious food through adapting responsible agricultural practices, which can definitely assist them to earn more money by selling their products to the tourist industry and food managers.

One of the best examples relating to tourism and nutrition is presented by a story in ‘Green Destinations’, a non-profit organization of experts and destination ambassadors working in 80 countries. The story mentions the best practices of culinary tourism in Ljubljana in Slovenia, Europe as “the place became a brand with a strong following for gastronomic tourism (culinary tourism) that awakened the pride of the local people and its local authentic cuisine.”

Learning a lesson from the above mentioned examples, Pakistan should use the tourist industry to increase the health and nutrition status of the local community. Besides making its place in the top ranking as a ‘best holiday destination for 2020’, the country shows a worrying situation in its health status and malnutrition.

The National Nutrition Survey 2018 depicts that the nutritional situation in the country has made non-significant improvement over the decades. Around 58 percent of the population in Pakistan is food insecure; per capita availability of calories and commodities is insufficient with limited availability of nutritional food including vegetables and fruits to the poor. With all these prevailing situations of poor health and malnutrition, it has become imperative for the government to explore different perspectives and utilize various platforms to link the tourism industry with health and nutrition interventions.

An integrated approach highlighting culinary tourism and promoting local food sources will help increase food safety and quality, which consequently affects the eating habits of the local community thereby impacting their health status.

The writer is a public health consultant.