@ Halal | March-April . 2021
Let ’ s fix our broken food system
Diet encompasses a broader spectrum of halalan toyyiban attributes
The food system , an interlinkage of activities involving the way we produce , process , transport , market , and consume our food to the way we manage our food waste , has a significant impact on our diet . A flawed food system restricts access to a healthy diet and promotes a low-quality diet , a diet that may be halal but not toyyib .
Self-motivation and control for toyyib diet
Rules and restriction may be the first things that come to our mind when we relate diet with religion . Halalan Toyyiban diet , however , is different . The diet encompasses a broader spectrum of toyyib ( wholesome ) attributes , including a healthy diet choice . It also symbolises a universally accepted lifestyle that emphasises both health and well-being .
Healthy diets are attained by consuming foods with sufficient macronutrients and micronutrients . A healthy diet is mainly composed of vegetables and fruits , whole grains , legumes , nuts , and unsaturated oils . The diet is further characterised by low to moderate seafood and poultry intake ; and a very minimum intake amount of red meat , processed meat , added sugar , refined grains , and starchy vegetables .
Healthy food choice and eating behaviours can be influenced by individual factors , including our personal motivation or desire to control weight . The self-control or selfrestraint concept is not something foreign in Islam . Prophet Muhammad ( pbuh ) said :
The people who most eat their fill in this world will be the hungriest on the Day of Resurrection .
[ Ibn Majah , Hadith 3351 ]
A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach . It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight . But if he must ( fill it ), then one-third of food , one third for drink and one third for air .
[ Ibn Majah , Hadith 3349 ]
By Anis nAjiha Ahmad
Yumi Zuhanis Has-Yun Hashim
International Institute for Halal Research and Training ( INHART ), International Islamic University Malaysia
Besides self-control , individual factors such as attitudes , preferences , knowledge , values , lifestyle are also crucial for successfully adopting a healthy diet .
Toyyib diet is not cheap
Some health experts believe individual behaviour for a healthy diet can only occur in a supportive environment that supports accessible and affordable healthy food choices .
In Malaysia , a study conducted by IAG in collaboration with Food Industry Asia in 2019 found that about 99 per cent of Malaysian respondents were , in fact , actively trying to improve their consumption habits .
This percentage is even higher than that of consumers surveyed in the United Kingdom ( 85 per cent ). Despite the strong consumers ’ desire to improve their diet , 71 per cent believed a healthy diet is expensive ( IAG ).
This perception is not far-fetched . A separate study conducted in Malaysia on the relationship between cost and diet quality also confirmed the sentiment . The higher the diet quality , the higher the cost with healthier choices such as fruits and vegetables known to be relatively more expensive than other food groups .
Although Malaysia is blessed with a tropical climate which helps us produce a remarkable diversity of edible fruits , our local fruit prices are surprisingly expensive . With the cost as the barrier , it is not surprising that more than 80 per cent of Malaysians do not consume sufficient vegetables ( 300g daily ) and fruits ( at least 400g daily ).
For several reasons , this is worrisome .
The ‘ broken ’ food system
The high price of healthier foods or choices has been an issue for quite some time , and experts are not optimistic that the situation will get better over time . This global problem has much to do with our broken food system .
In many developed and developing countries , unhealthy food is cheap because the main ingredients can be mass-produced with a longer shelf-life . The global food markets have increased the accessibility of cheap ultra-processed food with inadequate nutrition but high energy , fat , sugar , and salt .
Healthy food such as fruits and vegetables , in comparison , is much more expensive and harder to be accessed .
In the United Kingdom , modelling predicted that more than half of children born in 2020 will experience diet-related disease if there are no drastic changes to their current food system .
This will affect their quality of life by the time they reach 65 years of age . Prediction based on the Malaysian current food system could be much worse given our standing as the ‘ fattest ’ country in Asia .
Complications arising from diet-related disease affect an individual ’ s quality of life and impose a considerable burden on our healthcare system . Diabetes alone is estimated to cause Malaysia about US $ 600 million annually .
In simple terms , we need to fix the broken food system to stop people from acquiring these preventable diet-related diseases .
Can policies help fix the ‘ broken ’ food system ?
Governments and the food industry , without a doubt , will continue to shape and direct our eating environments . The complementary and synergistic nature of different policies , including health , food , and agriculture , are needed to intervene in the current food system .
These policies should be aligned with national public health and nutrition goals to advance the nation ’ s health and well-being .
Policies that not only promote but normalise healthy eating is essential . In normalising the healthy diet , which is part of the halalan toyyiban diet , halal policies ( as well as the standards ) also need to be aligned with national public health and nutrition goals .
While multiple strategies have been put forward in the Halal Industry Master Plan ( HIMP ) 2030 , unfortunately , the national nutrition goals are yet to be addressed .
There is also no specific clause that specifies the nutrition requirement in MS1500:2019 , one of the common Malaysian Standards adopted by the food industry .
Halalan Toyyiban food and the eating environment is the goal
Individual behaviour change is difficult to achieve without addressing the context in which people make decisions . Improving dietary practice will require the synergistic nature of different policies , including halal , to shift our food system favouring toyyib eating .
In championing halal causes and be the global halal hub , our government needs to make sure the halal policies and Halal Industry Master Plan developed truly reflect and capture the comprehensive spirit of halalan toyyiban .
These efforts can intervene in our food systems , potentially creating ripple effects that transform our society ’ s norm in general , specifically Muslim culture , towards halalan toyyiban food choice . In fact , Muslims should be the prime example of a healthy eating community .
You are the best Ummah [ as an example ] raised up for mankind . You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong , and you believe in God .
[ Q . al-Baqarah 3:110 ]
Thus , it is part of our calling as Muslims to be the benchmark for the rest of mankind , including in the way we eat .