Are so-called superfoods really so healthy? How does the growing global demand affect local inhabitants who have been growing such foods since time immemorial as part of their diets?

Superpotravinový řetězec (The Superfood Chain), režie: Ann Shin, 2018, 70 min

The Superfood Chain, dir: Ann Shin, Canada, 2018, 70 min

Superfoods – every now and then nutrition experts and self-proclaimed celebrities come up with a discovery of foodstuff that is supposed to possess magic characteristics. It doesn’t make you fat and if you stuff your face with it all day you’ll live for ever. It is often a celebrity who takes part in such a discovery – Madonna promoted coconut oil for so long that she finally bought a firm producing it. The same is true for quinoa – one of the stars of The Superfood Chain. Although this crop has been grown in Bolivia of thousands of years, one day Oprah Winfrey mentioned it as part of her diet and the West has been going crazy about it ever since.

 

I’d think Bolivian farmers must be happy. And at the start they surely were – the demand took off and since the supply was relatively small, the prices grew too. At this moment, global agricultural corporations and states also sniffed their chance although they hadn’t had any experience of this crop until then – Spain, Canada, China and India. They sowed huge areas and suddenly everyone was able to supply it much cheaper than Bolivian farmers. After a few idyllic years came an even steeper fall.

 

Another superfood is lovegrass, called teff in Ethiopia. They’ve been using it to make injera flat bread as a side dish to almost any food. The Ethiopian government doesn’t want the Bolivian precedent to happen so when their national food started to become another hot subject of the Western “food” scene, it simply prohibited its export. Although this ban was later relaxed and the export of teff made Ethiopia the fastest growing economy in the world, there is still a chance the local producers will not be driven out of the market by competition.

 

Superfood need not be exotic – what about the “average” salmon? A fantastic source of for example omega-3 saturated acid, protein, vitamin B12, potassium and selenium. For people from the Canadian archipelago Haida Gwaii salmon is the main part of their diet, mythology and traditions. Recently they have had to face the pressure of the fishing industry. Although the local authorities have pressed for the ban on salmon farms, which would bring in disease and pollution, they can’t do anything about industrial and sport fishing just behind the borders of international waters.

 

Director of Superfood Chain Ann Shin originally wanted to shoot a film about the health benefits of foods. However, she made a film that is much more socially conscious. As soon as the West proclaims a food to be exceptional, it has a negative impact on the local population. If we want to stay healthy we should maybe first focus on foods that grow in out garden at home – in our latitudes it is for example garlic, cabbage, green vegetables in general, mushrooms or walnuts – and if we feel like eating some superhealthy exotic food, we should check whether it comes from a sustainable source, as declared by for example the Fair Trade certificate.

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