“A Culinary Revolution has begun in Fiji”. These are the words of Chef Lance Seeto, Award-winning Executive Chef, Author, and host of ‘Taste of Paradise’, one of the most influential television shows in the South Pacific region which has sparked a cooking renaissance akin to that of the Jamie Oliver movement in Great Britain.
I met with Lance at Fiji’s Castaway Resort in the South Pacific where he is Executive Chef to talk food, Fijian culture and how his own pursuit for a healthier, happier and richer life inspired him to change the mindset of an entire nation.
Having moved to Fiji from Australia in 2009, it didn’t take Lance long to fall in love with the Fijian way of life. “Happiness and contentment is infectious in the South Pacific. Fiji is a world that is content with what little they have; a world where humanity is celebrated and love of family and respect of others is paramount.”
Leaving behind what he calls a “superficial, materialistic lifestyle ruled by consumerism”, Lance says that the Fijian culture has given him the clarity of mind needed to live a life driven by purpose.
The influential chef is now using his life-changing lessons to inspire the people of the South Pacific to change the way that they see life and how easily and greatly it is affected by the food they eat.
His hugely popular television show, ‘Taste of Paradise’, endorsed by the Fiji Ministry of Health is getting its people, restaurants and tourism resorts to think differently about food and to embrace their culture through tropical island cuisines.
The response from the show was more than Lance and his team had ever anticipated. What started off as a simple cooking show turned into a cult following of viewers who turned in religiously each week to learn new ways to cook the local produce. “Ingredients featured in any one show are literally flying off the shelves the following day.”
“The shows’ primary goal is to empower viewers with the knowledge to cook and eat healthier, and to understand the relationship between what they are eating now and future disease.”
Since the 1980’s, the introduction of Western processed foods to Fiji and the South Pacific Region has seen a significant increase in the diagnoses of food-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and obesity.
“The people who are removed from Western food – those that are living in the Highlands or those on the outer islands or in the remote villages – seem to be still quite healthy”. He says. “But those living in urban areas are increasingly eating processed foods.”
In at least 10 Pacific Island countries, more than 50% (and in some, up to 90%) of the population is overweight according to World Health Organization (WHO) surveys. Alarmingly, Diabetes prevalence among adults in the Pacific region is among the highest in the world; 47% in American Samoa compared with 13% in mainland USA.
About 40% of the Pacific island region’s population of 9.7 million has been diagnosed with noncommunicable disease, notably cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. Life expectancy data make it clear the urgent need for action. In Fiji, only 16% of the population is aged more than 55 years due to premature deaths primary caused by noncommunicable diseases.
Dr Temo K Waqanivalu, technical officer for nutrition and physical activity at the Office of the WHO representative for the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, partly blames poor diet for the region’s health problems. “Promotion of traditional foods has fallen by the wayside. They are unable to compete with the glamorous and flashiness of imported foods.”
Along with filming ‘Taste of Paradise’, Lance Seeto is working tirelessly to educate and encourage the Fijian people to change their behaviours and to ditch the Western diet of processed food, high refined sugars, and synthetic chemicals to rediscover the primal organic diet of their Austronesian forefathers.
“The Fijian food revolution is about taking advantage of the abundance of fresh local produce available, using traditional artisan Fijian techniques and infusing them with the age-old philosophy of eating food as medicine.”