Food Policy

Why Did These Islands in the South Pacific Just Ban Junk Food?

February  7, 2017

Last week, The Guardian reported that the Torba province of Vanuatu, an 83-island nation nestled deep in the South Pacific, would be imposing a wholesale ban on all foreign-imported junk food. Torba is the country's northernmost region, so isolated that some have termed it Vanuatu's “forgotten province." Citing an “infiltration” of junk foods from overseas, government officials sought to eliminate the temptation to eat foods from outside the country and instead promote the province's vast, fecund natural resources.

It bears noting that Torba's definition of “junk food” here is rather generous. The casualty of this clampdown are any foods that come from outside the nation: rice, sweets, tinned fish, and biscuits. The push is part of a larger ploy to promote the cuisine of Torba. The majority of the province's population of 10,000 is composed of subsistence farmers. The cuisine of Torba orbits around a lot of seafood—namely crabs and shellfish—along with taro, yams, paw paw, and pineapple; popular drinks include kava, the alcohol alternative with sedative effects.

“In other provinces that have adopted Western diets you see pretty young girls but when they smile they have rotten teeth, because the sugar has broken down their teeth,” Father Luc Dini, the tourism council's figurehead, told The Guardian. Okay, dude. “We don’t want that to happen here and we don’t want to develop the illnesses that come with a western junk food diet.”

The ban has gone into effect immediately in tourist villas and hotels, which have been ordered by the province’s tourist arm to serve guests locally-grown, organic meals. The move is largely orchestrated by Dini, who's gained the approval of Torba's central government to introduce legislation in the next two years to implement this policy across the whole group of islands, banning imports of all foreign food. The directive here is, ultimately, to make Torba the country's first fully-organic province by 2020. The efficacy of junk food bans, or any bans for that matter, has long been contested. Maybe it'll actually work in this case, though, and Torba will become its own little organic paradise, filled with young women who have pretty, perfect teeth.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


CanadaDan February 10, 2017
The link has Bamba in there, which is an Israeli snack, basically cheetos with peanut butter. In Israel, everyone grows up eating it, and its fed to kids like baby food. Consequence? There's virtually no such thing as a peanut allergy in Israel, since babies get fed bamba! My israeli friends who come here don't understand the concept of a peanut allergy, it's so foreign to them. (and for anyone wondering, no, israelis are not obese)
Whiteantlers February 7, 2017
Nah, I don't think it will work. It sounds nice on paper though. : )
(smiling with mouth closed to hide sugar rotted teeth...)