"We used to get food from the garden." Understanding changing practices of local food production and consumption in small island states.
Many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) lead global rates in obesity and non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs). Drivers for this are complex and include lack of food sovereignty, evidenced by an increasing reliance on cheap nutrient-poor food imports and a focus on export orientated cash crop production for much local agriculture. To better inform SIDS' policy goals of improving nutrition through increased local food production, we explored in two SIDS current practices of food production and consumption. Teams of researchers from the two main regional universities conducted 28 focus groups in Fiji in the Pacific and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean with rural and urban communities of different socio-economic or land-owning status. In both countries home gardens were still common, valued as providing staple foods to households and contributing to health and livelihoods. Yet social changes had been experienced over the life course and across generations, such as increased purchase of foods, consumption of processed and often imported foods, and fast foods. While participants associated local foods with better nutrition and health outcomes than imported foods, some local foods were also acknowledged as unhealthy (e.g. locally produced tinned products, pesticide contaminated fresh produce). Finally, as food and related health advice moves globally, crossing national boundaries, and through formal and informal channels, local experiences can be confusing and contested. We suggest the need to understand temporal and spatial aspects of social practices, as social practices and their meaning change over time, travel globally and are experienced locally. To enhance and support re-localising food to counteract unhealthy consumption of ultra-processed, shop-bought, often imported foods, it is vital to understand these lived experiences of changes and resulting uncertainties, and to explicitly build on the longstanding positive relationships that people continue to express about home gardens and local food.