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Professor Amos Laar delivers lecture on seemingly simple yet vexing topic: What is FOOD?

Amos Laar, a Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the School of Public Health University of Ghana and Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) on Thursday 5 October 2023 unpacked the current consensus and tensions in the food and public health nutrition landscape, at GAAS Auditorium, in Accra Ghana.

In his lecture, on the theme Food and Public Health he addressed such questions as: “What is food” or “What is good food?” and invoked multiple perspectives: historical, political, public health and also examined some of the ethical and philosophical dimensions of food to answer the question of what food is.

He drilled down into the technical aspects of food epistemology, food sovereignty, and food justice  and provided scientific evidence to show some of the links between food and public health.

Prof. Laar noted that when often talking about food, we talk about it in terms of safe food, fast food, junk food, unhealthy food, less healthy food, healthy food, healthier food, and that in his practice, some people have indicated that we perceive food as something that might taste good, spoil unless refrigerated, and something that might make us sick. …sickness, an outcome that Prof Laar warns us about saying that “Anything that makes us sick when eaten is not food.

Of the manifold conceptualization of food, Prof Laar argued that, “food as a commodity” – food when treated as an economic object, is the most problematic conceptualization of food. He said that the commoditization of food that has led to some of the major food challenges of our times.

“What should humans eat?” Amos Laar says quoting the recent Eat Lancet report that good food should adhere to the concept of a Planetary Health Diet, offer Limited Intake of Animal Products, Variety of Fruits and Vegetables, Limited Sugar and Starch Intake, and Nutrition Education and Policy Change. Or simply, as he quotes Michael Pollan. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

Therefore, Prof advances that Ultra-processed food, and beverage products that have undergone extensive processing and contain a large number of added ingredients, including preservatives, flavorings, sweeteners, emulsifiers, colorings, and other synthetic substances, are not real food and they are making us sick and must be regulated. He recommends a mix of low-agency and high-agency food environment policies – those that “inform and empower”; those that “guide and influence” and those that “incentivize, discourage or restrict” to help change food deserts, food swamps, and food mirages, into food oasis and food havens.

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