Colonization has greatly impacted the diet in the Pacific islands, a panel of speakers said at Highline recently.
The presentation was done as part of Highline’s recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, via Zoom.
Nestor Enguerra, cultural specialist for Highline’s AANAPISI program, said prior to colonization, the Pacific island diet mainly consisted of starchy fruits, root vegetables, and coconuts.
“Colonizers would sell meat to islanders because meat is scarce on the islands,” Enguerra said. “They would sell the left-over pieces of meat that contained the most fat. “Colonizers would take their waste and turn it into gold by selling it to poor people.”
The result was an increased reliance on imported and processed food. “Pacific islanders would buy canned goods because it is cheaper, convenient, and less work,” he said.
Consequences from colonial foods have included obesity, heart disease, and cancer, Enguerra said.
“Many Pacific island nations and communities have been deemed ‘the fattest in the world,’” he said. “It has been reported that Pacific islanders have the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes.”
Many Pacific islanders have acknowledged the negative impact of colonial food but run into many difficulties in solving the issue, panelists said. One of the challenges in fixing the problem of naturalizing colonial food is food deserts, these are areas that do not have access to affordable fresh food.
“Food deserts purposely don’t give good food to communities of color,” Enguerra said. Meanwhile, fast food compared is the cheaper alternative to fresh food for many low-income families.
One of the biggest obstacles is that many families have naturalized colonial foods as comfort food for many generations, he said.
“The naturalization of colonized food as comfort food,” Enguerra said. “Denying people of their food that reminds them of home and culture that comforts them during times of stress is difficult.”
“There is also cultural practice that put the colonizers food on a pedestal,” Enguerra said. “To deny them especially at cultural events can be seen as disrespectful and insulting.”
Donna Enguerra-Simpson, program coordinator transfer and pre-college education at Highline, said better choices can be made in people’s diets.
“By understanding the history of colonial food that has been naturalized, we hope that Pacific islander can make individual healthy styles changes,” she said.
“There needs to be more help in advocating for systemic changes that can help improve the Pacific islander diet for Pacific island countries and communities in the US,” Enguerra-Simpson said.
“There are many set backs when trying to change things,” she said. “If you show up at a social gathering with a can of corned beef, you’re much more well received then if you show up with fresh papaya from your garden.”