The current financial crisis and devaluation of the Lebanese Lira has led to sudden, sharp spikes in the prices of many food commodities that are deemed integral to the Lebanese typical diet. For most households in the country, such a situation is imposing a shift in the food purchase patterns towards more cost-effective measures, favoring more energy-dense foods that lack many essential nutrients. In response to this crisis, FAFS has taken the initiative to gather experts from different sectors and disciplines to bring forward dietary recommendations that are cost-effective and which do not jeopardize the health and wellbeing of the Lebanese population. This initiative took the form of a panel session entitled “Dietary recommendations to enhance the resilience of communities in times of crisis: Lebanon's uprising 2019" (December 17) as part of FAFS Lecture Series in the Michel and Sherine Bayoud Lecture Hall.
The session featured a presentation by Dr. Farah Naja, associate professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences (NFSC) Department, who disclosed five key dietary recommendations to adopt in times of crisis in order to achieve a healthy and resilient food plan. These five recommendations are: eat local products; reduce food waste; watch out for food safety; share with the less fortunate; and a healthy food basket. Naja also shed light on the Lebanese dietary pattern as one that is nutrient dense, environmentally friendly, and protective against obesity and chronic health diseases.
The panelists included Dr. Rami Zurayk, professor and chairperson in the Landscape and Ecosystem Management (LDEM) Department at FAFS, Dr. Roula Majdalani, director of Sustainable Development Policies Division (SDPD) at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA), and Soha Zaiter, executive manager at the Lebanese Food Bank.
Majdalani highlighted the importance of cost, nutrient density, as well as health and environmental considerations of local food production and consumption in times of crisis, emphasizing the outcomes on social value and welfare and across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In turn, Dr. Zurayk stressed the importance of frugality as part of the transformation of the food system and of the need to consume less quantities of food rather than changing the diet only. Zurayk also called for encouraging agriculture students and graduates to volunteer in providing extension to farmers in order to promote agroecological technologies, and to draw on our agribusiness graduates to support innovations in marketing and sales that are efficient and equitable.
From a community perspective, Zaiter highlighted the role of NGOs in alleviating hunger in these turbulent times by presenting two major initiatives by the Lebanese Food Bank: delivering food products to needy families through key NGOs and empowering Lebanese women and housewives through the cooking project. The panel session was moderated by Dr. Lamis Jomaa, assistant professor at the NFSC Department at FAFS, who underlined the important role of academic institutions during times of crisis in encouraging students' freedom of speech and expression and equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to be agents of change, while supporting them at all levels. Jomaa also described universities as the platform for open dialogue amongst academic, private, public, and non-governmental entities, bringing forward the change needed today in these hard times that should be based on sound scientific evidence and on the principles of transparency, good governance, and accountability. The panel was followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
The event took place in conjunction with the campus-wide food drive that was happening on the same day in collaboration with the Lebanese Food Bank. An audience of over 70 participated, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, and external guests from academia, the public and private sectors, UN organizations, and from NGOs and civil society.
For the full video of the event, click here.