The Science of Designing Food for the World’s Poor

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

CHOQUISIS, Guatemala—In this tiny, impoverished village, burrowed in the jagged mountains of Guatemala’s Western Highlands, Cristina Itsep Perez is making million-dollar gruel.

Under a corrugated tin roof, in a one-room kitchen adorned with colorful pots, pans, and baskets, she’s furiously mixing Mi Comidita, a corn-and-soy blend fortified with 19 vitamins and minerals. The Canadian government has poured $2 million in aid into the product—a super-cereal for kids during their pivotal first two years, and specially designed for a country with the world’s fourth-highest chronic undernutrition rate for children under five. In isolated, largely indigenous communities like Choquisis, child malnutrition rates can reach 70 or 80 percent, severely hindering kids’ ability to grow, learn, work, and lead healthy lives for years to come. These dubious distinctions make Guatemala a laboratory of sorts for innovations in the production and delivery of micronutrient-fortified food.

It’s a surprisingly vibrant field. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Hormel Foods, for instance, have engineered a vitamin-stocked turkey paste called Spammy that comes in a tuna-can-like container with a cartoon turkey on the front, and is served to Guatemalan schoolchildren in the form of chuchitos, dobladas, and tostadas. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has turned to a computer-software program called Optifood to identify local foods, fortified foods, and micronutrient powders that can fill gaps in Guatemalans’ diets at the lowest possible cost.

Source: The Atlantic (link opens in a new window)

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