Torba Province, a collection of islands in the remote South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, has banned junk food. Western junk food, to be precise. Instead of leaning on unhealthy imports like candy, cookies, and rice, the islands will sustain themselves solely with their homegrown crops, and aim to become Vanuatu’s first fully organic province by 2020.
“We are Vanuatu’s most isolated province and so far our health has stayed pretty good because of that, but we want to continue to be healthy,” community leader and tourism boss Father Luc Dini told The Guardian. Torba is the northernmost province of Vanuatu, and its remote location has somewhat protected it from the ingress of junk. Dini added that other islands have adopted Western diets and are suffering because of it: They have rotten teeth from the all the sugar, for example. “We don’t want that to happen here and we don’t want to develop the illnesses that come with a Western junk food diet,” Dini said.
Torba’s population of 10,000 is mostly made up of subsistence farmers. Local foods include fish, crabs, shellfish, taro, yams, paw paw, and pineapple, according to The Guardian, which makes you wonder why the islanders would want to import the rice, candy, and canned fish that Dini says are ruining their health.
Mostly, it seems, the attraction to junk food has been convenience. Rice and noodles can just be tossed in a pot of boiling water and the work is done. “But they have almost no nutritional value and there is no need to eat imported food when we have so much local food grown organically on our islands,” Dini said in The Guardian.
The islands’ local chefs are on board with the plan, and as the first phase rolls out this week, touristic bungalows–thatched-roof huts that stand on stilts at the ocean’s edge–will begin serving only locally-grown food. Legislation introduced over the next two years will ban all imported foods, though the jury remains out on how the laws will affect alcohol imports.
It’s a noble goal, and one could have a measurable impact on locals’ health. The promise of eating only local, organic food is also sure to attract a certain variety of mindful tourist, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: As travel becomes easier and the need for cross-cultural understanding grows more apparent, legislating an appreciation for local food is both a smart tourism move and a way for Torba to preserve its identity and culture.