Consumers favouring natural over artificial food

HA NOI (VNS) — Every weekend, 21-year-old Nguyen Viet Hung, a senior from Ha Noi-based University of Science and Technology, visits his hometown in the northern province of Hung Yen. What he receives is the joy of gathering with family, and a package full of fresh food.

Vegetables, beef, chicken, sausages, pork pies, even dry onions and garlic are carefully selected by his mother from his family farm. Hung does not have to go to the market to buy food.

Hung started to worry about the origins of the food he bought at the market in the city four years ago.

"When I just entered university, I often bought vegetables and meat at a market near my rented room. These vegetables look suspiciously fresh. My mother said only vegetables with pesticides look very fresh like this."

Not until a day when Hung suffered from a terrible stomachache did he realise that he really needed to change his eating habits. The doctor said he got food poisoning and had to have his stomach cleaned.

"It was a nightmare to me," Hung said.

"When I lived in my hometown, I rarely had stomachaches. I integrated into nature and found myself more healthy and exposed to fewer diseases. I think if I continued to eat food without knowing its origins, I would also be stricken by cancers, not just food poisoning," Hung said.

Last year, the number of deaths from cancers caused by dirty food and the environment was nine times higher than those from traffic accidents, said Colonel Tran Binh Trong, deputy head of the Environment Police Department under the Ministry of Public Security.

Hung's obsession over contaminated food reached the utmost when he and his roommate, by chance, directly saw a large swamp of rau muong (water spinach) planted next to sewers filled with black water around Trieu Khuc Street in Ha Noi's Thanh Xuan District.

The two boys then discussed a measure to improve the quality of their daily meals and decided to take turns bringing fresh food from their hometowns, which, according to them, saves money and is healthy.

Knowing the above surprising figure, Le Thuy, an office worker in Ha Noi, said that living in a society in which frequent violation of standards on food hygiene, she felt worried but did not know what to do to calm her nerves.

"Sometimes most people feel that dying or not depends on fate. If consumers make determined decisions to say no to contaminated food and really pay attention to food hygiene, I do not think food stalls along streets or at dirty markets can exist," she said, stressing that consumers should be proactive in enhancing their the quality of their lives.

Thuy hails from a village in central Nghe An Province where there is a wide variety of fresh food selected from small local farms and seafood caught directly from the sea.

In hopes of ensuring quality of meals for everyone in her office and helping busy women save time from selecting food, Thuy usually brings fresh food from her hometown to share with her colleagues.

"I want to buy things for everyone. My colleagues are very happy with fresh countryside food. For example, the meat when being cooked does not water out so their children can eat more. Moreover, they feel comfortable without having to think what to eat every day," Thuy said.

From awareness to action

While more and more food safety and hygiene violation cases have been uncovered recently, sharing fresh food is not only popular among friends and colleagues but has also become a big campaign in residential quarters.

Keangnam apartment building is one of the residential areas in the city to pioneer the launch of a network in which residents join hands to plant and harvest fresh vegetables by themselves.

The initiative has come from a man whose childhood has strong attachment to the nature of the Vietnamese countryside.

58-year-old Nguyen Danh Hai, a transport officer, has made use of his land lot located to the northwest of Ha Noi in Son Tay town to start a farm.

"I want to gather my neighbours who share my wish to have fresh food in daily meals. The food in the market is now stimulated to grow with chemicals and pesticides. I realise that only when we plant vegetables by ourselves can we feel safe and protect our family," Hai said.

Each household is assigned a 10 to 20sq.m land lot where they can plant any kind of vegetable. Residents by themselves choose plant seeds, food for animals as well, which means they can completely control their food's origins. Gardeners in the region are hired to look after the farm.

Another purpose of the founder is to create a space for families to go back to the countryside and relax at the weekend. Children will be taken to a different world, far from virtual world of the Internet to freely explore and learn new things.

"From being responsible for what we eat, we can have a further vision. I hope my model will be applied widely in the future," Hai said.

Truong Hoai Huong, a Keangnam resident who joins in the group, has heard about Ha Noi's locals self planting vegetables on their top floors. However, she said that planting fresh vegetables and sharing at an apartment complex are definitely a new and creative idea.

The money spent on seeds and food for animals is higher than the amount she used to spend on buying food at the market, however, she feels less worried.

"If we buy food at the market, the expense may be lower, however, we may have to pay an expensive price for curing diseases when we get food poisoning," she said.

As sharing is considered to be the main target of the group, Huong hopes that the activity will enhance the solidarity of Keangnam residential community. Every weekend, when someone is busy and can not go to the farm to get their farming products, other families will help them to take on this duty.

"In the face of ineffective management by State agencies, we can not sit and wait around for them to act. We should be intelligent consumers first," Huong said