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CLARIN

The Argentine Diet Is A Perfect Recipe For Unhealthy Living

Like other Western countries, Argentina is struggling with an obesity epidemic. As young city dwellers adopt more diverse diets, the less well off rely on monotonous diets with low quality food.

Women cooking for young people in Argentina

Women from a non-profit non-governmental organization preparing food for young people after the Food Emergency Bill was passed in Argentina

Magali Salomon Gaido

BUENOS AIRES- Petrona Carrizo de Gandulfo, born in the 1898 and known familiarly to Argentines as Doña Petrona, was the first woman in Argentina to teach cooking recipes in the media. Her dishes were typically laden with copious amounts of sugar, butter and cream.

Dishes that may seem excessive today were common in the mid-20th century, and for a reason. They were made for Argentines doing physical work for long hours. As they expended more energy then, the average diet (which was an eating regimen, not a slimming plan), meant an intake of some 4,000 calories a day.

Today, that has halved, and as labels will tell you, percent daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The challenge now, living as we do with technology and the Internet, is not eating enough, but sedentary lifestyles. Clara Iturralde, a nutritionist at the private Cliníc Integral in Buenos Aires, says it was "totally necessary" to change to 2,000 calories, as people do much less physical work. "Today, people walk less, take transport to work, machines have replaced people in various industries, and people spend many hours sitting at the computer, which means you need less energy."


The head of CEPEA, a research center for nutrition policies, Sergio Britos, says calorie intake has steadily dropped through recent history. Today, he says, the Argentine table "is monotonous" and "of low nutritional quality."

Fast, junk and sugary

Britos told Clarín that the monotony refers to the "regular presence" of a few foods that made up the bulk of all the food eaten. Eighty per cent of all calories consumed every day, he said, "comes from just 40 products." He listed the nation's top 10 foods including potatoes, bread, meat, chicken, milk, onions, sugar, bananas, rice and pasta, which he pointed out, largely included fast-digesting carbohydrates "of middle to low quality."

Argentines are looking to incorporate new foods that are "not processed, and more natural."

Other nutritionists commented to this daily on a typical Argentine diet today. Araceli Vallone said the Argentine diet remained "classical," with simple dishes prepared fairly fast. Argentines were not fond of vegetables, she said, with their intake mostly consisting of lettuce, tomatoes and carrots. They also "tend to forget" to eat fruit, she added.

This all changes at gatherings, she adds. "Our tradition is to get together in the Spanish or Italian style, and we know that the more food there is, especially if there is variety, the more is eaten, which doesn't help a country where so many people are obese or overweight."

But, she adds, Argentines are today looking to incorporate new foods that are "not processed, and more natural," in spite of the predominance in society of fast, junk and sugary foods. "I personally note greater awareness and interest among the general population, which will bring positive changes to the Argentines' table."

\u200bWoman preparing food for young people

Woman preparing food for young people in Argentina

Roberto Almeida Aveledo/ZUMA

The pandemic effect

More Argentines, including vegans (1% of all Argentines), vegetarians (12%) and "flexitarians" (10%), are adopting a more sustainable diet. Flexitarians are those reducing their meat intake with a view to eliminating it altogether from their diet. Together, says Sergio Britos, "we're talking around 23% of the... population that has made or are making changes to their diet."

The change is gaining momentum, he said, in part because of the pandemic. "Probably the isolation we had for so many months has pushed a good portion of society toward buying ingredients and preparing food, returning to what's natural and including a greater variety of healthy products in their diet."

CEPEA estimates that 89% of Argentines eat badly or very badly, feeding principally on a restricted number of foods and of low nutritional quality. Nutritionist Laura Romano says water biscuits and bread were a constant at all meals. Bread is not bad per se, she says, "but having it with food means we lose count of how much we are eating." Iturralde cited other villains as including boxed juices and soft drinks, which for many "are their main source of hydration," while Vallone adds "biscuits and snacks."

\u200bPhoto of Do\u00f1a Petrona, cooking pioneer of Argentina

Photo of Doña Petrona, cooking pioneer of Argentina

Wikimedia Commons

Labels and schools can help

Britos points out that 42% of Argentines are presently "poor" and that the trend in dieting changes and diversification pertained more to "younger city-dwellers, with medium to high incomes."

Iturralde says her clinic's task included "guiding a family or person to better administer themselves when buying food: choosing seasonal fruit and vegetables, reducing soft drinks and juices... the money could be spent on other foods. Planning meals is another issue that greatly contributes to more efficient, healthy shopping."

Six out of 10 are obese

All our consultants agreed that Argentines need to change their eating habits. The latest National Risk Factors poll (ENFR) found that six out of 10, or 26 million Argentines, were overweight or obese. Britos says "we need to significantly change the way we eat, which I think is an enormous challenge." He said schooling needs to include nutrition, but policies must also ensure healthy eating becomes affordable, labels were clearly visible and schools serve their pupils better meals.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Confronting The Dangers Of A War Reporter

Of the some 9,000 journalists believed to have arrived in Ukraine to report on the war, many were under-prepared. A course in France is now training them on how to face the harsh realities of conflict and teaching them essential survival techniques.

The objective of the training is not for journalists to learn how to face dangers but mainly how to avoid them.

Marina Alcaraz

BEAUVAIS — The ground is soaked with blood. A young man screams, struggling to make himself heard amid the gunfire. The bullet-proof vest with the word "PRESS" emblazoned on it seems insignificant in this moment of horror. Under Russian fire, his colleague has to extract him before he bleeds to death. He only has a few seconds to decide how to transport the injured man, who is weighed down by his equipment. Just a few more seconds to evaluate the severity of the wounds. Two serious injuries, a wounded eye… There are only a few minutes to save his life by applying a tourniquet and taking his pulse before calling emergency services, which will in any case only arrive two hours later.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

The crackling of the bullets, the adrenaline, the fear and the silence that follows… the whole scene is utter chaos. Except this is not Ukraine, where the war is still raging. It's a shooting range about 75 kilometers north of Paris.

Emergency training

This simulation is the result of a course organized for journalists and technicians who work in danger zones. In May, a dozen employees of the French public broadcaster — some with experience, others without — spent a week in immersive training. This meant a few days of preparation before leaving for or returning to Ukraine.

In order to cover the war, which takes place just a few hours' flight from Paris, media organizations sent a huge amount of reporters — some 9,000 accredited journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Young freelancers also went of their own accord, sometimes without even the most basic survival knowledge.

"Ukraine has created a sort of training emergency," says Jean-Christophe Gérard, security director of media company France Médias Monde. "The 'press' vest or badge no longer offers the protection it used to.”

Yan Kadouch, an editor and participant in the course, says: "I have been on several fronts, but often behind the army. In Ukraine, I really felt unsafe. With the artillery fire, it's a lottery."

In danger zones, every decision can lead to death

In Ukraine, eight journalists have lost their lives since the start of the war and 16 have been wounded, according to numbers by RSF. The death of French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff a few weeks ago has left its mark. "He had not even taken any irresponsible risks. This tragedy reminded us how dangerous this war is," says Omar Ouahmane, a senior reporter at Radio France, who has been doing this job for years.

Patrick Chauvel, a veteran photo journalist, agrees. "Unfortunately, you don’t have to go to the front to be killed. In Ukraine, the military uses very heavy weapons, which are rarely seen elsewhere." This training was actually born out of a tragedy: the kidnapping and murder of two French journalists working in 2013 in Mali. Since 2015, this course has welcomed a total of 460 journalists and technicians from audiovisual and print media.

What war preparation involves

Participants are trained by former members of the military. The objective is not to learn how to face dangers but mainly how to avoid them. A bullet-proof vest or even a chemical suit is not enough in Ukraine. It is important to “always be vigilant,” says Michael Illouz, a security expert. “Knowing how to react in certain situation is already a good start.”

For example, in the heat of the first aid exercise, none of the trainees remembered how many shots were fired, and none thought to put on gloves before touching their colleague's wounds. A lot of the advice given is common sense: do not carry your backpack behind you in a minefield to prevent something falling out, do not step too far away from your car to relieve yourself, do not stand next to the armed forces.

To confront them with other possible situations, the journalists are placed in a messy room: an overturned table, chairs on the floor and a pack of cigarettes with a file still intact, in broad daylight. “Everything that seems incoherent should alarm you: there could be explosives,” warns Stéphane Ulhen, a former army mine expert, now a security consultant.

“In danger zones, every decision can lead to death,” he emphasizes. In 2017, three journalists working for a French television program were killed during a mine explosion in Mosul, Iraq. A big part of the training is also focused on gestures that can save a life, following the acronym MARCHE (M = Massive bleeding, A = Airway, R = Respiration, C = Circulation, H = Head & Hypothermia, E = Everything else).

“Bleeding out is the number one cause of preventable death," says Fabrice Simon-Chautemps, a former army paramedic and now a trainer. And the training is quite rigorous: the participants are, for example, capable of treating an evisceration or a thoracic wound affecting the lungs as a first aid measure.

Journalists as targets

Shortly before the terrorist attacks hit Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, a production manager had taken the course. That evening, because she lived in the neighborhood, she went to get her first aid kit and was able to save lives by applying tourniquets.

“It is essential to have first aid skills. Journalists have died because people around them did not know what to do. For example, thanks to this knowledge, I was able to compress a wound on my stomach I had gotten in Panama, with a piece of my shirt and my belt, while waiting for the paramedics that only arrived a few hours later,” says Chauvel.

Even without traveling across the world, the trainees learn how to stay safe in a large crowd. Many journalists were targeted during anti-vaccination protests in France. “A journalist has become a target in certain cases,” says Jean-Christophe Gérard. “Some media outlets assign security guards to them, but I don't think that's the solution: the job is all about going out into the field, being in contact with people, whereas the bodyguard is more likely to try to get in the way. In any case, he wouldn’t be able to do much against an angry crowd.”

But the training is also intended to make people aware of their limits. One of the participants admits never having worn a bullet-proof vest and says they are “extremely heavy” (20-26 lb). Another one is afraid of not having the physical strength to carry someone on their shoulder in case of a real injury.

“I realize that I have been lucky in the past,” says journalist Marie-Pierre Vérot, who decided to take the course. “I have already found myself in complicated situations, for example in the middle of gunfire in a house in Indonesia. My first reflex was to hide under a table, which does not really protect from bullets. I will now take further precautions and think more about possible outcomes.”

A journalist taking pictures in the village of Komyshuvakha, southern Ukraine, after it was bombarded by Russian forces

Dmytro Smoliyenko/Ukrinform/ZUMA

The fixer's role 

Many of the journalists think that the course (marketed at $4,300) should also be followed by their managers, who do not necessarily realize the potential threats, whether those are physical or digital. "Journalists often leave with their personal phones and computers full of documents. If they are captured, there is a risk of finding their sources, for example," says Guillaume Barcelo, an expert in information systems security.

In conflict zones, teams of two or three people are usually tracked by their editors, who help them manage logistics. The journalists must then follow precise protocols with prohibitions and missions. But, in the end, they are the ones who are best able to perceive the danger on the ground, along with the fixer. The fixer is a key component in war reporting. They translate, give guidance on the ground, and bring their network of contacts. In some cases, they even drive and find witnesses. In fact, they take the same risks as their Western colleagues and even risk more reprisals. A fixer in Ukraine generally costs between 250 and 350 dollars a day, but the rate can go up depending on the danger.

Some have become addicted to the field

Some of them are journalists in their own countries, while others come from civil society organizations, “but they all have a sense of resourcefulness,” says Charles Villa, a reporter who has just made a documentary on the profession. In Ukraine, Villa was "surprised to see many fixers taking up arms... Now, with the influx of foreign journalists, some of them who had never done this before are participating.” Especially women. Given the difficulty of finding the right people, some American television stations used specialized protection companies like Chiron, with bodyguards who accompanied the journalists.

If the profession of war reporter is accompanied by a hint of heroism, these journalists are not at all reckless. "Fear is our life insurance," says Omar Ouahmane, who has covered several conflicts.

“We are not looking for adrenaline," says Charles Villa, who attended a training course organized by the army in the south of France a few years ago. "War reporters are mostly reasonable and rational. They seek to emerge in terms of their career, while living extraordinary situations. Some have become addicted to the field," adds Denis Ruellan, a researcher in information and communication sciences and an author of books on war reporters.

A cellar in Chechnya

War reporters know about anxiety. Journalists or technicians in dangerous areas have all come close to serious trouble or even death. Charles Villa has risked his own life on several occasions, in Yemen, or in the Congo when he came face to face with a local warlord. Each one of them recounts with humility the moment when everything changed. Omar Ouahmane remembers a report in Sirte (a city in Libya) where the experienced Dutch photographer, Jeroen Oerlemans, was shot in front of him while crossing a street. "What saved me was that I took some time to observe before I went to follow him."

Patrick Chauvel spent a few hours in a cellar in Chechnya, sure that he was going to stay there and managed to get out by running at the right moment. Not everyone was so lucky.

So what drives war reporters to do their jobs? “I love adventure, the physical side, meeting extraordinary people, living history," answers Patrick Chauvel.

”It is in conflict zones that humanity stands out the most," adds Omar Ouahmane.That’s where we belong as journalists."

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