food / travel

In Chile, Where The "Functional Food" Movement Is Nourished

Berry hard work
Berry hard work
Marina Parisi

SANTIAGO — Believe it or not, food production waste can have more healthy components than the end product itself. That’s the conclusion of Chilean food research institute CREAS, which conducted a joint project with juice-makers Bayas del Sur in which they recovered juice production leftovers to obtain a berries-based concentrate with super-high antioxidant levels.

In fact, an entire industry is emerging around these so-called functional foods, and businesses have begun rescuing food waste to convert it into products with added nutritional value. There is already a patent application for the berries concentrate, and five journals are studying it.

Leftovers or primary remains from food production have almost as many bioactive properties as the finished food itself — meaning they can eliminate free radicals, lower cholesterol to normal levels, boost the immune system and support healthy brain activity. The scientific community has corroborated these qualities.

This is increasingly relevant when considering that Chile creates some 50,000 tons of vegetable and industrial waste annually that is immediately discarded. But recovering it is not easy, says Caroline León, head of projects at CREAS. “There is no standard process, which is why research is needed in each case."

Old, sick and ecological

Consumers are better informed today about the consequences of bad eating habits, which is a boost for the functional food trend, says María Elvira Zúñiga from CREAS. “They have started demanding more nutritional products with an aggregate value for their health.” Another factor is increased environmental awareness and the need to use industrial waste in a more sustainable way.

An aging global population becoming more careful and thoughtful about food will generate considerable demand for “foods that help prevent illnesses,” she says. Functional foods will likely play a priority role here, says Gonzalo Jordán, head of the Chilean Education Ministry's research office. The world’s population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and 22% of those people will be over 60 years old and principally based in more developed countries, says Jordán, citing UN statistics.

The market for these foods has, in fact, already risen significantly. Euromonitor’s statistics point to $532 billion in 2005 sales rising to more than $691 billion in 2011, with projected sales of $862 billion in 2015.

Omega 3 is “in”

The pioneering additive that has become all the rage is Omega 3, a fatty acid essential to the nervous system and regenerating brain cells. The body does not generate this, so it has to be ingested in foods like tuna, salmon, shellfish, algae or linseed and canola oil, among other sources. Yet Chileans hardly eat fish — five kilograms a year per person, compared to 60 kilos per person in Japan — and hardly touch linseed or canola oil.

Food entrepreneur Manuel José Correa, founder of Agrícola Omega Tres, saw an opportunity in the 1990s when he began changing his poultry’s diet — adding fish oils and corn — to make them lay eggs rich in Omega-3. The new diet initially spoiled their flavor, which meant a lot more testing until Correa had the eggs he wanted in 1997: with good taste, aroma and color.

Then he had to persuade consumers that eggs were a healthy food to eat, no small chore because people were convinced at the time that they should avoid them because of cholesterol concerns.

“Offering someone eggs with Omega 3 then was like offering cigarettes to someone with lung cancer,” Correa observes. He persisted until Omega 3 became increasingly accepted across the food industry. Producers began including it in milk, butter, margarine, noodles, fruit juice and flour, among other staples.

Agrícola Omega Tres sells all its production today to supermarket chains, and while its eggs are 70-100% more expensive than ordinary eggs, Correa says “the consumer is prepared to pay more for healthy food.”

As junk food fights to retain market share in the face of new regulations and consumers who care much more about health, the hour of a new food industry is at hand — one that will use healthy ingredients that contribute to our nutrition. Apparently just what the doctor ordered.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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