Fast foods and upping the ‘healthy eating’ lobby in the region

As the global lobby for healthy eating brings ‘fast food’ establishments the world over under increasing public scrutiny and in many instances, carping criticism, franchises here in the Caribbean are beginning to attract a measure of attention from lobbyists for healthy eating.

Whilst the lobby is yet to reach any great level of intensity in the region, some territories – Barbados being one of them – are beginning to draw higher levels of public attention to the nexus between uncontrolled fast food consumption and attendant health challenges.

One company that seems to be getting the message in Barbados is the Florida-headquartered global chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, Burger King.

On Friday, during the official opening of a Burger King restaurant at a Rubis Gas Station in Barbados, the organisers of the event, including the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security along with Restaurants Associates (Barbados) Ltd, used the occasion to shift the focus from fast foods to healthy eating, with General Manager of Restaurants Associates, Ryan Walters, providing assurances that the health-related interests of consumers of fast foods were being taken seriously.

Speaking at the official opening of the new fast food facility, Walters is quoted in the Barbadian media as pointing out that consumers are able to access Fast-Food Nutrition Facts & Calorie Information, both in-store and on-line. The chart, Walters says, seeks to ensure that customers are able to make an informed decision about whether a particular menu choice fits within their caloric needs. A modest development when viewed against the backdrop of what is commonly referred to as the “globalisation” of food consumption patterns and its effects on food consumption patterns in the Caribbean, the opening ceremony for what is, in effect, a relatively modest regional fast-food outlet, signals not just an increasing awareness among business owners of the effects of the ‘healthy eating’ on their bottom line, but a deliberate attempt to send a signal that fast food outlets too are ‘in the game’ as far as the regional lobby for healthy eating is concerned.

At the opening of the Burger King ‘joint’, the Restaurants Associates official alluded to the options offered to customers by Burger King including affording them a direct input in how their meals are prepared as well as the balance between vegetables, condiments and other inputs.

While Director of Burger King operations in Barbados, Everick Eastmond, focussed in his presentation on the contribution which Burger King makes to the employment and opportunities for local suppliers of goods and services ,“Sixty per cent of our input of goods and services or just over $3 million annually is supplied by indigenous suppliers,” Chairman of Restaurants Associates (Barbados) Limited, Ralph “Bizzy” Williams reportedly used his own presentation to provide assurances to local farmers that the company will continue to work with them. “As far as I am concerned I would like every single thing that Burger King sells in Barbados to be produced locally,” he is quoted as saying.

The intensity of the pushback against the proliferation of ‘fast foods’ here in the Caribbean varies from country to country and ranges from what, sometimes, is a modest focus on the health concerns of the franchise holders to relative silence on the issue. In Guyana, the arrival of successive international ‘fast food’ franchises in recent years has not been attended by any targeted healthy-eating lobby and awareness-raising on the issue continues to depend on the relatively weak public awareness initiatives being undertaken by the local Ministry of Public Health.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Church’s, Pizza Hut, Popeye’s and Burger King are regarded as the top five international ‘Fast Food’ outlets in Guyana.

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