Bashiera Parker | There's Chuckles in everything these days, but can you taste the cacao in it?

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Still image of cacao nibs.
Still image of cacao nibs.
Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP
  • I recently attended a cooking class along with Zola Nene. 
  • We sat in on the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA)'s discussion on introducing clear front-of-package labels in South Africa.
  • HEALA's national campaign calls on government to demand food and beverage companies put clear front-of-package labels on food items high in fat, sugar and salt. 
  • After the discussion and stuffing my mouth with a handful of cacao nibs, I'm all for the campaign. Hear me out.

Have you ever tried cacao nibs?

Not in a smoothie, I mean. Have you ever tried cacao nibs, the whole food, in all its unrefined glory, and truly enjoyed it?

If you answered yes, tell me, where did you learn to lie like that? Because when I sat around the table with Zola Nene for Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA)'s interactive cooking session at Food Jams in Cape Town in October, the taste of the cacao nibs did not give me Chuckles vibes.

The whole food did deliver its bitter message, though, that our palettes have changed so much due to our modern diets, which include, for the most part, high intakes of pre-packaged foods, refined grains, processed meats, high-sugar drinks, sweets, fried foods and high-fat dairy products. 

Zola Nene, HEALA
Photos from my time with HEALA and Zola Nene.
Zola Nene, HEALA
Photos from my time with HEALA and Zola Nene.
Zola Nene, HEALA
Photos from my time with HEALA and Zola Nene.
Zola Nene, HEALA
Photos from my time with HEALA and Zola Nene.

What are FoPL?

HEALA's national #whatsinourfood campaign calls on government to demand food and beverage companies put clear front-of-package (FoPL) labels on food items high in fat, sugar and salt. The decision will allow consumers to make better choices about what they consume, resulting in a better quality of life.

The statistics
  • According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
  • In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight.
  • Of these, over 650 million were obese- increasing the risk of several debilitating and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancers and more, all of which have significantly increased over the years.

Promising policy proposals like the World Heart Federation's Front-Of-Package Policy Brief present a concise summary that helps readers understand and make informed decisions about food choices. It gives an objective overview of the research, suggests possible policy options and argues for courses of action that governments should take when considering FoPL systems as part of a larger package of policies to create healthy, empowering food environments.

Locally, Treasury has already introduced the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) on sugary drinks. The "sugar tax" is charged on non-alcoholic sugary beverages, except fruit juices, and works out to about 10%-11% per litre of the sugary drink.

Zola Nene, HEALA
Photos from my time with HEALA and Zola Nene.

What's really in our food?

During our interactive cooking session, using a few of Zola Nene's recipes, I helped prepare a meal – sans sugar, copious amounts of salt and processed foods – and boy, did we feast.

As a new mom, my mind couldn't help but wonder about the baby food I'd prepared earlier that day for my 7-month-old son. 'Let me just smooth these carrots out with a knob of butter and a teeny-tiny bit of sugar,' I'd told myself.

Zola Nene, HEALA
Photos from my time with HEALA and Zola Nene.

When we were seated around the table at the event, however, with Lynn Moeng, Chief Director for health promotion at the National Department of Health, she said: "Two or three generations ago, we were eating wholesome food.

"I want to talk about the chickens that are running in our yards! Some call them marathon chickens because they run around.

"That chicken is whole – there is nothing added to it. But, if you compare it to the chicken we now buy – it may look whole, but it's not. So South Africans, we eat so much processed foods - I'm not even going to talk about ultra-processed – just processed foods, everything is finer, the nutrients are removed, and then they get added [to] again – and they may add artificial things, not the original things."

She made a poignant point, however, when she said: "Please do not add sugar because if you don't add it, I won't miss it."

She explained: "We add salt to our children's food, but children are born with no taste preferences. We introduce taste preferences to them. And when they start to not want something, we think it's fine because even when we prepare food for them, we prepare it with our own taste preferences."

And ain't that the truth?

Pointing to the cacao nibs in hand, she told us: "When you just buy ready-to-eat foods that are high in fat, high in sugar, high in salt, most of the time, it's actually changed our own tastebuds. If our tastebuds were not changed by the industry to get used to sweet and salty foods, this would be nice. This is wholesome. Our tastebuds are changed."

See, Woolworths won't rest until there's Chuckles in my baby's food as well. But the question remains: Can you taste the flavour of the cacao in a bag of malted puffs coated in milk chocolate? I wonder, would you truly enjoy it?


Bashiera Parker is a News24 journalist and devoted foodie. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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