Oxfam Index: When Food Is Good Enough to Eat

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What makes a country one of the best places in the world to eat? For Oxfam, it isn’t cities teeming with restaurants run by celebrity chefs or bakers dreaming up cronuts. The answer for the non-profit took into account: if there was enough food to eat; if it was affordable; the quality of food available; and if people’s diets yielded unhealthy outcomes. The result is Oxfam’s “Good Enough to Eat” index.

To create the index, Oxfam standardized available data to calculate scores ranging from 0 (the best) to 100 (the worst). The lowest score — 6 — and title of best place to eat went to the Netherlands. Oxfam says this is attributable to the country having lower levels of diabetes, cheaper food, and more nutritional diversity than most other European countries. The Netherlands took first place despite its high obesity levels; nearly one in five people are obese.

France and Switzerland came next, each earning an eight overall. Next was a four-way tie for third place, because Austria, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden all scored 10 points. Countries with 11 points rounded out the top 12; those nations were Australia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Portugal.

These countries led the way in overall scores, but they are not without food-related issues. Many have high levels of obesity; for example, 27 percent of Australia’s population is considered obese. Chad was ranked as the worst country, scoring 50 points. The nation earned a 94 in terms of the cost of food; only Guinea (100 points) and The Gambia (97 points) had higher scores. When food can be purchased in Chad, it is low quality and has little nutritional value. There is scant access to sanitary conditions, and one third of children are underweight.

Ethiopia and Angola had 49 points each, just barely better than Chad. The only non-Sub-Saharan country in the bottom 10 was Yemen. The highest scorers share many traits. Food there tends to be expensive, and people routinely spend up to 75 percent of their income on food.

High prices are the start of the cycle. Since people cannot afford to eat, they are malnourished; what they can purchase often does not provide necessary nutrients. “Poverty and inequality are the real drivers of hunger. Hunger happens where governance is poor, distribution weak, when markets fail, and when people don’t have enough money and resources to buy all the goods and services they need,” Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said.

The report highlights an emerging dichotomy in unhealthy lifestyles due to food. On one end sit countries where prohibitive costs prevent a healthy population. At the other are nations where cost is less of a barrier and consumption is leading to a population that is overweight. In regards to obesity, the U.S. has the second worst position, a place it shares with Saudi Arabia. In each country, one-third of the population is obese. Saudis and Americans are beat only by Kuwaitis, 42 percent of whom are obese.

The U.S. has the lowest score for the “Afford to Eat” category, and its overall score was 21. The report highlights that processed and high-fat foods are the cheapest fare available there. It is this type of food that is also leading to spiking obesity rates in middle-income and developing nations, the report says.

According to Byanyima, the report “lays bare the common concerns that people have with food regardless of where they come from. It reveals how the world is failing to ensure that everyone is able to eat healthily, despite there being enough to go around.” By indexing the countries, Oxfam wanted to bring awareness to a global concern and promote the search for solutions that will lead to food sustainability. “Having sufficient healthy and affordable food is not something that much of the world enjoys,” Byanyima stated.