Why we need to be focusing on food security now more than ever

By Jess Spiro, 22 October 2020

Chef and food writer Mokgadi Itsweng is a veritable force of nature in the food world. While she’s always worked to improve food security, she has focused her energies even more on this issue during lockdown. We caught up with her to find out more on the work she’s done, what we can all do to help – plus her very own lockdown baby, an online deli stocking spice rubs, sauces, homeware and super-hot-right-now heritage grain, sorghum.

1. After what’s been an incredibly hard couple of months, how is life looking for you at the moment? What’s been keeping you busy?

Navigating life past lockdown is very surreal. Not being able to earn a consistent income is tough, but it also opens you to creative ways of selling yourself, your product and your business. I’m still navigating my life post lockdown, while still in a pandemic.

During the height of the lockdown and COVID infections in June, I kept myself busy with the launch of  spice and sauces brand called Ujuspice. Selling products via an online store has been a real education for me and has forced me to dig even deeper to stay passionate about my business.


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2. You’ve always been a powerful force within the food security and nutrition movement here in South Africa, but you seemed to have been part of some even larger global discussions. Can you talk about your involvement in this? Why is it so important to you to have these discussions? What were some of the more inspiring takeaways?

Food security and nutrition discussions are long overdue in South Africa. The effects of hunger and poor nutrition have never been more evident than they are now during the pandemic. Malnutrition is a serious problem in South Africa due to over consumption (obesity) and under consumption (stunting and wasting) of nutrients. Over 700 million people around the world are food insecure and hungry, meaning they don't have reliable access to nutritious food. In South Africa the numbers are rising every day, as more people lose their income and are unable to feed their families. This is happening in our neighbourhoods, so we need to come together as South Africans and help those who need it. Without the conversations, nothing happens and we all carry on with our lives, and the hungry become invisible. Obesity due to our obsession with nutrient-deficient foods is reaching uncontrollable proportions with people suffering from diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle diseases dying from COVID-19. As a food producer and a chef belonging to the Chefs Manifesto, it is important for me to be conscious of what is good food and what is not. I am an advocate for good nutritious food that is affordable and accessible to everyone. Food is life and everyone has the right to life.

3. While we’re on the topic, what are some ways the average South African can do their small part to ensure food security?

South Africans need to open their hearts and have the spirit of ubuntu, by helping their local NGO's feeding food-insecure communities by donating food, money and time, and by being more conscious of their food waste at home, growing their own vegetables and volunteering their time working at community food gardens.

4. Having come out of lockdown, where many were made even more vulnerable due to unemployment and even further food insecurity, what are some thoughts you have on this? Where do you think we need to focus our energies to ensure a more sustainable food system in SA?

We need to focus our energies in growing nutritious food via community /school/ home food gardens that will give people access to nutritious food. The government needs to make land available for these projects. We also need to focus on growing the local economy by buying from and supporting local businesses. We can strengthen our food system by increasing biodiversity through growing forgotten indigenous crops. This not only heals the land that monocrop growing has harmed, but it also introduces diverse nutrient-dense ingredients onto our plates. Big food companies need to put the health of their customers first and not only be driven by profits; they are responsible for years of unhealthy eating habits that put pressure on the economy and the food system. They must genuinely be at the forefront of helping to build a healthy food system.


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5. What else have you got in the pipeline? What can we look forward to seeing you do next?

I have been working with an amazing food security NGO called Ladles of Love, helping to support their adopted kitchens that have fed over 7 million people during the pandemic. Working on this project has been such an eye-opener for me, because I saw first-hand what hunger looks like, and I got to help in my own small way. I am now working on a dining experience called “The Plate” with chef Mokgadi, that promotes a healthy, sustainable, plant-based plate, which is good for humans and the planet. The first experience is at the end of November.


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Keep up with Mokgadi by following her on Instagram.

Jess Spiro

Article by Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.
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