For the working session, Healthy Islands-Healthy People: Examining Health Promotion Programs and NCDs in the Pacific, organized by Fepulea’i Micah Van der Ryn, Jemaima Tiatia-Seath and Barbara Andersen, I presented the paper: “Elemental Eating: Samoan Public Health and Valuation in Health Promotion” (forthcoming The Contemporary Pacific).
In this article, we suggest that indigenous foods are valorized and expanded through their re-signification as nutritious as they are presented in Samoan health promotion campaigns. These campaigns elucidate how public health selectively valorizes culture, while expanding the category to include non-indigenous fruits and vegetables, and in turn reshapes meanings associated with indigenous foods as related to health. We first presented material that demonstrates the impact of health promotion materials on food knowledge. We highlight how nutrition as a value dominates official accounts and then explore health promotion media that encouraged viewers to deconstruct food into constitutive parts, particularly negative nutrients like fat and salt. We call this elemental eating, which mutes the distinction between imported, new foods and indigenous, local foods by foregrounding components. Finally, we examine a media campaign that presents the new food category, mea’ai paleni, as a hybrid of indigenous and local foods. Health promotion in this context revalued indigenous foods, and expanded the category, by promoting a scientistic framework for interpreting nutrition. This interpretive framework reorganizes food categories from strictly new, imported foods and local, indigenous foods, to healthy and unhealthy foods, both reflecting epidemic discourses in local media and scholarship while also complicating the typical epidemiological representation of the “nutrition transition.”