Vega led an NNC team to present and draw local actions in response to Davao stakeholders from July 10-11 at the Grand Men Seng Hotel.
Vega used data from the 2003 Food and Nutrition Institute (FNRI) Survey, which recommended that the Philippines should have at least 69 kg per capita annual vegetable table consumption.
In contrast, China has a per capita vegetable consumption of 250 kg per year, the highest in the world. Vietnamese, on the other hand, consumed 54 kg per capita in 2000.
The declining vegetable consumption, Vega said, is among the major factors in the increase of incidence of illnesses in the country. In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) said low vegetable intake is estimated to cause some 2.7 million deaths each year, and was among the top 10 risk factors contributing to mortality.
WHO reported there is strong and growing evidence that sufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables helps prevent many diseases and promotes good health, but large parts of the world's population consume too little of these.
Vega cited that the top reasons for the declining vegetable consumption include the low importance given to vegetables, the perception of time-consuming preparation of vegetables, and that vegetables are not acceptable to some. Among the reasons for the "non-acceptability" of vegetables is the low knowledge of its nutritional values, people are not accustomed to eat vegetables and the perception that some vegetables are not palatable.
Vega showed, using an NNC presentation, that Filipinos are not generally health conscious and that educational campaigns about vegetable consumption are not sustained. That is why, she said, there is low knowledge about the nutritional value of vegetables.
The factors that affect "palatability" of vegetables also include the freshness of vegetables available in the market and the lack of skill to prepare varied and appetizing recipes, Vega pointed out.
She cited the skills of the Chinese and the Thai in cooking and presenting their vegetable recipes. She encouraged Filipinos to develop more vegetable recipes.
There is also a stigma against eating vegetables in the Philippines, Vega said, citing that vegetables are linked to "incompetence," as in the use of terms like "nangamote" (sweet potato, for "not getting anything"), "mukhang lantang gulay" (vegetable for "ugliness") and "kalabasa" award (squash for shameful acts).
"The stigma that vegetables are only for the poor and the incompetent should be taken away," she said.
There is a close relationship between the decreasing vegetable consumption and the decreasing vegetable production in the country, Vega said, but stressed there is more problem than production.
The other reasons why Filipino adults have low consumption of vegetables is preference for meat. Since 1978, Filipinos have also increasingly become meat-eaters with an increasing trend of the share of food from animal sources from 20.3 percent in 1978 to 28 percent in 2003, according to a report in the FNRI website.
Many Filipinos, according to a problem tree developed by the Davao stakeholders, also feared that vegetables have chemicals and pesticides. They also cited peculiar cultural beliefs against eating vegetables and the perception that vegetables, especially in the urbanized areas, are "expensive."
The group cited the increasing preference for fast-food and instant foods as a reason for the decreasing vegetable consumption.
Nerissa Babaran, an NNC nutrition officer, said they aim to increase the per capita vegetable consumption from 40 to 60 kg by 2010 and to focus first on key vegetables dishes like pinakbet, chopsuey and green leafy and yellow vegetables in key areas, namely, Metro Davao, Metro Cebu and Metro Manila and in select nutritionally depressed towns in Camarines Sur, Albay, Samar, Lanao del Norte and Cotabato.
The NNC plans to work with the vegetable industry for a stable supply of the key vegetables. It also intends to work to enhance acceptability vegetables, reduce importation to boost local production, improve the quality and availability of locally produced vegetables in the market, expand existing export markets for asparagus, shallots, yellow granex and "okra" and open new and alternative markets for other vegetables.