This paper addresses the challenge of equitable development in health-inducing food accessing opportunities in urban Asia. It goes in detail on the impact of urban food safety governance, which promotes formalised modern retail outlets over more traditional outlets, on the dietary intake of the urban poor. Based on citizen background inequalities - income and gender - the paper examines the quality and diversity of the diet - in terms of food safety guarantees and nutrition composition - in relation to time-spatial and social-cultural dimensions of accessing food.
Building on empirical evidence from Hanoi, Vietnam, the study addresses food accessing capabilities by linking (i) food retail infrastructures - discussing the retail typology, assortment on offer, food health and safety claims, and price levels - with (ii) the food shopping practices and preferences of 400 women of reproductive age. It then proceeds with mapping the actual food practices with (iii) the measured dietary intake of this same group of women.
Data were collected with a retail outlet census and two household questionnaires administered on non-consecutive days to women responsible for household food provision. The first questionnaire was on food safety and shopping practices, followed by a nutrition questionnaire including a quantitative 24-hour recall and knowledge and attitudes. A sample of 400 poor women of reproduce age was randomly selected using a pre-defined door-to-door sampling method.
Findings and Interpretations
Our results reveal a minimal level of diet quality is maintained through traditional and importantly informal market channels with 74 percent of daily energy and 80 percent of daily vitamin A, zinc, iron and calcium intakes came from foods purchased from traditional food retail outlets. However, these channels do not provide for formal food safety guarantees, most commonly found in modern retail channels. Women were shown to be practically de-capacitated of shopping in supermarkets. Further the research uncovered that modern channels offer a higher percentage of ultra-processed foods than traditional channels, and are mainly frequented for purchasing less/unhealthy foods. Although, only 7 percent of the foods consumed came from supermarkets, 60 percent of the ultra-processed foods consumed were purchased from modern retail outlets.
This paper uncovers a conflicting duality in governing food security that requires urgent attention. The struggle with food safety is a well-recognized problem throughout Asia. Across Asia, similar transformations in urban food retailing are observed, that push modernization and ban traditional vending structures as remedy for recurrent food safety incidences. Our research demonstrates how these one-dimensional ideal-type policies risk to jeopardize dietary quality for the urban poor through two pathways: depriving access to nutritious foods and stimulating less healthy diets.
The paper suggests that the dual public responsibility for ensuring access to nutritious and safe foods requires an inclusive retail diversity approach. In preventing the shaping-up of nutrition desserts for the urban poor, food safety policies should recognize the importance of allowing for a versatile and hybridized food retail environment to evolve.
We argue that, in converging the apparent competing priorities of food safety and nutrition for the urban poor, there is a need for intervention studies that consider dynamic societal interactions, allowing for co-creation, involving consumers, producers, retailers, and policymakers within the local food business ecosystem to identify options for inclusive and healthy retail diversity.