Opinion piece: Food in contemporary Timor Leste

by Sonia Guterres

Food has been an essential part of our lives in Timor Leste and shapes our modern day gastronomy. Without nutritious food, we can’t grow to be healthy or even survive. The first time I worked with Mana Heidi was a unique experience, especially when talking about food and how much she loves the food in Timor. In the first few weeks of our conversation about food was fantastic and for Heidi, the food in Timor Leste is something special. Trying out the food in a restaurant in the corner of Dili provided us a delicious meal, and gives tourists like Mana Heidi the opportunity to taste local food.

I am particularly inspired by the quality of the food that grows in Timor Leste. The types of food and the way they are grown can help make our society a healthy one, and contribute to the sustainability of our country. Timor Leste has a wide variety of foods, which are often organic, pure rich and nutritious, and free from pesticides. As half the population survives on their own grown agriculture products this contributes to the health of the population and sustainability of the country’s food produce.

In this piece I am going to talk about what values I have inherited within my family that create my special interest in food. I will also convey my personal opinion about some critical issues in contemporary Timor Leste, such as the lack of appropriate food distribution that causes some rural communities to experience malnutrition.

In general, Timor Leste is a country that has a rich diversity of foods which contribute to people’s daily lives. Most of the population does live from the produce they grow, and the majority earn their living from agriculture. In my experience, to have good food, is very dependent on the cook, and how he or she can adapt it in various ways in cooking. In my family, we have a sort of belief that, when we cook with anger, the food will not give us as much flavor as we like, but when we cook with positive thinking and a good sense of values, the food will be good and very nutritious. For some of us, we believe that to grow good food it is important to have the intent to cook it properly and have a good sense of what we are cooking.

I admire how food has been very important for friends abroad who note how Timorese food are so healthy and organic, and yes, it is true! In my family, vegetables and meat and rice are consumed most days. Based on these sorts of food we eat almost everyday, in my opinion what is special about Timorese food, it that it is simple, green, nutritious and healthy, whenever families in Timor Leste eat this way as most do. Many Timorese grown foods that are traditional to the country are of high quality in nutrition and of production.

At certain time, due to some season interchanges with the climate, sometimes most crops do not produce as well as expected. This can lead to malnutrition in communities, and at least affects the quality and diversity of food available to the community. Hence, it is important for experts to conducted research about improving crops to make informed decisions about what particular things need to be done to prevent communities being badly affected by lack of food.

Food is an inclusive dynamic part of life worldwide that shapes values in a community and society. One of the problems that has occurred in Timor Leste to date is malnutrition among children and babies. This has happened because many parents do not understand what is needed for good health of their children. I worked in a non-profit organisation health clinic called Bairo Pite in Dili a couple of years ago. I observed observing high numbers of malnourished children aged under just 5 years of age. It is a reality for most children who live in rural areas due to the limited foods and resources to make meals nutritious ones. Malnutrition has been a huge problem for rural communities for the past 10 years. However, since this ongoing poverty has been becoming understood around the world, the people of Timor Leste can encourage the Timorese Government and Non-Government Organisations to help the children in need.


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