Israel: Food, Health and Nutrition
The nation of Israel, despite the small amount of physical area that it occupies, being the 154th largest globally, is soaked with religious, historical, and political significance (https://www.aipac.org/resources/maps/israel-size-comparison). From its ancient founding by Abraham in 1600 BC, to the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, to the achievement of statehood status in 1948, Israel has been a centrepiece of cultural ideology (http://jcpa.org/article/timeline/). These momentous events, along with a multiplicity of other happenings, have given rise to the country that Israel is today.
Israel is filled with diverse terrain including mountains, desert, and fruitful land (https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/aboutisrael/land/pages/the%20land-%20geography%20and%20climate.aspx). Being surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, and the well-known Sea of Galilee, a major portion of Israel is part of what is called the Fertile Crescent or the Cradle of Civilization. It is referred to as such because the area is considered to be the origin of agriculture. This is because the conditions of the region allowed populations to become stationary rather than continuing a lifestyle that was more primitive. Around the year 10,000 BC, both the ability to harness crop production and to domesticate animals became a reality. Specifically, this generalized ability led to the yielding of cereals and wild grains, followed by the calculated use of irrigation.
The subsequent establishment of trade routes nourished urban and academic advancements that were unprecedented hundreds, and even thousands, of years before Christ walked the Earth. As time continued, advanced civilizations were able to arise, which allowed more abundance to be attained by more people within the land. Advancement of this nature gave rise to the eventual social and economic systems that Israel encompasses today. Being a parliamentary democracy, Israel has implemented a free market economy within its framework. The steadfast roots of the religion of Judaism along with a democratic structure are deeply reflective upon the characteristic that the Israeli people reject governmental corruption and uphold property rights and economic freedom. Ultimately, this has allowed the economy of Israel to be considered as the 27th freest in the world, which allows more freedom within the relationships of producers and consumers when it comes to food and other possessions (https://www.heritage.org/index/country/israel). Wistfully, the marshlands within the Fertile Crescent which once took up 15-20 thousand square kilometers were reduced to a size of 1,500-2,000 square miles by the year 2001. This is because the impact of fossil fuels on climate change has caused much of the land to become dried out (https://www.ancient.eu/Fertile_Crescent/). Nonetheless, the distribution of foods, ideas, and other goods that came out of the Cradle of Civilization is especially important as it pertains to the discussion of global health and nutrition, and the health and nutrition of Israel in particular.
Health and Nutrition
Israel’s approach to promoting a modern healthy lifestyle is epitomized by the Israeli food pyramid. Exercise coupled with reasonable eating habits represent the foundational message of the pyramid. As shown in the symbol, the citizens of Israel are encouraged to consume lots of water and to alternate different foods within the categories of protein-rich foods, fruits and vegetables, and so on (http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-dietary-guidelines/regions/countries/israel/en/). Although it should be conceded that there is no perfect way to ensure proper health within the general public, it should be maintained that a food pyramid with such messages can be an effective tool for supporting the health of the common citizen. However, despite this, Israel, like a multitude of countries globally, still faces its challenges.
Among these challenges is the higher than ideal rates of anemia in young women, obesity in men and women, diabetes in men, and low birth weights regarding children. In order to gain some perspective, it should be noted that Israel’s population has gone from about 2.1 million in 1960 to 8.9 million in 2018 (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL). Within this same span, the United States has gone from a population of about 181 million to 327 million people. Accordingly, while the population of the United States is much larger, it has not even doubled in the same time that the population of Israel has more than quadrupled. This insight is meaningful because a population that has increased so vastly carries the burden of reacclimating national goals as it pertains to health statistics. The hasty level of growth experienced in Israel has led to a waste management concern since pollution stems out of improper waste treatment. Favorably, Israel has implemented novel reprocessing laws that prohibit illegal dumping and advocate for eco-friendly methods (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/general-overview-of-health-and-medicine-in-israel). The effects of pollution are detrimental to both the quality of health and nutrition, so action regarding this issue was essential. Such action has prompted Israel to be named the 10th healthiest country in the world. Even more impressive is that it was the only middle-eastern country to be included within the top 10 (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/general-overview-of-health-and-medicine-in-israel).
Beyond the appreciable nature of Israel’s efforts still lurks the thorns in its side, being the higher than ideal rates mentioned previously. 15.7% of young women in Israel have been diagnosed with anemia, 7.1% of men have been diagnosed with diabetes, and 25.9% of men along with 26.2% of women are considered obese. Optimistically, the low birth weight rate of 8.3% in the year 2000 has been reduced to 7.8% as of 2015(https://globalnutritionreport.org/resources/nutrition-profiles/asia/western-asia/israel/). Even more severe than these complications is the ubiquity of heart disease and cancer within the borders of Israel, which are responsible for over 66% of deaths across the globe. (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/general-overview-of-health-and-medicine-in-israel). As these can all be worldwide issues, Israel alone is not fighting these. Nonetheless, Israel is faced with the burden of allowing its citizens to capitalize on the most efficient health and nutritional practices and habits. For instance, the problems of anemia and low birth weights are interconnected with the habits of education and food availability as it pertains to nutrition. To understand more about the other challenges, the history of Israel also needs to be taken into account.
When Israel was considered part of the Turkish Empire in the early 1900s, its people suffered from outbreaks of malaria, dysentery, and typhus. Correspondingly, to offer aid specifically to the people of Jerusalem, there were various dispensaries instituted thanks to Ashkenazi Jewish groups. These dispensaries provided gratuitous therapeutic aid to people who would otherwise go without treatment. Fascinatingly, these places developed into hospitals that have learned to embrace modern day challenges now in 2019 (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/general-overview-of-health-and-medicine-in-israel). This is important to consider because the epidemiological history of a country is tied to the problems that it faces in the present, especially in terms of policy-making (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/medical-history/article/history-matters-historys-role-in-health-policy-making/B1B87DAEF507FB2087A132C11B1F45A4).
Policy inherently affects the health of Israel because it reflects on the healthcare access and quality that is employed throughout the territory. For example, the Healthcare Access and Quality Index gave Israel a rating of 71.2 in 1990, and the rating progressed to 84.8 in 2016, based upon a scale of 0-100 (http://www.healthdata.org/israel). This change is substantial because the average percent change per year is regarded as statistically significant for that frame of time (http://www.healthdata.org/israel). Just as policy affects the health of a country, so the access to high-quality foods affects the nutrition of a country. This is extremely relevant when looking at numbers surrounding food insecurity in Israel. According to The Borgen Project, about one-fourth of Israeli citizens live below the poverty line. On top of this, about 110 thousand people face a shortage of food items in some way, shape, or form (https://borgenproject.org/combat-hunger-in-israel/). Thankfully, a National Food Security Program was launched in 2016 to offer government assistance to people who face food insecurity, which offers $85 per month to people who meet the standard (https://borgenproject.org/combat-hunger-in-israel/). Steps like this may offer hope to overcoming issues of anemia in young women and low birth weights in infants within the nation of Israel (https://globalnutritionreport.org/resources/nutrition-profiles/asia/western-asia/israel/).
As stated previously, the Israeli food pyramid is the basis of recommended foods that Israeli citizens should embrace (http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-dietary-guidelines/regions/countries/israel/en/). However, what people ought to eat, and what they do eat can differ immensely. This is where the food environment becomes so critical. You can know that eating an apple is nutritionally better than eating a candy bar. Yet, this does not take away the craving that is a part of human nature. This is important to consider when analyzing the nutritional habits of the people of Israel.
One of the most prevalent dishes in Israel is vegetarian falafel, being mashed chickpeas, eaten alongside pita, French fries, salad, and some form of sesame. Turkey, lamb, and chicken are highly-consumed meats within the region as well. The eating habits of Israel’s people consist of an afternoon meal as well as an evening meal, both being filled with greens and fruits (http://nutritionweek.sitestudio.co.il/israeli_nutrition.aspx). Due to the nature of the land of what is known as the Fertile Crescent, a diverse spectrum of fruits, vegetables, and other crops can be yielded as reflected by the representation of 70 countries within the land of Israel (http://www.israelsite.net/general/israel-culture-israeli-cuisine-food/). Also, these crops are constantly in season because they don’t have to be processed over long periods of time ( For Jewish people, the Sabbath, a day of rest from work once a week, brings with it fish and other meats, soup, salad, and deserts. Chocolate-filled yeast cakes are one such type of desert commonly eaten. Complimenting all of this is the fact that the most commonly consumed beverage for Israel’s people is coffee. Another beverage, being wine, is used in a religious fashion on the Sabbath, and very sparingly.
Deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition is the practice of eating kosher foods, which emerge from the Torah, being the law that Jewish people observe (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/overview-of-jewish-dietary-laws-and-regulations). The vast majority of Israel’s population is Jewish, being about 74%, which is why the term kosher is so prominent and needs to be taken seriously (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel). In line with this, specific animals are not to be eaten in any fashion, and animals that are permittable to eat must be prepared in harmony with Jewish law. Additionally, meat shouldn’t be eaten alongside dairy, and grape produce handled by gentiles should not be eaten. While this is not an exhaustive list, it is one that expresses the point that Israel’s eating habits rely heavily on ordained mandates. Stemming from this is the method of validating kosher products through packaging labels, making it more efficient for Jewish people to purchase food that is in accordance with the Torah (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/overview-of-jewish-dietary-laws-and-regulations).