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The No Trans Fat prata campaign

March 4, 2007

Once again, yours truly was in the papers today, this time in The New Paper on Sunday (4 March 2007), which highlighted my “wish list” for trans fat free roti prata.

If you recall, this started off in this blog, when one day I discovered that I had unknowingly eaten trans fat for breakfast when I had roti prata fried in margarine. That led me to realise not only that:

  1. a lot of prata is being cooked with Planta (margarine)
  2. that it is actually very easy for prata sellers to go trans fat free — just swich to using gingerly (sesame) oil which was traditionally used to cook prata.

The difficult part is to get the message out to the prata sellers. One way, I thought was to go through Tamil Murasu, the Tamil language newspaper that would be most likely read by prata sellers.

The other way would be to print flyers, in both English and Tamil, to distribute to prata sellers. And to give them a “No trans fat” sticker to put up once they have made the switch.

This second way, I feel, would create a greater impact. It would not only reach out to prata sellers, but also send a message to prata eaters to heighten their awareness about the harm of trans fats.

Only thing is that there are logistics issues to be solved.

Firstly, I need money to print the flyers and stickers. It won’t cost a lot, probably just a couple of hundred dollars for a couple of thousand flyers and somewhat more for the stickers — except that I am pretty broke right now due to past business failure and unwise spendings. Anyway, this can be quite easily solved.

The bigger problem is how to distribute the flyers and stickers. How to reach out to the thousands of prata sellers spread across Singapore?

As The New Paper article pointed out, I am currently running this “STOP Trans Fats” campaign as a one-man show, so if any of you indentify with this cause and are willing to help out, I will be grateful.

The journalist who inteviewed me for the article asked (actually, she was told by her editor to ask) if I had approached the Ministry of Health or the Health Promotion Board about my proposed ‘No Trans Fats’ prata campaign.

My reply was that the MOH / HPB and I “don’t quite see eye-to-eye”. The government health authorities don’t seem to view trans fats as a serious enough problem and they continue to focus their public education efforts on telling people to avoid saturated fats or, at most, both saturated and trans fats.

Sure, it would be a lot easier if I just tow the line and parrot what the health authorities say. But I cannot do that when I have come across so much information that tells me saturated fats are not harmful but, in fact, necessary and beneficial for health.

If I want to tow the line, I might as well not do anything. Just let the HPB do — or don’t do — what they have been doing / not doing all along.

So this is a lonely campaign to put across a vital message that the government health authorities won’t put across. I do feel lonely running this campaign all by myself, even though I also do feel encouraged by the support of readers like MKO, YCK, Singapore Cityzen and others.

For the STOP Trans Fat campaign to create a greater impact, however, it needs to go beyond websites and blogs out into the real world. It could start with the prata campaign or with anything else.

If any of you has ideas, and is willing to help out, let me know.

Let’s do something — for health’s sake.

 

9 comments

  1. Your site has definitely gotten some attention, how about a “Request Sticker” contact form on the website? (In addition to flyers!) Of course, technically the form is easy to set up, but as mentioned, printing the stickers and distributing them (by post) has costs too. Also, how strongly do you feel about verifying that the stall really does not use trans fats? (It’s no wonder organic certification bodies charge for their services – what they do is pretty valuable!) No easy answers from me, alas!


  2. Trans fat and its related health issues may not mean much to the humble prata seller. Instead a “We use butter in our pratas. It’s healther!” label is more easily understood by seller and consumers alike. You don’t really need to verify anything and what is required is the prata-man’s honesty. It’s not a certification but a declaration.

    And yes, Tamil Murasu should be a good bet.


  3. Thanks for the suggestions. Yes, “Healthier Prata” will probably be more appealing than “No trans fat” prata.

    Agree with MKO that honesty of prata man is all that is needed and he has perceptively differentiated between certification and declaration.

    Unlike organic certification, this is a relatively simple matter, just junk the margarine and use gingerly oil or ghee.

    Going organic, on the other hand, requires adherence to long lists of rules, eg what types of fertilisers / pesticides are allowed, distance away from neighbouring non-organic farms in case their poisons spill over, how long land must be organic, etc. I’ve heard that for some certification bodies, the set of rules is about 2-inches thick.


  4. Yeah, I realised those ready-to-eat prata sold in the super markets are using margarine. Damn… they taste soooo good!


  5. btw, I talked my Indian friend today and he said that the flour that is used locally in our prata is not very good (AKA unhealthy). I have not idea what he means and he could not explain it… unless the prata is made from plain flour or wheat flour, which should be better?


  6. Well, the prata flour is refined white flour, which is not very good… unless there are reasons, unknown to us, for it to be even worse than we realise.

    I don’t exactly claim prata to be a healthy food, just that, in my opinion, it is not as bad as what many people think.

    As far as I know, it is much better than commercial white bread, because it is freshly made and contains much less chemicals, sugar, yeast etc.

    But if anybody knows any other “hidden seecrets” of prata, please tell.


  7. Ah finally The New Paper took notice 🙂 How much longer would ST take?

    I was reading 3 Quarks Daily with an article on how to spread the word. It was based on some ideas found in Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point”. I will not repeat the points here, but they may be worth a read. Hope it is useful 🙂


  8. Ha ha, don’t think the ST will ever take notice, but I cannot complain since they’ve published several of my forum letters and even published my web address there.

    Anyway, another “minor” newspaper just contacted me. Watch this space.

    Don’t think I will reach the “Tipping Point” though 😉 Nice article, thanks, but a bit loooooong.


  9. (potential cyanide exposure from Tapioca)

    Following up on the comments above about flour used locally in Prata…

    Does anyone know whether the flour used locally in Pratas is Tapioca?

    The reason is as follows:
    Some time ago I steamed and ate a rather large amount of Tapioca (Cassava Root) (qui
    zi) with coconut meat in lieu of lunch. After eating it I exercised but felt somewhat weak (perhaps an off day?). I also thought I detected some tingling in my lips and fingers. This mild weakness and possible tingling lasted a few days at least. What if it simply was my imagination? But I had a hunch and so decided to do some research reading. My conclusion was probable very mild cyanide poisoning. Apparently Tapoica from the Cassava plant has to be prepared properly (i.e soaked, squeezed and washed etc for an appropriate amount of time). The problem was I did not soak, press or wash the Tapioca and furthermore by steaming instead of boiling did not give the opportunity for leaching away of any remaining noxious substance.

    See e.g. (http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/cassava.htm)

    Who knows if the preparatory work is done properly in commercially made tapioca flour. If done improperly perhaps this is the origin of what was said in a previous comment about locally used prata flour.

    Conclusion: do not take large amounts of improperly prepared Tapioca on a meat poor diet (see the link above) to avoid cyanide exposure.



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